Helena Norberg-Hodge is the author of Ancient Futures (1991), a seminal work about traditional systems, globalization and change in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. She is a leading proponent of localization as an antidote to the problems arising from #globalization and founder of the International Alliance for Localization (IAL) in 2014.
Helena Norberg-Hodge also produced and co-directed the award-winning #documentary film The Economics of Happiness (2011), and along with Jerry Mander, Doug Tompkins, Vandana Shiva, Martin Khor and others, she co-founded the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) in 1994.
She is also the founder and director of Australian-based not-for-profit organisation # Local Futures, previously known as the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC). Local Futures is “dedicated to the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”
Helena Norberg-Hodge, Nordic By Nature Podcast Transcript.
I’m Helena Norberg Hodge and I’m the director of Local Futures, an international charity. For the last almost 40 years I’ve been promoting what I call ‘decentralization’ or ‘localization’. And that’s because I had the experience of working in cultures that had not been affected by the global market. Cultures like Bhutan and Ladakh, and later on a lot of experience with places like Laos and many parts of the world.
In the mid 70s, Ladakh or Little Tibet, it was a part of the world that had not been colonized nor developed in the modern era. And there I found people who were still providing for all their basic needs from their own resources producing a range of things, some vegetables, grain, they kept animals there had their own architectural tradition of local materials. They still wove their own clothes from their own wool. And I started at first working on a dictionary, and travelled, actually walked through the whole region, it’s about the size of Austria. But in this high-altitude desert there were small villages, that survived by irrigating the desert from glacial melt.
As I got to know the people, I found that they were the most relaxed, the most joyous, the most vibrant people I had ever met.
I also saw that the opening up to the area to outside development was beginning to bring rapid change.
So, I ended up starting projects to demonstrate an alternative to conventional development, which among other things included demonstrating renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.
I also had my eyes open to the craziness in the global market.
So, I literally saw in a very short period after the area was opened up have having been sealed off for a long time. But that had travelled for more than a week over the high Himalayan mountains coming in and being sold for half the price of butter that came from the farm next door.
So, this opened my eyes to then doing studies around the world as I was invited to speak or to start projects similar to the one in Ladakh. So that included Bhutan. I was in parts of Africa, invited to Mongolia, to Burma Myanmar, to Laos and everywhere I went. I would keep my eyes open for this. What was happening with the global market and what it was doing to the local production and local producers.
And I found the same pattern; in Mongolia where they had 20 million milk producing animals, in Ulan Bator, most of the butter came from Germany.
In Kenya, I found butter from Holland crossing half the price of local butter and as I returned to Europe. I found the same thing.
I became a passionate advocate of the need to strengthen local economies worldwide.
Small producers; farmers, fishermen, forest workers that were producing a range of things from diverse, adapted species of animals, and plants were being replaced by bigger and bigger monocultures. And they were being pushed off the land into bigger and bigger cities and in those cities, there were fewer and fewer jobs.
Traditionally in these cultures there had been no such thing as unemployment.
As people were driven off the land into larger and larger cities, all of them created through huge investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure, there was the beginnings of tensions between people who had lived side by side in more local economies, based on local resources where they were interdependent.
Now suddenly they were dependent on anonymous institutions lost bureaucracies.
And there was this dreadful artificial scarcity of livelihoods of jobs.
After only about a decade of opening up the local market the local economy to outside development these pressures led to violent conflict– to bloodshed. People had lived together side by side for generations.
Most people have never experienced intact local economies.
We have a historical development where colonialism and slavery already destroyed more diversified self-reliant local economies. So, once you have destroyed the fabric of interdependence local interdependence fabric or more diversified production, based on biodiversity, then it’s very hard to see a clear path towards localization.
Most people are not looking at the global system.
This is not about good guys and bad guys. At some level we all know that we depend on the living world, we all know that the real economy is the earth. But there is very little clarity I think about the way that we have lost sight of that.
Politically left and right in this regard is completely meaningless.
Finding a way back to a genuinely sustainable way, will require recognizing first of all that, that food is the most important production product that we have. It’s the only thing that every person needs every day. The only thing.
To allow a system where governments are continuing to subsidize greater and greater distance between each individual and the source of their food. That that inefficiency is responsible by far for the ecocide that we’re witnessing.
