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Eating like a German. Eating like a Brit.

Is your cultural identity preventing you from changing your diet?

Not so long ago, while I was in a shopping mall, I decided to go to their food court to get a quick bite. As I began to contemplate the offers of all the food establishments in the court a sign “Persian Specialities” caught my attention. Pictures of meet on a stick proudly took the main stage, followed by a, almost apologetically squeezed at the corner of the display, picture of a few falafels. Then it hit me. Everyone of these eateries was making business selling, what they thought, was the food representing their culture. As human beings we define ourselves through our culture, so when a vegan is asking us not to eat that herring salad, those meat pierogi, that Argentinian steak or that German sausage – are we so defensive because it feels like we are being stripped of a part of our identity? Is this the reason why, when it comes to food choices, the debate is often so personal? And is it the reason, why it is easier to be against animal testing than animal farming?

If you ever had a conversation with a vegan about meat, they would probably win every argument. Meat production is the main contributor to greenhouse gases emissions globally. If we all stopped eating beef tomorrow – we would not be facing the global warming issue anymore. Recent evidence from large European and US studies link meat consumption to increased risk of total mortality, cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes, in both men and women. Not to mention the subjugation of entire species to slavery and suffering in the name of serving us – the Homo sapiens. Farming realities are unfortunately unrelated to whether you get your meat from a supermarket shelf, an organic farm or your local butcher – animals are still forcefully made pregnant, their young are taken away from them after birth and they are killed at their prime age.

So if these are the facts, why is it still so hard not to eat beef, get off meat, then fish, then diary and to eventually become vegan? Yes, habits play a role. But habits can be unlearned and new habits can take their place. You are talking to a previous meat addict. But stripping someone of their identity – well that’s a completely different beast.

The problem, however, is that when our culinary cultures were born, meat consumptions was still something occasional. We even have an account of it in the historical texts, like the Bible, where lambs were killed to mark special occasions. So these “meats on a stick” I mentioned earlier, they were truly a speciality – because they were special. No one was eating them every day – maybe except for the nobility. The second reason for why meat dishes became so prevalent in many cuisines, is the food availability aspect. For many cultures, where warm and cold seasons are present, there weren’t many nutrition options available during winter. Food preservation was limited to pickling, drying (that includes cheese making) and smoking, therefore meat was used as another food source and therefore so many hearty recipes were developed over centuries.

Yet, today, we live in a world, where meat consumption is not kept in check by its supply. We also live in a world, where plentiful nourishment options are open to us pretty much all year round. We are now able to preserve almost all produce without changing its main characteristics. Vegan food can be equally varied and tasty as non-vegan food (which I intent to prove to you with a series of recipes). Is it time for a new culinary culture to develop? Is it time for new ‘specialities’? No one questions my “Polishness” when I do not wear my traditional national dress every day, so no one should question it when I choose pierogi with mushrooms and buckwheat over the ones with meat. I hope that one day my children will be able to go to a food court in a shopping mall and choose from plentiful vegan specialities, which every culture will be boasting about.

Four absolute must-watch documentaries:

1. Cowspiracy

2. What the Health

3. Earthlings

4. Forks Over Knives

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