Rasmus Rask: the planet will survive, but will humanity?

Rasmus Rask: the planet will survive, but will humanity?
Published: 13. April 2023
Categories: Interview

Rasmus Rask has been involved in several forward-looking ventures, of which the ice cream factory La Muu is perhaps the most well-known. All of these ventures are united by one theme – sustainability. We asked Rasmus how dire the situation really is, his thoughts on the future of food, and what the solutions could be.

Although today, Rasmus is part of several projects that promote progress in society, he actually wanted to become an athlete as a child. “I liked to long jump, and later I started playing basketball. At the end of the Soviet era, when I was young, sports had a big role in cultural life. It was shown a lot on TV, and children were a natural part of it. I didn’t become an athlete, but my 16-year-old son does triathlons,” laughs Rasmus, and adds that he is now living his childhood dreams through his son.

Returning to the oceans

Rasmus’s dreams have changed a lot since his childhood: “I am worried about climate change. It seems that the shifts are irreversible already. There’s no point in talking about 1.5 degrees anymore; the planet’s temperature is more likely to rise by 3-4 degrees by the end of the century. There will be fewer habitats. The planet will survive, but will humanity?”

Rasmus is not afraid of food shortages caused by the climate crisis. “We have the entire ocean’s resources at our disposal. There is potential that is largely untapped. The question is how effectively and cheaply we can produce food using this resource,” he explains.

I asked if the fertile soil for growing food is at risk. “In traditional, ‘carrot in the soil’ type agriculture, there are indeed less and less untouched resources and fertile soil. The reason is intensive agricultural activity, during which fertile soil is used up in shorter cycles. The cycle of producing organic food, where useful resources are utilized, could be about 30-50 years long, but in intensive agriculture, it is only 3-5 years,” he says.

He continues: “As an entrepreneur, I see opportunities alongside risks. If I were an analyst or a researcher, I might see this situation purely as a negative trend, but I am not. I believe that humanity is capable of reaching new innovations and knowledge in these challenges and therefore also a new balance. We are unlikely to return to communal agriculture from 100 years ago, even if we wanted to. I do want to grow my own food, but I don’t see that as a sustainable model. We cannot all grow our own food in the future.”

Where there is a problem, there is also a solution

“Some time ago, my friend Priit and I started the Bringback project. The idea is to propose a system of reusable food containers as a general street level service and thus replace all single use consumer plastic. After the pilot project, it became clear that even though people are generally positive about the need to reduce packaging waste, their attitude does not match their consumption behavior. Only few people are willing to take extra steps,” he says and adds: “My worry is that it will be difficult to convince the average consumer to start using reusable food packages. There are instances where reusables work relatively well, such as an event, at summer festivals or communities but I am not convinced it will become a universal solution.”

Rasmus suggests the key is to design the system as simple as possible, focusing on recycling and not on changing consumer behaviour. “Household recycling is definitely a part of design – but I would not make it much more elaborate than it already is. The key is to ensure that the recycled containers are automatically scanned and separated by their classification at waste treatment plants. Automated scanning is better than telling people to set up 55 different packaging containers at their apartment building. Automated screening should enable us to sort the packaging in a way we could fully reuse them as material in producing new packaging.

This technology is available and hopefully becomes a standard soon. At La Muu, for example, we are already packaging our cones and popsicles in film made of at leasy 85% of recycled plastic.”

We also talked about the future of food. Rasmus doesn’t currently believe in the rise of lab-grown food. “Experiments can be done in product development, but is it worthwhile to synthetically grow it? This is being worked on, and perhaps there are also major revolutions coming, but it seems to me that the obstacle will be whether it can be done industrially. There would need to be stadium-sized facilities with huge vats fermenting constantly. It’s easier to go back to the oceans, where a functional ecosystem already exists. Instead of creating artificially, we can use the resources that are already available. In addition, everything grows in the oceans completely independent of human activity, and it doesn’t seem to become scarce either.”

Leading by example

“On a small scale, we would like to introduce ways to do things better. From the perspective of La Muu as a food processor, we are more users of existing innovations. We are currently working on a collaboration project with TF TAK, a food technology lab, to make an “ordinary” cream based vegan ice cream from oat milk, green pea and chickpea based protein. This is not innovation at a fundamental level, we are rather implementing existing solutions,” says Rasmus and continues: “La Muu’s role in shaping the future of food could be leading by example. Last year, together with Rimi, we used their speckled bananas that were no longer suitable for sale and made banana ice cream. This project received a lot of attention, especially among young people. The flexibility of a small producer allows us to do things quickly, but for larger impact, bigger players should follow our example.”

How did Rasmus even get to ice cream? “When our children were born, my wife Karin and I were like many other young families who wanted to give their children clean and better food. We found farmers from whom to buy carrots and turnips, but store-bought ice cream seemed to be full of strange ingredients. Karin was the one who made the first attempts at homemade ice cream, and it already seemed that there was a demand for it. I left my job at a bank and sat down with my friend Priit who runs the Biomarket chain to consider if we could together produce and market some organic food products in Priit’s Biomarket stores. We chose to try out producing ice cream and have not looked back since.”

Rasmus’ dream for the near future is to be able to breathe a bit easier. “The last three years have been very difficult for food producers. Starting with the pandemic that lead to the supply chain crisis, followed by the war in Ukraine, and the energy crunch, and culminating in ever increasing raw material prices, flaming inflation and plummeting purchasing power- the perfect storm. There are already some rays of sunshine though. The summer is coming! The overall picture also seems brighter, both in local politics and on the Ukrainian front.” 

Interviewer: Kerttu Kongas

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