Pernilla Tunberger was a journalist and one of the pioneers of food and consumer journalism.
Pernilla Tunberger was born in Stockholm in 1912, and she spent part of her childhood in France. Her father, Gotthard Zätterström, was a wholesaler and consul, very engaged in, and with board assignments for, many art and museum institutions. Her mother, Märta Zätterström, had been a teacher before she married, and was the writer on food during the latter part of her life in the weekly magazines Idun, Vecko-Journalen and Damernas Värld. She was also active in the professional women’s club Yrkeskvinnors Klubb from its start in 1931, and served as its chairwoman in 1942—1945.
Pernilla Tunberger spent her student years at the universities in Grenoble and London as well as at the famous Jenny Åkerström’s domestic science school in Stockholm, at which several of the Swedish princesses had been pupils. In Pernilla Tunberger’s own words in the major Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter, studies there were intended to result in a domestic science teaching qualification, but that was not what actually happened: “chance took short cuts – it turned out to be journalism”.
Journalistic writing was attractive and came to be Pernilla Tunberger’s professional choice, to start with as a film critic for Dagens Nyheter with which her family had close contacts. She freelanced there in 1934—1935 and worked at the same time for Åhlén & Åkerlund’s photo studio, as well as entering into her first marriage with the lawyer Gullmar Bergenström. Åkerlund’s publishers had been bought up a few years previously by Bonniers förlag, and in 1937, Pernilla Tunberger was appointed to the newspaper as a reporter for the women’s column that was now to be expanded into a whole women’s page. At the same time as her family grew with two daughters, she became responsible in 1940 for the Sunday supplement’s women’s page. Much of her material was taken from reportage trips to the fashion shows in Paris and also covered French food traditions. After the war, she spent time in England, where she was assistant London correspondent in 1946—1948 for Dagens Nyheter, with her colleague and second husband Karl-Axel Tunberger, whom she had married a few years previously.
During her time in London, Pernilla Tunberger also collected all the recipes that she had saved from ten years at Dagens Nyheter into her first book, Pernillas recept, in the innovative form of a folder with cards in a loose-leaf system. Her next book, Novisen vid spisen, appeared in its first edition in 1950, in collaboration with the photographer Kerstin Bernhard with whom she was to work on several more books. It was said to be the response to the wish of two older gentlemen who wanted to teach themselves to cook: foreign minister Östen Undén and literature professor Anton Blanck. The book became a textbook for a radio programme with the same name and broadcast for many years in the form of an instructive conversation between the journalist Folke Olhagen and the star chef Tore Wretman.
As the mother of three children with a fulltime professional job, the need existed to simplify life at home. After a study trip in 1951 to the USA, then considered modern and technically innovative, Pernilla Tunberger wrote a series of enthusiastic articles for Dagens Nyheter about the free housewife – ”Den befriade husmodern” – who was able to cope without home help by means of technical aids, frozen foods and the new addition on food shelves: semi-complete meals. The series also became an exhibition, “An ultramodern household expo” in Osterman’s marble halls in Stockholm, with a viewing of how a Swedish kitchen could be modernised with new aids for the household. Sven Wallander, the director of a municipal housing company, HSB, was interested in several of the ideas for setting up a new standardised kitchen.
Exhibitions and competitions under the direction of Dagens Nyheter became one of several methods for Pernilla Tunberger to communicate her ideas about a simpler but good daily life for the modern family, with themes like “Wisely dressed for everyday life” and “Best fast food”. She often collaborated with experts like for example the chef Tore Wretman, which would later lead to the publication of their joint Bonniers Kokbok with many revised editions and with photos by the food photographer Kerstin Bernhard. A lifelong engagement was born here for raising Swedish food culture through dietary information and medical nutrition research without puritan pointed fingers. Her motto was “Eat well and enjoyably but also right and in moderation”, and in collaboration with nutrition experts and doctors, she wrote a series of books on the theme “Eat well – feel better, on suitable food for taking care of your liver, gallbladder, heart and kidneys, for diabetics, to lose weight, and diet food for a sensitive stomach”. She wrote six such books in all during the late 1950s, when ordinary Swedish food was still characterised by fat and heavy cooking. She also collaborated on the radio and in the housewife films of the time with the same message.
“Food should taste fresh” was another of Pernilla Tunberger’s battle cries, and during the 1960s she started waging war by scrutinising food shops, which resulted in foodstuffs legislation in 1970 on “use before”, that is, the law prescribing that all foodstuffs for sale should be marked with the day of packaging and the day before which they must be consumed. The law was christened Lex Pernilla and is taken for granted nowadays. The same year, Pernilla Tunberger was the first woman to be awarded Stora Journalistpriset, the major Swedish prize for journalism.
As a veritable food ombudsman, she later took on the Swedish sweetened loaf of bread in a campaign that also became a beautiful book: Annorlunda bröd, with Kerstin Bernhard’s suggestive photos. Another campaign dealt with potatoes: “the happy potato” for a better assortment of potatoes, and she encouraged the Milk centre to sell the less fat skimmed milk in suitable household packaging, which after a good deal of opposition resulted in one litre bottles and eventually the introduction of low-fat milk. She also scrutinised food at hospitals, schools and staff dining-rooms, and demanded better and more nourishing food content.
Pernilla Tunberger was not the only consumer journalist of her time, but she was alone in combining her criticism of grocery concerns and foodstuff producers with her own attractive recipes for how the consumer could eat well, appetisingly and more nourishingly. In the new TV medium, the sports journalist Bengt Bedrup had led a popular educative programme series during the 1960s on exercise and prophylaxis: Träna med TV, and in 1971 it was time for a continuation in the new channel TV2. Håll dig i gång! was the title, and Pernilla Tunberger cooked good, nourishing food in the studio.
To the good life belonged the right use of that ancient drink, wine, deemed the French-educated food writer, and later in the 1970s, she wrote a book about the cultural history of wine with the author Alf Henrikson in 1977: I vingården. A few years later, in 1980, she also published another book about food: Böckernas mat. It took up meals described in world literature and the writers’ own recipes. She had by then also been one of those who had reawakened the old, abandoned gastronomical Lilla Sällskapet from its slumbers, and was its chairperson in 1966—1971.
Pernilla Tunberger retired from Dagens Nyheter in 1974 and moved to Paris where she finished working on her last book, Strövtåg i Paris, in 1986, just before she died. French esprit and sensualism were her sounding board and at her death, Expressen quoted an assessment describing her art of writing: “she can describe roast pork so that it sounds like a poem”. However, she could also be sharp and lash out in her rejoinders, like when she responded to an uppish lady who complained about an all too simple menu suggestion: “Shred thousand-krona banknotes to sprinkle over the salad!”.
Pernilla Tunberger published about twenty books all in all, dealing with simple but well-prepared food using good raw materials, and this basic idea her daughter Anna Bergenström has carried further in a number of her own cookery books. As a curiosity may be mentioned the fact that her name, Pernilla, also survives in the furniture designer Bruno Mathsson’s reclining chair with the same name, christened after an earlier interview she did with him in 1943.
Pernilla Tunberger died in Paris in 1986. She is buried in Norra Begravningsplatsen (the Northern Cemetery) in Solna.