Denmark is at war – a meatball war. The country of tasteful furniture, jaw dropping architecture and Borgen is locked in battle over whether pork should feature on the menus of its public institutions amid claims from anti-immigration parties that Denmark is ‘losing its identity’.
The meatballs in question are frikadeller – moreish slightly burned miniature patties made out of pork, a Danish staple. You’ll find them on your open sandwiches, served up with potatoes and red cabbage or heated up, incongruously, on any traditional cold table.
You’ll be seeing a lot more of them if you live in the central Danish town of Randers where the local council has just voted to make it compulsory for public institutions to have pork on the menu.
This is the latest chapter in a debate over cultural mores, identity and pigs, which kicked off over two years ago after a number of day care centres in the country stopped offering pork at lunchtimes so people wouldn’t have to queue in different lines at lunchtime.
The ‘meatball war’ (frikadellekrigen) super-sized in the summer of 2013, when front pages across Denmark were dominated by arguments about whether public institutions should take pork off their menus to cater for Muslim children.
The Danish anti-immigration party even agreed to abandon a mayoral campaign in the town of Hvidovre near Copenhagen in 2013, on the agreement that the current mayor promised to put more traditional food, including frikadeller, on public menus.
Think Denmark and you’ll probably think bacon – but pig products mean a lot more to the Danes than just bacon. Pigs outnumber people two to one in Denmark, meaning pork is a major constituent of the traditional Danish diet. Pig fat is often lovingly spread on open sandwiches in lieu of butter (which the Danes are also partial to). As the daughter of a half Jewish pork eating Dane exiled in the UK, whose grandfather was a director of the Danish Bacon Board, this is something I am well aware of. Festive occasions are awash with roast pork, pork crackling, pork pate, pork, pork, pork.
The Danish pork debate has become an emotive symbol of the Islamophobia and fear of a cultural invasion which is gripping Europe. In Denmark, it’s not just pork that’s being used in this cultural battle against what the country’s anti-immigrant politicians deem ‘invasive food and customs’. A new Danish bill will see asylum seekers who arrive with more than 10,000 kroner in cash (just over £1000) forced to to use the surplus to pay for their stay.
Though Denmark only accepted 20,000 asylum seekers in 2015, its government is working hard to deter more people coming in by scaring people away and making life as hard as possible for those already in the country, including alienating Muslims with this public pork drive.
My Danish grandmother used to smugly comment in the 1970’s that Denmark didn’t have any ‘race problems’. This is because pretty much everyone in Denmark was Danish then. The great challenge for Denmark, the UK and countries across Europe where cultures will continue to collide will be to look past the fear-mongering and find a common humanity with those people that are in need on their doorsteps. Invite them in, break bread with them, and eat.