The Sunday Interview with Portionen Under Tian’s Hanna Olvenmark

För att komma till inlägget på svenska, klicka här: Söndagsintervjun: med Portionen under tians Hanna Olvenmark

Hanna Olvenmark is a dietitian, entrepreneur, food blogger and cookbook author – but many people here in Sweden know her best as “Portionen under tian”. The name literally translates into “Servings under 10 kronor” (10 kronor being about $1), and comes with the intention of showing how you can cook and eat very well while on a budget. Behind this brilliant name – which Instagram account, website and cookbooks all go by – you find a brave, wise, funny and incredibly competent woman who has become close to synonymous with planet friendly, cheap and yummy food. Her cookbooks have sold incredibly well the past few years and her Instagram account has grown to an astounding 160,000 followers. The wonderful thing about Hanna – besides her obvious successes – is her warm, inviting vibe and… well, that she’s so very relatable. She had her first child about a year ago, recently bought a cabin in the woods, aspires to grow some veggies in the future and is one heck of a talented runner. Did you know she has a sub-90 half marathon PB, for example? In this interview, we’re asking questions high and low and manage to touch upon a whole range of subjects, and we can conclude that Hanna is exactly as energetic and awesome as she comes across as through her various channels. We can only watch and learn from this multitasking Swedish west coaster, who’s about to get everyone to bring their packed lunch outside and having breakfast atop a hill regardless of weather. That’s right – because did we mention she’s a big time nature lover and expert at camp stove cooking? We hope you’ll appreciate this read as much as we are. Without further ado: Hanna Olvenmark:

What part of your work life do you enjoy the most?

Oh, I think I’ll have to say the variation in itself. I like doing all sorts of things, but at the moment, I think nothing makes me happier than working on my new book. And since this interview will be coming out after I’ve revealed what it’ll be about, I can share it here: it’ll be about cooking outside! Maybe not too big of a surprise, but still. It’ll be all about simple food for day trips, very similar to the stuff I typically share. So that I’m finding so much fun right now. I also love meeting and communicating with people. And now, during these Corona times, it feels extra rewarding to do a talk somewhere. A year ago, I was booked up all the time, but now I get so excited for one booking. I also love connecting with very knowledgeable people involved in for example climate science, such as David Bryngelsson at CarbonCloud, who joined us for a podcast episode recently.

Taking off in that very episode – which killed off some myths – I’m wondering what you find the most annoying food and/or health claim at the moment?

What primarily bothers me is the claim that gluten is harmful for you. Because it’s not – provided you don’t suffer from celiac disease of course. I also find all the rhetoric around anti-inflammatory food really annoying. First of all – there’s not even such a thing as an anti-inflammatory diet. The phenomenon when people say that a certain diet will lead to X, Y and Z is definitely problematic, if it’s not anchored in science. Sharing recipes that are yummy and nutritious is one thing, but when you go ahead and claim they’ll protect you against certain diseases, I definitely see a red flag. Food and health are both cash cows, and tapping into people’s desire to live long and stay healthy, and also using scaremongering, I see as a big problem. Oh, and the whole thing with the fear of sugar – that sugar is toxic and all of that. Wheat flour as well. That’s not true either. It makes me angry when you make people scared.

I totally agree. If we rewind a little bit: Portionen under tian was created five years ago. Did you struggle with doubts initially, or did you feel quite early on you were on to something?

I definitely run on emotion, and never say “this is good” but instead always “this feels good”. Lots of decisions in this company have come as a result of my current emotions for sure, haha. We have even recorded a podcast episode multiple times because it didn’t feel good the first time. Same theme and everything, I just didn’t have a good feeling about it. But anyway – it’s important that it feels good for me. When I decided to go all in with Portionen under tian and I quit my previous job, it actually felt pretty good from the start, because I had been living with this feeling of always being in the wrong place prior. Financial worries stink though, so during times when I haven’t had too many gigs or when a bill hasn’t been paid on time, I’ve absolutely struggled with doubts. Getting to a place of financial stability early on was very important. Otherwise, I don’t think I would have had the energy to continue.

And today you have a staggering amount of followers on Instagram – about 160,000 people. Could you have imagined that when you got started?

No, I don’t think I could have. Now it feels normal though, but I knew at an early stage that Portionen under tian wasn’t something I would do as a hobby, in hopes of getting some likes at night. For some people that’s enough, but I really wanted it to turn into a real job.

And that’s exactly what happened. It’s so inspiring.

