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Danish media reactions to Journal of Linguistic Anthropology paper

[The following is a guest post by Martha Sif Karrebæk.]

On the 13th of August I was contacted by a journalist from the biggest national radio station in Denmark who wanted me on air the  following morning. Later that day as well as the following days I was called by a bunch of journalists, from other radio stations, newspapers, magazines and even the two national television stations, including the 9 o’clock news (see the list below).

The relatively big media attention was generated by a story sent out by the communication department at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen where I work about my recently published research paper from the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology “What’s in your lunch-box”. Their story came out at the same time as most schools started again after the summer holiday and it carried the headline “The lunch box makes integration difficult”. One of the main points made by the communication department was that rye bread constitutes an essential part of what is often treated as an appropriate and proper Danish lunch box in schools. What many of the journalists then asked me was “What is wrong with rye bread?” To this I replied: “there is nothing wrong with rye bread per se, but there may be wrong ways to use it socially”.

I was actually struck by this relatively wide interest in such a peculiar and even slightly bizarre research area but children’s lunch-boxes proved to attract attention and to generate very emotional responses. Or maybe it was my heretic contestation of the sacrosanct phenomenon of rye bread that generated those responses.

What took me by particular surprise was the extended discussion on the website of the tabloid paper Ekstra Bladet. Some of the readers had actually read and understood the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology paper. But some writers quickly transformed the discussion into one of immigrants versus real Danes. They wrote for instance: “we are the original inhabitants”, “the foreigners have to do like us”, and “Denmark is going to be the next Muslim country because of people like you – and you haven’t even noticed”. They also shamed me for doing such immigrant friendly research. What I wrote a long time before this – that the school lunch is a potential cultural battlefield – turned out to become true to an extent and on a dimension that I could not have predicted.

None of the readers agreed that teachers should have the right to force children to eat rye bread but on the other hand nobody ever questioned the utterly strange assumption behind statements such as “rye bread makes integration more difficult”, namely at some point somebody must have assumed that rye bread should, could or ought to make integration (whatever that is) easier.

Of course, I am impressed that I could get so much public attention. However, I am not so sure that actually got through the messages that I would really have preferred. These (preferred) messages comprise:

  • Food may define social communities – and the other side to that coin is that food can be used in processes of exclusion and disalignment.
  • By extension, sometimes teachers ought to think twice when they take health oriented measures. Is “it is healthy” always the most important pedagogical point to make? Health cannot or should not be used as an excuse to all sorts of transgressions and problematization of children’s home cultural backgrounds.
  • Last, I hope to have raised the blindfolds with regard to the national icon: rye bread. Rye bread has become an emblem for Danishness, and due to its unquestionable healthy character, talking about the need to eat rye bread has in some cases become a proxy for talking about other matters related to integration, cultural encounters etc. This was also very clear from the public responses on the website of the tabloid newspaper.


This is the list of media that I either talked to or who(m I know) reported about my research:

P1 morgen – one of the morning programmes on the biggest national radio station; I was interviewed in the studio and they ran pieces of the interview the whole day in the hourly news

P4 – same radio company but a different channel; a short telephone interview

Radio 24/7 – national radio station; did an interview with me on their late night news programme Date Line

Radio Scala – radio station; a short telephone interview

TV2 Nyheder and DR Nyheder – the only two national television news programmes. DR Nyhederne wanted to interview me for the 9 o’clock news on a Friday but I was reluctant. Instead they ran a story where teachers’ attention to lunch-boxes was said to be an improvement for school quality. The journalist from TV2 Nyheder interviewed me for a long time and used it for their web news

Politiken – one of the biggest newspapers who did a long interview with me

Jyllandsposten – a big newspaper; used the story by the communication department

Jyske Vestkysten – a provincial newspaper; they made a short interview and made a big story

Ekstra Bladet – the leading tabloid paper; they only used the story by the communication department. It generated an extended discussion on their website.

Børn og Unge – the members’ magazine for the trade union for pre-school and after-school teachers

The Copenhagen Post – The columnist contacted me to do an interview but I did not have the time on that particular day. Instead he did a piece based on the JOLA article as well as the story of the communication department. I am not happy with it but I have had no chance to sanction it. However, more noticeable than the story are the blog comments where rye bread becomes emblematic for xenophobic and nationalist Danes.

 [The preceding is a guest post by Martha Sif Karrebæk.]