Sarah Bedolfe
When not studying Science, Business & Policy, Sarah examines why Dutch people and cheese both stand head and shoulders above the rest.

I have dedicated the final year of my Masters degree to a program on Science, Business and Policy. The research experience I gained last year was invaluable – discovering new knowledge is awesome! Still, as Melissa so well articulated in her latest blog, not all graduate students go on to academic careers. In fact, the easiest way to describe the importance of business and policy is simply to point out that both Melissa and I have discussed these topics repeatedly on the Hook, Line, and Sinker blog column (examples linked below!). For this reason, I am looking for ways to bridge the gap between science and society.

One of the perks of studying policy is getting to tour the headquarters for the Province of Groningen.
This hall has been in use for governance meetings since the year 1602.

To help close that gap, I took two intense crash courses in business and policy theory, which were followed with assignments to address real-world challenges. We shaped advice reports for local businesses, and crafted policy recommendations. As science students, we understand the importance of basing our advice on existing knowledge. The difficult part is figuring out what to do when there is no relevant data – or when social conflicts stand in the way of a solution.

Melissa and I have noted that the primary force in business is the drive to outcompete others to win short-term profits. It’s an exciting and dynamic working environment, but can also have some downsides. The good thing is that businesses are increasingly striving to balance “people, planet, and profit,” which means an increased emphasis on behaving in a socially and environmentally responsible manner along with profit-earning.

SUPping, my favorite California beach hobby, seems to have found its way to the canals of Amsterdam.
I snapped this during a late-September warm spell; unfortunately the time for this is now long past.

This tractor brings deep-fried whitefish and salted herring to hungry beachgoers out for an autumn stroll
(definitely not the weirdest thing I’ve seen on the beach here, by the way).

In policy projects, we grappled with complicated and subjective questions. “What is the best policy in this case?” and “How should we implement it?” can never be answered simply. There are countless factors at play, and many of them are far outside of your own control.

Policy is particularly relevant for issues of marine conservation. The fishing industry is built around resources that are actually “public goods.” Wild fish belong to no one individually, which is really to say they belong to everyone – yet they can be harvested by individuals for a profit. Time and again, this story results in tragic depletion.

It’s a phenomenon known as the “tragedy of the commons.” Finding a solution to such problems is incredibly difficult – which is why it continues to happen, and why fishery issues continue to be a common theme in the blogs Melissa and I write. (See here, here, and here by Melissa; here, here, and here by yours truly, just for starters.)

My visit to the Northern Maritime Museum felt complete when I found my very own boat.
In Dutch, 'Saartje' is an endearing nickname for Sarah.

The Science, Business, and Policy program has been great for getting me into an interdisciplinary mindset. With an eye on the social disciplines, I’ve gotten to thinking about Dutch culture – specifically, in the kitchen.

Dutch cuisine has its share of quirks, such as pickled herring. In the Netherlands you’ll also encounter a zealous love for intense salty licorice, and may notice that dessert-ish sandwich toppings are commonplace. Some eat chocolate sprinkles every morning. All eat anise-flavored sprinkles in the event of a childbirth.

You might be surprised then that I’ve heard more than one foreign student complain about how boring Dutch food is. Meanwhile, the hilarious blog “Stuff Dutch People Like” poses the question, “Why has this far-trading colonial nation not found global culinary success?” Traditional meals in the Netherlands are actually quite modest. A typical Dutch dinner almost always includes some form of potatoes. No wonder the fries are so good here. The meal is complete when you add some meatballs and kale, preferably all mashed together in a stamppot. (Americans tend to think kale is new and hip, but this vegetable has been a staple here for ages.)

Potato has been a Dutch staple for centuries. Vincent van Gogh was Dutch and created his famous painting

The Potato Eaters in the Netherlands in 1885 (Image: Public Domain). It was intended to depict the reality
peasant life and dietJozef Israëls, a painter native to Groningen and whose work I saw on exhibit here,
similarly addressed the subject in his
Peasant Family at the Table

Looks good, tastes Gouda. A pilgrimage to the Netherlands is a must for any believer in Cheesus.
This heavenly shop in the center of Groningen, De Boergondiër, is my reliable local supplier.

A few Dutch traditions have achieved broader acclaim, nonetheless. Besides the success of lowlands beer brewers, which aforementioned students do seem to appreciate, one culinary success outshines the rest. Of course, I’m talking about cheese. Beautiful, delicious cheese. It’s probably my favorite thing about this quaint, rainy country.

From Gouda to Edam, several Dutch cities have world-famous names due to the cheeses that originated there. Cheese-making expertise has been shaped in the Netherlands over centuries and resulted in a range of lovely flavors, from young and creamy to aged and sharp. When it comes to buying cheese, I skip the grocery store and go straight to my favorite cheese shop in the center of Groningen, De Boergondiër, for fresh blocks of local cheese made with milk from cows who graze outdoors. My latest choice was a mildly-aged cheese that was ripened in a repurposed WWII bunker. Add some bread, and a perfect lunch requires little else.

My “very scientific research” on the Dutch population has revealed that the local folk are
tall and cheese-loving. Here I am posing with a particularly friendly research subject.

We were treated to a lovely, unusually long autumn. Near-freezing rainstorms were its down-fall
…see what I did there?

Dutch food may tend to be simple but when it comes to cheese, the natives have refined taste. Cheese is even attributed with shaping the population physiologically: some attest that this dairy tradition is to credit for the Netherlands’ abnormally tall people, as discussed in this amusing and enlightening BBC story. Did you know that the average Dutch man is 6 feet tall (185cm)? Meanwhile, the average Dutch woman reaches a height of 5ft 7in (170cm). Few other countries even come close, including the US (where men average 5ft 9.5in and women 5ft 4in).

This leads me to my very scientific conclusion that Dutch people, similar to Dutch cheese, stand literally head and shoulders above the rest.


Recommended Posts