Anna-Britt Agnsäter was a leading popular educator within the sphere of ‘konsumentkooperation’ (consumer cooperatives) and was one of the founders of the food culture of the Swedish ‘Folkhem’ (welfare state).
Anna-Britt Agnsäter was born in Älmhult in 1915. After attending a girls’ school in Ystad she then trained to become a rural domestic science teacher during the 1930s at the Rimforsa rural domestic science school. She completed her subsequent practical training year with Elisabeth Tamm at the Kvinnliga medborgarskola (civic women’s school) at Fogelstad. At the same time Anna-Britt Agnsäter was responsible for housekeeping at the Fogelstad property. Having obtained her rural domestic science teaching qualification in 1939 she worked at a home for troubled young girls near Gothenburg until 1942. Then she taught at the Malgomaj school in Saxnäsfjällen. From 1943 she was an associate household consultant in Gothenburg and Bohuslän. From 1943-1945 she also travelled around Norrland at the expense of the Kooperativa Förbund giving talks to young folk and housewives about how to cope with the limited supplies during the war-austerity years. In 1945 she married Agne Agnsäter and the couple went on to have two children, Lena and Håkan.
In 1946 Anna-Britt Agnsäter was appointed head of the Kooperativa Förbundets (KF) (cooperative association) Provkök (experimental kitchen) in Stockholm where she worked until 1980. During her time KF Provkök grew in size and began to test and experiment with the raw goods supplied by KF. The Provkök experiments expanded to include a taste-testing panel which also tested new half-prepared and fully-prepared food as these options became more common. Anna-Britt Agnsäter’s understanding was that the producers’ and traders’ responsibility for food stretched all the way to dining table, and that was why food labelling was so important. The consumer was advised according to the motto ‘Weigh up the price against the quality’. Throughout her professional period Anna-Britt Agnsäter campaigned for better consumer information and to simplify nutritional advice.
In 1946 Anna-Britt Agnsäter had plans to produce an emergency cookbook which would help housewives to cope with the rationing which continued after the war. However, the paper shortage meant that it never came to be printed. From 1948-1949 she spent nine months travelling on a study trip to the USA in order to study new cooking techniques, frozen food products, as well as dried powder mixes and food science at Iowa State University. She also worked as homehelp for an American family in order to learn how American food products actually functioned. She was accompanied by her husband as he was working for OK, the cooperative’s oil company. Anna-Britt Agnsäter’s American experiences completely changed her views on food preparation. As head of KF Provkök she often collaborated with Hemmens Forskningsinstitut (HFI) (domestic research institute) in order to deliver ergonomic kitchen tools, improved cooking standards, and oven-safe dining ware. In conjunction with Gustavsberg porcelain- and plastic-factory and HFI Anna-Britt Agnsäter developed the four-piece and stackable plastic measuring set which would revolutionise Swedish cooking. It specified that, along with the decilitre measure, a tablespoon equalled 15 millilitres and that a teaspoon was equal to 5 millilitres. A new measure called ‘kryddmått’ (similar to the ¼ teaspoon measure, 1 millilitre) was established for the smallest measure required.
Anna-Britt Agnsäter produced an entirely new Vår kokbok, published in 1951, which was based on the new measuring set and her American experiences. The recipe wording used in the book became the norm by the 1950s, namely that each recipe was introduced with a command word (such as grate, peel, rinse, etc). The cookbook altered the previous focus from weighing the ingredients to measuring their volume instead. A recipe could be completed without needing to turn over the page, and the chapters of the book were arranged according to ingredients instead of, as before, being ordered from soup to dessert, as according to the layout of a bourgeois meal. One of the cookbook’s goals was to make successful cooking available to everyone from the first time a recipe was tried, and thus each recipe was always tested several times in the experimental kitchen. Anna-Britt Agnsäter also introduced the meat thermometer which she had first discovered on her American travels. Anna-Britt Agnsäter was subsequently responsible for the publication of 13 editions of Vår kokbok.
Anna-Britt Agnsäter’s leadership of KF Provkök made her a contributor to the modern form of supermarket by including labels with ingredients list and cooking recommendations on new food products. She collaborated with Tore Widhe, a food chemist who also worked for the Kooperativa Förbund. Together they created many new baking and flour products to facilitate simple and quick food preparation.
Anna-Britt Agnsäter campaigned for nutritionally balanced cooking and further developed the circular nutritional graphic into a nutritional pyramid graphic which was first made public in 1974. This simplified and visually clarified which elements should be eaten in which quantities. She also introduced the concept of staple foods. The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare was deeply unhappy with the nutritional pyramid graphic and they pushed the more complicated circular form of nutritional graphic. Nevertheless, the nutritional pyramid graphic has been adopted globally.
Anna-Britt Agnsäter and KF Provkök also provided important popular education services through the articles on food published in Vi magazine as well as food study groups held in conjunction with the Arbetarnas bildningsförbund (ABF) (workers’ education association). She contributed to social debates on the obesity problem and during the 1960s and 1970s she was critical of the tv-cooks’ heavy reliance on fat in their tv-programmes. She was a co-author of around 30 cookbooks which included chapters on nutritionally balanced meals, but she also published her own books on snacks, sandwiches, and frozen goods. In 1983 she published Matboken, which proved a useful pointer particularly to young people on how to eat both nutritious and simple food. During the 1990s, when she had become a widow, she moved into communal accommodation called Färdknäppen in Södermalm in Stockholm, and then revised 250 recipes from Vår kokbok in order to make them suitable for communal cooking environments.
In 1979 Anna-Britt Agnsäter was awarded the St Erik medal in recognition of her efforts, and in 1995 she was given the Albin Johansson gold medal for her meritable contributions to the Swedish cooperative. In 1998 Anna-Britt Agnsäter received Gastronomiska Akademiens Guldpenna (Gastronomical academy gold pen) for her writings on ingredients and cookery.
Anna-Britt Agnsäter died in 2006.