Yeah, but that dosen’t mean I don’t have doubts now. I ask myself often if I should really be doing what I’m doing. I can definitely dream of employment, but when I express that to my partner, he just goes “what?”, haha.

And in those moments, what is it that feels appealing with a steady job?

That sense of safety and security for sure. A regular paycheck, coworkers that are always there, that someone else tells me what I should do. I feel this the most when there are plenty of decisions to make, that I just don’t have the energy to decide everything but just want execute someone else’s orders for a bit.

Hanna with her two books (left) and Chickpea Veggie Bars (right).

And what draws you back after dealing with some of those thoughts? What’s the big benefit of being an entrepreneur and running your own business?

That it feels rewarding in so many different ways. When someone gets in touch and tells me I’ve somehow helped them in life – for example, the other day someone wrote that a doctor at an eating disorder clinic had recommended me and that she had found Portionen under tian that way, and I can’t even tell you how much that means. As a dietitian, you meet directly with patients and see first hand how your work affects them, but in this world, you just throw stuff out there without quite knowing how it lands. So that direct form of feedback is incredible. At the same time, it’s a validation that brings its own challenges, as nice comments can’t be used towards paying rent, for example.

That’s a discussion commonly seen these days, how bloggers and online creators are supposed to get paid for their work. In many cases, we’re looking at high quality content available for free, and people have to a large extent gotten used to that. It becomes very hard to motivate why they all of a sudden should pay for it, through a paywall or something similar. What are your thoughts on this topic?

This is such an important question. It really comes down to what people are used to – if we buy a magazine, we don’t get upset about seeing ads in there, even though we actually paid money for it! But then people go to an Instagram account, which they haven’t paid for, and find it very upsetting if they find ads there. I see that all the time, and I think it’s about time we start appreciating the content creators and their material that we ultimately rely on. I do think it’s moving in the right direction, but just yesterday, I received a comment in conjunction with a paid collaboration on Instagram where the person said that it was “too bad I had started doing ads”.  And that’s tiring. There are lots of initiatives popping up these days, such as Bottler, and we’ve set up a donation function through Acast if someone would like to support our podcast, but only very few people have done so this far. And it’s not like I’m walking around being angry because of it, but it just becomes so clear that people in general expect podcasts and all the other stuff to be free. We’ll have to change that. From a sustainability perspective, how awesome hadn’t it been if we’d support people and services instead buying new clothes and stuff we don’t even need?

“People definitely judge me a little harder than others, because they expect me to live some form of all-in, planet hero lifestyle.

Absolutely! Speaking of ads and what people think about what you post – do you have to put up with lots of shaming and unpleasant comments?

No, I can’t say lots, but I can get hundreds of comments in one day if I’m active – which is why I’m not active sometimes, because I simply don’t want all that input. So yes, some unpleasant comments come my way. Some are like those “I don’t want to see ads”-lashes but there’s also the talk about being eco friendly. Someone actually wrote to me after I had posted about having breakfast outside – where you could see in the picture that I had two pink plastic cups with me – that it was so nice to see my pictures but wouldn’t it be great if I could go no plastic next time? I responded hello – I’ve shared so many of these eating outside-posts without plastic cups and is this one of those zero plastic-things? Because in that case we have much greater issues we should get going on. I definitely think that people judge me a little harder than others, because they expect me to live some form of all-in, planet hero lifestyle. Sometimes, I think the discussion ends up in the wrong place when you judge every single action by the same individual. I eat meat on occasion, but work really hard for a vegetarian food norm in general, and know that my contribution as a whole is much greater that way than if I’d just been “perfect” in my own life. Looking at the net effect is important. The worst thing I know is when someone takes the liberty to tell me “I like you because of this, but not because of this”. When they wrap up the criticism in this blanket of praise, which I then should be grateful for. That behavior, when we try to change others so they’ll fit better in with our own view of the world, I have a hard time with.

Two of our favorite recipes from Portionen Under Tian: Corn Carbonara (left) and Pasta with Green Kale (right).

Continuing the themes of food and climate – you make sure that your recipes not only cost about SEK 10 per serving, but also that they stay within WWF’s One Planet Plate climate budget for food, recommending that each meal, per serving, doesn’t exceed 0.5 kg CO2 equivalents. Is it harder to stay within the the cost per serving or the carbon emissions?