We have today a system that has allowed this to go so far, that countries routinely import and export the same product.
The US exports about a billion tonnes of beef and turns around and imports about a billion tonnes of beef …. The UK exports as much butter and milk as it imports. Right now, the UK is exporting 20 tonnes of bottled water to Australia. Australia is exporting 20 tonnes of water to the UK.
On top of that in this global food system we now have big business, being basically condemned to roam the world for the cheapest labor and that means that they will fly fish from Norway to be de-boned in China and it’s flown back again.
Apples were flown from England to South Africa to be washed and flown back again.
This is going on, on a massive and increasing scale, while we talk about climate change.
At the same time the emissions from those planes and giant container ship that are shipping things back and forth. Those emissions are not even calculated.
This is not about some…one evil corporation or that every CEO is evil or that every government is completely self-interested.
This is about blindness to the workings of a global system that we are simply not looking at. And it requires effort.
We need to look at the trends from a global point of view but look at them on the ground. Local governments are responding more to the needs of people and the needs of the natural world.
Both people and nature are diverse. This is a fundamental principle of life. A fact.
And we change from moment to moment. This is true of every plant of every animal and everything that lives.
We must change the economy so that we do not destroy that uniqueness and that life.
What is wonderful is that from the grassroots and very often through just individual initiatives, people have had enough experience, there are a whole proliferation of positive initiatives that when you analyse them from a structural point of view, you see they are about localization. They’re about reconnecting production and consumption and they’re about adapting and respecting the limits and the needs of the living world.
When we made changes to the food economy, we’re making very fundamental very important changes.
People care most people care in every position. We want to do the right thing.
Even in some of the newly emerging hubs for localization, towns like Portland, Oregon, or ‘here I am now’ in Byron Bay Australia. People are moving there because there is more human scale community interaction. People are known more for who they are what they do what they think their values.
So those are far more attractive places to live.
The wonderful thing about localizing is that there is a structural relationship between shorter distances between the market and the farm so that the local market, the market closer to the farm, not only accepts diversity but demands diversity.
It can’t use 20 tons of straight carrots. It becomes economically interesting for the smaller farmer, or even for a bigger one that decides to localize, in order to survive economically, to start diversifying.
So I know of examples of farmers in America that were you know had been pressured to grow mono-cultures of tobacco almost all in or near bankruptcy, barely able to survive, who then would just convert a few acres of their land to a diverse range of vegetables to sell in the local market, and were then able to start getting back on their feet again.
If we look globally, we can see there is such an urgent need to restore diversified food sovereignty.
Allow people and farmers to produce for themselves first and then keep some of their land or some of the effort for export whether to tourists or to another market.
Trade has always been there. So, this is not about ending trade.
When we start really exposing what’s going on and we understand our absolute need to reduce energy consumption wherever possible but more importantly, all laws to restore biodiversity on the land then a very different picture emerges.
We need to look at how taxes subsidies and regulations are used to favour monopolies. No self-respecting capitalists would actually believe in subsidizing monopolies but that’s what’s going on.
You do feel that there is a shift going on.
There is waking up it’s almost like an intuitive reawakening to what’s in our DNA.
You know we evolved more connected to one another and to the living world. And you just see people coming out of the cities longing for that reconnection to the earth and to community.
Community building combined with a deep spiritual reconnection to nature is an amazing therapy.
So, if we just open our eyes, we would see a very, very, clear path to healing, at the deep psychological personal spiritual level and healing the earth.
It’s amazing how many people are actually wanting to live a life of deeper connection and caring.
There are many ways that people are beginning to come together.
One of them of course is local markets.
There are also local business alliances.
There is local financing, where various forms, where people when they understand about localization start finding ways of creating for instance a revolving fund in their neighborhood or with their local group that may be starting a food co-op that may be starting a garden at their children’s school.
There are new singing groups.
One of things that held us together as communities in almost all traditional cultures was that we sang and dance and made music together.
Only with the industrialization and commercialization of our lives, that we become a spectator culture.
This localization actually starts to help us regain many of the skills that we all have. And many of the strengths we have which have, we don’t experience when we lead our anonymous consumer lifestyles.
The most important thing we can do as individuals is to seek out like-minded people near where we live, cook a meal together and once we start opening our eyes to it we already feel so much better.
