Do you remember the taste of mouth-watering, grandma-made dishes? Think about your favourite one. Was it bigos, or maybe meatloaf? How can we even give up tastes that we are familiar with? Tastes which comfort us, because they remind us of our childhood and the good innocent times. Is consuming meat inherent in Polish culture?
Each time I warn my grandmother that I will not eat her famous pork chop or chicken soup, she helplessly nods her head, questioning me about what I eat to stay full. My vegetarianism is not welcomed at her doorstep and, judging by my figure, does not give the impression of a balanced diet. For some, meat-free cuisine seems to be an abstract concept or a temporary trend, pointed towards weight loss. Yet, the green revolution is becoming more and more omnipresent and a permanent part of people’s lives. New recipes are being served, new habits created. Food is no longer only determined by political associations but has somehow become a test for humanity.
There is something subversive in that when we were kids, we were told to ‘eat the meat, leave the potatoes,’ and now we do the opposite. The resistance, in that case, is right. With the ongoing climate crisis and increased health awareness, eating meat is not environmentally friendly or even human - friendly. Numerous scientific studies have confirmed a correlation between the amount of meat consumed and an increased risk of cancer, heart diseases, or type 2 diabetes. Whilst meat production is associated with the pollution of rivers, oceans, and soils. The quantities of water and electricity used are huge, and the forests are cut down for pasture.
A man of flesh and blood
Many would argue that replacing meat in traditional dishes deprives them of being ‘traditional’ or even ‘Polish.’ We cannot blame our ancestors for that. They were raised on meat in a culture which associated meat with financial well-being and cultural status since it was the food of the wealthy and powerful. Nowadays, it is cheap and accessible everywhere, so no wonder that people crave it. However, culture is continually evolving - people have finally realised that food is not only about consumption. There comes a responsibility with your choices. Arguably, many claim that it does not matter whether you eat a chicken after it has already been placed on the supermarket display. The damage has already been done, why waste food (a chicken)? Yet you are still the one creating demand. It is a vicious cycle.
The plant-based diet is not about ruining traditionality and creating a parallel universe, in which everybody eats healthy with no meat cravings. The entire society cannot be forced to eat in a certain way. But by making little green revolutions, we can contribute to raising awareness of the disadvantages of meat and the consequences of its production. By choosing plant alternatives, we can enjoy them in a new way. It is not a danger to a culture; it enriches it and broadens our culinary horizons. Plant-based alternatives can benefit not only Polish culture but the people too. Consumption of fruits and vegetables improves gut health, lowers cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.
Not only beneficial to society, but also the health system. A plant-based diet may seem to be even too perfect. The common mistake when resigning from animal products is the poor choice of products consumed, which results in iron and vitamin B12 deficiency. Low protein intake is another issue. Increased supplementation is not the best solution, as those effects can easily be avoided by creating a well-balanced plant-based diet, which contains nutritional whole foods. Sticking to a healthy plant-based lifestyle requires more knowledge about food values, which fuels your body.
A plant-powered culture
Another widespread opinion is that a vegan diet requires a lot of effort and time. After all, not everyone is fond of pressing tofu after an eight-hour shift at work. There is also an issue of the high prices of plant-based alternatives. The prices of such products often are not budget-friendly. It is hard to convince people to cut down the consumption of animal products when alternatives cost almost twice as much. It is rather difficult to persuade a change of habits, when there is no tangible incentive, but only added expenditure.
Although the long-term benefits for the health system are proved, the government does not do much to promote the perks of a plant-based lifestyle, leaving this task to non-government organisations that contribute to the further development of plant-powered culture, and the individuals. Although the main change must happen on the government and industry level, you can also become a part of the revolution. Sharing the word about the advantages of a plant-based diet or eating at vegan restaurants are one of the simplest ways. Even purchasing one block of tofu or some other plant-based alternative supports producers contributing to rising demand. As more products enter the market, their price will be lower, hence, attracting more people.
Many public figures have declared their opinions about meat consumption, which has popularised this way of living. More and more restaurants respond to that by offering meat alternatives. The problem of worshipping meat in Polish cuisine has been also spotted; however, there is no need to give up the traditional dishes for the sake of a plant-based lifestyle since those two can be easily combined. Marta Dymek, famous for the popularisation of vegan lifestyle on her blog called ‘Jadłonomia,’ has recently published a book ‘Jadlonomia po polsku.’ It shows simple, vegan recipes for traditional Polish dishes. Also, her 10 years of activity to promote a plant-based lifestyle has resulted in the first-ever vegan cooking show emitted in Poland – ‘Zielona Rewolucja Marty Dymek.’ With an abundance of experts, bloggers, influencers, and online content creators, plant-based lifestyles have become more accessible.
Revolution does not need to be rapid to evolve. More plant-based alternatives available in shops increased consumer awareness, while concerns about the Earth are the factors that contribute to the ongoing research about the future of meat. One of the solutions is to produce it in specially prepared reactors. The production of the so-called ‘in-vitro’ meat starts by taking a small piece of muscle from an animal, from which special cells are isolated. Then, they are placed in a solution stimulating the cells to multiply (a medium composed of water, glucose, amino acids, fats, vitamins, mineral salts and growth factors). The cells start combining and growing, and at this stage, they already resemble muscle fibres but without any suffering from the animal. Still, for now, replacing real meat with an in-vitro produced one is too expensive to be considered to be mass distributed. However, with the vast food technology development, it may be the future of food production. Although many call it ‘Pat’s vision of the world,’ Pat Brown, the Impossible Foods owner, claims that food technology will replace the use of animals by 2035.
Telling my grandmother about the ongoing revolution, I can see the disbelief on her face. She still asks why I chose to eat like this. She has not yet reached the stage of trusting that plants can replace meat. But I believe that one day I will spice up the tofu so well that she will not notice the difference. Polish cuisine is not steady. And the Polish way of eating is still changing.