The cost per serving, without a doubt. The CO2 equivalents are very easy to stay within if you stick to a certain type of ingredients, and those really only force us to rethink recipes if we’d like both mushrooms and hard cheese in the same recipe. I really need to look into why mushrooms yield such high emissions, I haven’t had a chance to do that yet, but that’s the case anyway. So if we’d like to put together a mushroom risotto, for example, we have to think twice about the amounts we add. The cost per serving isn’t really a big hassle either, but just something we have to think about sometimes. At the end of the day, a lot comes down to where people buy their groceries too. If you buy your ingredients at 7 Eleven, I guess it’s more a serving for one thousand, haha. No, generally speaking, it’s not difficult to stay within 0.5 kg CO2e. If your food consists of mainly legumes and grains, those bars barely move, no matter the amounts you add. It’s dairy items that can be tricky to fit in.

“Generally speaking, it’s not difficult to stay within 0.5 kg CO2e if your food consists of mainly legumes and grains.”

If we leave your work and zoom in at life beyond it – you guys recently bought a cabin in the woods in Dalsland. What’s the best thing with your new place?

Oh, the freedom and sense of calmness I feel there. And the closeness to the woods and nature as a whole.

Do you have a desire to make it a permanent home?

No, I don’t think so – but I did for a while this summer! But once things got going again in the fall, I’ve realized I feel quite isolated when I work from the cabin – which I did for a bit at the end of the summer – and here in Gothenburg I have so many friends close by, and many of them are also on parental leave now. Stuff like that.

You’ve mentioned that you’re dreaming of some vegetable growing by the cabin. As the devoted veggie growers as we are, we’re wondering what vegetables you’d like to grow? Perhaps because they’re quite pricey at the store?

Hm, good question! I think I’ve mainly been thinking about the stuff that I use a lot of, but fresh Swedish tomatoes can be a little expensive for sure, so I’d love to give that a go. And those you grow or pick yourself are so unbelievably delicious! Another thing would be kale, not because it’s pricey but because it would have been so amazing to have right outside the door. But I guess you have to watch out for those larvae? Herbs I’d love to grow too, and carrots!

Lovely plans! If you had to go all in vegan, what would you miss the most then?

Parmesan. I can’t really stand the vegan version available.

When it comes to your daughter Ronja, what would you like to pass on to her in terms of nature and the outdoors?

Oh, such a good question. I’d like to pass on that it’s the most fun place for exploration. Both in terms of what nature can offer up physically, with different materials and all of that, but also what happens with yourself when you’re outside. I get so calm when I’m in nature, and she’s much like me in the sense that she has lots of energy, so I think she’ll need nature to ground herself every so often.

Hanna cooking outside (left) and Simple Curry Stew (right). You can pre-order her new book on cooking outside here: Portionen under tian – Äta ute.

I’ve also picked up that you’ve been a pretty devoted runner – but perhaps not too much right now. Is that correct?

Yes! But as recently as yesterday did I think about perhaps signing up for the Gothenburg half marathon next year – provided it happens. It took me a good while to feel ready to get back to running after giving birth. I have been very involved with running through different clubs and I have plenty of really talented runners around me, and I decided pretty early on in my pregnancy that I wouldn’t start running again as early as I was seeing people around me go about it. I had to have multiple surgeries due to tearing, and I told myself that I could give running a go three months after that, if I felt up for it. Now, I might have run about 8k as my longest distance.

Who are you as a runner? Do you run track, road, trail?

The runner I identify myself as is the one who likes training in the woods but loves racing half marathons. It’s always been my favorite distance, much due to the fact that it’s where I perform the best I’m sure. My PB – from the Gothenburg half – is 1:26, but I’m obviously not there today. I’ve done sub-40 10ks in the past too, but it was a while ago. I can definitely be speedy, but I really think 10k races are awful – you have to go so fast and put up with way too much lactic acid for my taste. I sincerely hate lactic acid. Half marathon is perfect!

But you’re run farther than that, because I happen to know that you’ve participated in the OCC (56k) down in the Alps. Right?

Yes, exactly! That was before you needed ITRA-points. That’s the only ultra race that I’ve done, even though I’ve run a lot of trail otherwise.

Are the longer distances intriguing to you?