We already have greater faith in humanity. We realize the problem is not humanity. The problem is the in human scale of an economic system that we simply have not been looking at.
This is about how the global population can start providing for its needs and enriching its local economy. I want to see a growth. I want to see growth in healthy plants healthy animals. I want to see a growth in the number of jobs. I want to see a growth in the number of businesses.
Through the mega mergers, it looks like we’re just going to have one pharmaceutical company providing for the whole world. One seed company one water company.
No, we need to shift it so we have a genuine growth of proliferation into a number that is appropriate and that are all that’s the goal of localization; not to end trade but to restore democracy and to restore the responsibility of business to respond to ecological and cultural realities.
Monika Kucia is a culinary curator and food writer from Poland. She is a passionate believer in locality of fresh, organic food- local ingredients and traditional knowledge, when combined with creativity and innovation, she says, can hold the key to increased community and a more sustainable and enjoyable future.
Monika in her element
Monika wants to bring Polish cuisine to a broader audience- but also, something she calls ‘food minus the ego.’ She has presented food from humble beginnings as high art. She has used waste food to create banquets. She treats homeless people as VIPs. She has also curated a farmer’s and producers’ market in central Warsaw, because she believes the “presentation of regional and traditional products is connected with bringing out family, local and regional traditions.” For Monika, food is a human right, a means of healing community and the planet, as well as sensory culinary adventure.
Monica Kucia, Nordic by Nature; ON SURVIVAL. Transcript.
My name is Monica Kucia, and I’m a food writer and food curator so I design culinary events that are also artistic and have some social aspect.
Everything I do seems to be around food, but I find more and more when I get older that it’s everything is actually connected and if food is the medium that I use in my work it’s never only about food.
It’s always about connections relationships is about art is about history.
It’s about family and this what really makes my heart beat faster if I see that I can I’m able to join all these aspects around a table, and around the taste around experience of eating or cooking.
I think I was sort of born with this intuition like you know you. So, I started to being interested in food very early. Like when I was a teenager. And then when I started writing about it like 20 years ago, it was just fascinating that it’s so different in every region, and also it’s very different in every personal story. Probably you have a completely different story than I have.
We actually can say that there is the food voice. There is something that you express about yourself through the food. So this is what I started exploring probably 13 years ago when I published the first book. It’s like the sun and everything else is like sort of moving around it in my life.
It’s sensual because it involves all our senses, and also it connects people because it’s about feeding and feeding is giving the energy. So it’s about the flow how it goes between the people.
Everywhere I go I meet food people. I always connect with them instantly. They have similar sensitivity or a similar approach to many things. They are more open maybe. So it’s a big tool for making friends, for talking about anthropology, for really also having fun and enjoying yourself.
It is everything in one, you know! (laugh)
As humanity, as people we went wrong somewhere.
Probably in the 20th century or even maybe before that when there was the industrial revolution. I would blame the mass production basically and the greed and indulgence.
It’s more now about pleasing oneself than about feeding myself.
You know it’s not always that if I want to please myself it’s actually good for me or good for other people or good for the planet. So because we have means and we have the global system we can have any food we want. And in the end it’s not a good thing. It destroys nature.
But what I’m saying is that we went wrong and maybe there is no way back. But what we can do now is make our personal choices that are wise and we should use our knowledge and awareness to stop the process of destroying our home which is the earth.
So, we started doing the farmer’s market in Warsaw in April. We prepared it for a long time. And the idea is to bring the real food with the real people that are making it to the people who live in the inner city.
We have some markets with organic food in Warsaw, we have markets with producers’ other markets.
In this area, where we started it in Praga. In Konessa, centrum Prza Konessa (?) there is nothing like that. So we thought that it’s good to give it a shot.
And for me what’s really important is that there is a relationship possible, that you can talk to the person who produces the food. So, it changes our attitude, and the way we are used to do shopping, nowadays, that you just come to the shelf and pick whatever you want, because you are the king, the king of the supermarket.
And here is a person who’s touched all these sausages or fish or veg or cheese or anything else that we have there with their own hands.
This is personal. Shopping becomes personal. In this situation that you just come you get to know these people. It’s more for me. It’s very important to respect these people so just to show them respect because they work very hard and they give us very good quality healthy food.
