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Rob Baan:

“Where is the Ministry of Food?”

“Less meat, more vegetables, that would make the world healthier and more sustainable.” The mission for Rob Baan, vegetable innovator for Koppert Cress, is clear. “The entire food industry needs to start thinking differently.”

The shining Molteni stove is waiting for chefs who regularly come and experiment with the young plants being grown in the greenhouse behind it. Cress with the flavour of broccoli, mustard, basil, chive, Shiso or one of the 65 other varieties Koppert Cress supplies from the heart of the Westland in the Netherlands to 70,000 restaurants all over the world. Rob Baan took over the company in 2002, and expanded it into a vegetable empire with 200 employees and a million-dollar turnover. This spring, Koppert Cress was awarded the Koning Willem I Plaquette for Sustainable Entrepreneurship for ‘joining health care, good nutrition, education, nature, environment, honest labour, innovation, energy neutral entrepreneurship and a large economic impact.’

Vegetables as medicine
A holistic approach is characteristic of Baan. As a producer of micro-vegetables, he has macrovision. His mission is to make the Netherlands healthier by better eating. “People are plant eaters by nature, who supplement their diet with a bit of animal protein. But in our current diet, ratios have been reversed. We eat a lot of meat with just a few vegetables. We are therefore facing various non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes.” According to Baan, doctors should prescribe vegetables more often, instead of pills. “Type 2 diabetes patients who start eating healthier can often stop using most medicines after a few weeks.” 

“Stop the employer’s contributions to healthy company lunches”
Baan also advocates the 80/20 rule with chef’s organisation Dutch Cuisine: 80 per cent plants, 20 per cent animal. To achieve that, the Dutch should eat at least 250 grammes of vegetables per day, or an entire head of broccoli. “That is boring food, and tough to eat,” Baan laughs. It could be more exciting, varied and better divided over the day. Company lunches should also contain more vegetables. “We provide our staff with protective clothing and safety goggles. So why are we not also helping them prevent a coronary by providing healthy food?” Healthy company cafeterias should also mean the employer’s contribution for free lunches should be stopped, according to Baan. He even wants to file a test case for that. “As employers we are helping reduce cost of care for governments. We should be given money for that. In any case, VATs on fruit and vegetable should be lowered.” 

Ministry of Food
There is no shortage of ideas and energy. But Baan can of course not change the world and the gastronomic culture by himself. During every congress, every lecture, every meeting with industry peers, he appeals to horticulture, the food industry, science, the social service sector and government in order to work together for healthier food. Baan would like to reach a National Food agreement. All the afore-mentioned parties together should stimulate healthy food and “stop producing rubbish.” “I want to make an appeal to especially the industry: take responsibility when putting food into people. Ask yourself whether you would give it to your children. Stop thinking in market shares, start thinking about whether it is good for your customers or not.” His plea is met with approval, but an agreement has not yet been reached. Too many interests are in play. Baan explains why.

Thinking in health profits
Horticulturalists too often only think in tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers, and do not consider the health benefits. “Even though that is the ‘license to operate’ for horticulture.” Scientists are mostly focused on efficiency. “Producing as much food as possible for as few resources as possible, regardless of quality.” Food multinationals claim food safety and sustainability, but in spite of all that they market products that make people ill, sustainability-wise. “Nothing is fresh, everything is packaged in boxes and bags. They are thinking in shareholder value, not in health profits.” The government is incapable of formulating a coherent policy. “The Ministry of Economic Affairs stimulates unhealthy products, while the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport then has to repair the consequences of all those bad foods. I have therefore been calling for a Ministry of Food for years already. Where is it?”

Feeding twice as many people
“If we want to keep this planet, we should really start eating vegetables instead of meat. Eating more vegetables is not just better for a persons health, it is also more sustainable.” Baan calculates that if 600,000 people – approximately the number of inhabitants of a city like Rotterdam or a country like Surinam – each eat 250 grammes of vegetables daily, you would need 2,000 hectares to feed them all. If they were to eat 225 grammes of meat every day, you would need 700 cows per day, meaning you would need 35,000 to 45,000 hectares to produce feed. “It is therefore more efficient to eat plants than to eat animals. We could save enormously on agricultural land in this manner, and we could feed twice the current population of the world without having to cut down primeval forests. We then would no longer have to panic over the climate.”

The smart Dutch
According to Baan the world could take an example from the Netherlands. Together with the Rabobank and a large number of partners, he introduced the initiative ‘Meet the smart Dutch’ at the Fruit Logistica in Berlin, Germany. Its philosophy: In 2050 the world population will amount to nine billion people, 80 per cent of whom will live in cities. We are going to need smart solutions to feed all of these people. Those solutions have to be environmentally friendly, and people would have to be able to rely on the fact that their food would come from natural sources. ‘The smart Dutch’ want to combine intelligent technology with metropolitan agriculture and new food supply systems. Baan says: “In the 16th century, the Netherlands was the first nation where more people lived in cities than in the country. That has given us a global advantage. We created the Beemster and Purmer to feed Amsterdam. The Westland was there for Rotterdam and The Hague. An area like the Westland is unique in the world. The horticulturalists do not see each other as competitors but share their knowledge, creating an incredibly successful production location. This setup can be copied and marketed. I see the Westland concept as a possible export product. Healthy deltas could be created all over the world because of this. This is a perfect example of an innovative, sustainable thought.”

Source: Rabobank
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