I’ll put it like this: I didn’t train specifically for OCC at all. I happen to be really good uphill, that’s my thing, but I’m terrible at downhill running. When I ran that race, I was fine uphill but the downhill hurt so much I almost cried! I didn’t know how to tackle those long descents at all. Afterwards, I was like ok, I wasn’t good at this – but I love the nature experience and would consider doing it again. I would just need to prepare for it better. Really though, I wish I could only run uphill, haha. Yesterday I felt the desire to become a runner again, but without entering that world with every cell of my body. I have a bit of a hard time choosing things in life and for example had a period in my life where I both partied and ran a lot. I could be out partying until 3am, only to get up and run a race early the next morning. I was hungover, of course, or sometimes even almost drunk still! I sometimes end up like that, simply because I can’t choose. And generally, I don’t like identifying myself too much with a specific type of person. How can I be a runner without everything in life being about running? You know, when you’re sitting with a group of friends and all you talk about is split times. I find that so boring.

Hanna in the Norwegian mountains in 2018.

Track running and the whole marathon world can definitely feel a little intimidating and obsessive. That’s one of the reasons we love trail and ultra so much, simply because those comparisons and that focus on seconds aren’t relevant in the same way.

Yeah, and even if it can be incredible motivating, I feel now that I just want running to be something that I enjoy and not something that adds any performance-related stress. For me, it’s been so great to have had this longer break from it, as a natural result of pregnancy and child birth. I didn’t run at all from about week 16, simply because it didn’t feel fun anymore, and didn’t start again until Ronja was about 4 months old, so that’s a solid 9-10 months long break.

And sure, there are women running 100k 2 months post-partum and when you hear that, you can certainly feel like a loser, but that’s when it’s so important to remind yourself of why that’s maybe not the smartest move – and that there are different types of role models. I try to choose mine wisely.

Definitely. And it gets even harder when that person is a professional or at least someone who’s very good and perhaps even a person you’ve looked to for tips and advice and stuff like that. A person I follow and find a lot of inspiration in is Emelie Forsberg. She often emphasizes how important it is to listen to your body and really tune in, that everyone is different, that you should give yourself time etc. I’ve now had the experience of what it feels like to have pelvic weakness, and that really made me pause and think “hey, what if I won’t be able to walk properly again?” and after something like that, it’s easy to stay away from risk taking.

As an ending to the running part – what’s the most fun race that you’ve run?

Oh, that was the Gothenburg half marathon where I set my PB. I wasn’t wearing a watch, I was in such an awesome flow, I ran fast when it felt good, I was high fiving kids I ran by etc. I think that’s what I like the most with city races compared to trail races, that there are so many people out spectating and the atmosphere that comes with it. I can take care of the nature experience myself, but when it comes to races, I just love running them in cities. The Gothenburg half is amazing – it’s such a big event for the people in the city. The streets are completely packed. And all sorts of runners participate, not just the young and fast, but also older people and those that might not have the archetypical runner’s body. There’s so much pride by the finish line. I’ve also run the Vasa relay during the Vasaloppet summer week (a total of 90k, run as a relay), and that was so much fun! I loved experiencing that team vibe for a change. I’ve run it twice. It was so exciting to follow your team mates throughout the day and wait for them in Mora. One of the years we placed second and the other one third.

Oh, damn! Good job! I dream of a podium position there, in the full 90k race. But Hanna, I feel like we could keep talking for another two hours, however I can hear our little Theo is asking for my attention downstairs. We’ll have to end it here for now, and Mike and I are so grateful you were willing to take the time to do this, and also for all the inspiration you’ve given us over the years. We keep your cookbooks on our bookshelf and use them frequently, and you’re such a terrific role model in so many ways. Before we let you go though, our standard last question we ask everyone we interview: what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

Vanilla!

Ah, a classic. Take care!

For those of you who are curious about Hanna’s books, we can highly recommend both the first one Portionen under tian, and the second, Portionen under tian – 300-kronorsveckorna. You can also pre-order her third book, Portionen under tian – Äta ute. If you haven’t already visited portionenundertian.se it’s definitely about time, and following @portionenundertian on Instagram should be close to mandatory. You’ll find planet friendly food and life joy en masse there, completely judgement free – a wonderful little corner of the world of social media. Thanks Hanna – you’re awesome!

This interview was originally conducted in Swedish.

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More posts in our interview series:

The Sunday Interview: Runner, Farmer and Mother Emelie Forsberg

On Gardening, Self-Sufficiency and Life Balance with Karoline Jönsson

On Parenthood, Countryside Dreams and Life as a Freelancer with Emma Sundh

On Running, Life and the Love for Nature with Erika Borgström

On Detours and Finding Your Way Home: An Interview with Live Slow Run Far’s Sophia

A Transplanted New Yorker in Sweden: An Interview with Live Slow Run Far’s Michael


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– Sophia & Michael


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