For me it’s a work of turning around the idea of shopping. It’s more about me coming to these people to get my food to feed my family rather than being the picky gourmet customer who just looks for the best product.
I think we should really support each other, and we should really change the proportions in my opinion. This is how it should be. So, the village feeds us so we should appreciate them, and we should respect them.
We don’t value food anymore because it was so cheap. It can be so cheap, and it’s so easily obtainable. We are facing the fact that it might change during our lives like that the food will not be that easily obtainable.
I had a grandmother in a little village, and she worked really hard because it was like a small farm and everything was from this small farm. Everything we had what it means that there was no trash. There was no garbage. Nobody would ever take any trash because there wasn’t any.
There was a shop in this village, and it was open twice a week for I think four hours. There was no plastic, so I remember buying like notebooks for writing. There was not much in this shop so they would produce everything for themselves exchange with the neighbours. And it was very hard life. It was not fun.
Waking up at 5:00 in the morning. It’s not something that we would regard as this nostalgic sentimental vision of the village.
So, what I’m saying is that I understand that we have become so comfortable like in the cities like this probably two percent of older people in the planet that we have the access to the goods from all over the world.
And we don’t have to really work with our hands obviously nowadays they have machines they have resources from the European Union they get money is very different.
The Simple Life is hard at the simple basic one small farm with two cows and one pig farm.
It’s just hard life.
Therefore, we should appreciate and respect the people who still take the effort and they actually do it with their own hands, rather than eat the artificial food becomes less and less actual food. It becomes a product.
It becomes processed item that has no connection with where it comes from. Usually we don’t know what it comes from. We don’t ask this question when we buy. I don’t know ready-made pizza. You don’t really ask the questions Where do the ingredients come from.
Climate change. This is something that I think most people don’t really take seriously.
This is us being lazy. It will finally probably kill us if we keep doing it. Cooking some potatoes and some carrot. And it doesn’t take that long.
This is more about our approach. People make choices and sometimes it’s more important to do something else.
But still I observe here in Poland that we have had so much ready-made food, in the last five years that I have never seen before.
Still with this huge interest in cooking in food in the culinary program’s culinary books, all these like celebrities there is more and more ready-made food cooking becomes a luxury. In a way with our farmers market is a struggle. I would say.
We need to convince people that it’s better to come there to get to know these people and come every week. To have your ex straight from the farm, to have your meat if you eat meat, and to have other things straight from the people. But this is the effort. And this is in your mind.
This is how you see yourself how you would see the community how much you connect.
I never would say that food is the most important thing, because people can be extremely healthy and destroy their relationships destroy the planet destroy themselves in different aspects, like emotionally or spiritually.
So, what I’m saying is that food is just one of the factors.
I don’t believe that anything can be taken apart like separate from other things. Food is something that everybody needs every day. True, but if you live in harmony and I’m not saying I live in harmony but I know some people who do they have this sense of proportion
So, there is the place for food but they are not crazy about it.
We want the children to be healthy so they shall eat healthy food.
But you know when you don’t respect yourself and don’t mean good for yourself you will never understand why do you need this healthy food.
It’s about the relationships you have. It’s about the family you create friendships. If you mean good for yourself and for the others. If you are an openhearted then you eat the food that actually nourishes your and is good for you. And you are aware of all the aspects because you are aware.
So, food is actually a part of mindfulness I would say as much as anything else, like sleeping, loving food just reflects our attitude towards us towards the planet towards other people.
This is the same is about clothes, making clothes, buying new clothes, new shoes. If we realize how much effort and pain and struggle there is behind these foods or the clothes or other goods that we are getting if we realize how cruel it the businesses, then we would really make different choices probably as consumers.
So, it’s not just white western world. It’s more about economic power.
This why if you want to be fair it’s better to buy locally because then if you know what it comes from you can say that you do honest choices.
Yeah. Otherwise you never know.
So, this why coming back to these communities.
I’m for example in this group on Facebook that it’s only with my neighbor it’s like not neighbors in my building because I know them personally. But like in the district in the area I think this is the future. There is a lot of exchange. There is a lot of no money business.
We have the currency. Avocados or wine aren’t the currency, something that we all want.
More like a barter. But there is also the currency.
