Grain, Heat and Liquid: A Short History of Porridge in Norway. Environmental Lunchtime Discussion.

Troels Troels-Lunden (1840-1921) wrote porridge and gruel were the oldest known warm dishes in Scandinavia. Both before and since, porridge has remained key in the lives of many Scandinavians up until very recently. In this talk, Tarjei Brekke, master student at the program Chinese Culture and Society, offers some reflections on this ancient food and his experiences with finding some of its first ingredients in the contemporary world.

A bowl of porridge sprinkled with nuts.

Photo: Tarjei Brekke.

Porridge and gruel have been referenced in Norwegian poetry and documents for ages, but it's not unlikely that its traditions have followed humanity for as long as humanity has eaten grain. In 77AD, Pliny the Elder in his thesis on natural history remarked that the Germanic peoples sow oats and eat only porridge. An Icelandic saga recounting a scene of last viking king Harald Hardrada and Sneglu-Halle, an Icelandic skald who was fond of porridge, portrays the king forcing the poet to eat porridge until he bursts. The skald then responds: "No, my lord, I will not! You may kill me if you wish, but porridge shall not become my bane." 

Over the last few years, however, porridge has lost ground in Norway, declining in popularity since the 1960s. (Bugge, 2019). Rice porridge is here a very lonely exception and was in 2018 still one of the seven most commonly eaten everyday dishes in Norway. However, as one may expect, rice porridge is carried by holiday tradition and the tendency to be packaged in easy-to-prep sets, and even a dish as influential as that is still outmatched by fish and meat, particularly sausages and patties. 

So a question stands: Can porridge be brought back as a vegetarian alternative to a meat dinner or a club sandwich, and more importantly: Do we really have the time for it?

About the presenter

Tarjei Brekke is a master student at the master program Chinese Culture and Society at the University of Oslo. His master thesis seeks to study how Chinese national marine environmental governance in relation to the fishing industry affects fishing policy and distant-water fishing in international waters. He is also a candidate at the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities Honours program and works as a student assistant for the school. He has previously held the position as leader of the China Studies Student Association and has recently started a student association for tea called Cha-Yi.

About the event series

The OSEH Environmental Lunchtime Discussion series consists of short, 15 minute presentations by invited guests, followed by a discussion. We invite speakers from a wide variety of fields, both academic and beyond. The presentations are accessible and are aimed at anyone with an interest in environmental issues. All are welcome.

This event will employ a hybrid solution to streaming, so that those who are physically on campus are welcome to attend the talk in person. Others may of course attend online.

Tags: OSEH, HF, Environmental Humanities, Porridge
Published Sep. 16, 2021 12:44 PM - Last modified Apr. 21, 2022 11:23 AM