November 9, 2015, by Helen Whitehead

How much do you want: lagom, or just enough?

Sarah Stubbings writes: Have you ever gone down to the breakfast buffet in a hotel, eagerly looking forward to a meal that someone else has cooked? You’re patiently queueing up when some greedy character in front piles all the best food onto their plate and there’s nothing left for you. How do you react? Next time it happens, don’t start a buffet war: instead, give that person a long hard stare and tell them “to take lagom”.

Lagom is a uniquely Swedish term that doesn’t have a direct English equivalent but can be translated as “just enough”, “in moderation” or “enough to go round”. The word has very positive connotations – it doesn’t suggest abstinence or scarcity but a sense of appropriateness and balance.

I came across the concept recently while watching the latest Hairy Bikers TV cookery show on the BBC, Northern Exposure. The series shows the Hairy Bikers, aka Si King and Dave Myers, travelling around Northern Europe and doing what they do best: getting off their bikes to meet the locals and cook dishes that represent the local cuisine.

smorgasbordIn southern Sweden, a local chef cooked them a smorgasbord – the buffet-style selection of hot and cold dishes that, for so many of us in Britain, epitomises Swedish food. The bikers tell us that:

‘Before we get stuck in, like a stag night at a cut-price pub, we need to remember the Swedish concept of lagom.
Lagom means just enough, so it’s important to take just enough.
The idea of loading your plate up and leaving half of it shouldn’t exist, it’s bad manners.
You should live your life lagom, just enough.’

Isn’t that the perfect way to sum up what sustainability is all about? A world in which everyone takes just enough. It’s got so many applications for all parts of our lives – eat just enough to be well-nourished but not overweight, drink just enough to enjoy your night without any morning-after regrets, buy just enough so you don’t waste what you don’t use, and take just enough of what’s offered so there is enough left for everyone else. How much do you want? Give me lagom.

The Sustainability, Society and You MOOC on FutureLearn continues this week – there’s still time to join us!

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