This is something that it’s so informal.
There is no bureaucracy. I just lend you my bike because you need, it and I trust you, and you will give it back after two days, and I trust with that. And this is normal behavior and It’s nothing new. Like people have lived like this forever probably. Because we depend on each other.
But what I’m saying is that with the global globalization and then with this problems that it brings with itself, the only solution is to get back to these roots, to something that is real and it’s just close to you and you can touch it. I just believe that the future is sensual. Getting to make stuff with our hands, really.
I believe this is the only rescue
We will never create a proper paradise probably here. But when I’m creating my events the things that I’m doing with the food, around food, connected with culture and rituals and some traditions and history.
I just see that people want to have something real.
This is really what wakes them up.
It brings real value rather than just fun or entertainment. What I believe and what I’m doing is to get people involved rather than present something. So, they are your words and they can judge it.
If you are a part of something, then you feel responsible for it, because it depends on you. It’s up to you. You are a participator. And this is what I believe also in gastronomy, like, this why I work with the village women with homeless people, with the like really unknown cooks.
What I’m saying is that when you have the famous chef and the creation of course you relate to this person or to the dish you can get very touched very emotional.
But on the other hand, you have this chef who wants to be famous and then you have the customer who also wants to be regarded as of a higher status because they can eat in this place because they have money.
This is about ego.
All of it.
This is not a simple exchange.
It’s more about the status and about the whole spectacle but meaning like “showing off.”
What’s more important, more interesting to explore, is all these worlds of other people who also feed their families, feed other people, but they don’t do it to show off.
We’re all makers and we are all capable of doing things. I also go to the little villages to listen to old people who still sing the old songs like real folk music.
I’ve been told that in the traditional singing the songs is more most important, so the song goes through the singer. We are only passing it through.
Also, the recipe the traditional whatever, Spaghetti Carbonara, or Polish broth or Pirogi or whatever; we are just transmitting.
We are the stewards, and this is about not being too humble because you can be a great steward, but you don’t own it and here it is the song doesn’t belong to anybody. It belongs to the community and the singer has the privilege to sing it.
When there is less ego than you just enjoy the process because you are connected, and you are a part of something bigger than you. And I think that this is what really makes us feel really safe, like beings, that we are connected, because this is what we all want, somewhere inside.
In the food area it’s also for me important to remember that food is about actually about feeding you feed your family.
You feed yourself your feed your community in whatever way you can because you can feed them with water so you can feed them with films you can feed them with food.
Especially in Polish. There is the word in Polish, Poshivina, it is more like ‘giving life’ and it means food. This is very important for me to remember this. I’m just serving. I’m serving something but you respect me for serving this to you. There is no power game in it.
This is how I tried to create the events and… and I have had this experience for several years now that people need it.
I don’t believe in the fixed national, nationality like in the way that my identity is solid, because I’m the traveler and everybody’s a traveler. If my life is a journey, then I’m changing. I’m just an inhabitant of the earth, basically, at the moment.
Anything is sort of solid like a monument it’s never real. And if something is real nobody will take away it from you. It’s impossible.
We are flowing with whatever is happening through the history. And please remember that kitchen is something that never stops. It’s always changing.
If we say about traditional cuisine to what point do we refer?
What year? What period? It’s like telling fairy tale. It’s constantly changing because people bring products because we are omnivores, so we eat everything.
It’s constantly changing. There is no other thing that changes so fast as cuisine, as the food to world. I’d rather say “Kitchen in Poland” than Polish cuisine. People are scared and they need to hang on to something, because they don’t want to accept the fact that it’s all about insecurity.
This is also about the ego. Nature will win anyway.
Nature doesn’t need us. It’s not like that we aren’t an important factor for an age. If you watch Chernobyl. Yeah? it’s growing back. So, the nature will deal with this problem when there is not more humans.
Maybe we are coming to a disaster. I don’t know.
But also, only my intention matters. So if I do the right thing as much as I can do I try hard.
It’s about my heart. It’s not about anything else.
I’m not optimistic for humanity. It’s about system. It’s about the big money that is behind these things that are happening, that took us to this point where we are.
This is about fossil fuels. This is about global politics. The system is just making it more dangerous for the planet.
The ego is the center, or central problem is the ego.