Having spent the last week in Poland with my family, eating ceaselessly (trust me, it’s physically impossible to stop when you’re here), I got thinking about food and how it defines different cultures. Cuisine is one of the most crucial elements of cultural identity. Every nation has different eating habits and unique attitudes to cooking and eating.
Poland is all about taste and enjoyment. I constantly tell my parents off for using too much salt and fat in their cooking. My mum refuses to use semi-skimmed milk in her coffee and neither will she skip the butter before spreading a generous slick of cream cheese on her bread. Then there’s the ocean of oil when she fries her finger-licking pancakes. “So what that it’s not healthy? ” is her typical response to my nagging. “If it doesn’t taste good, what’s the point of eating it?” I don’t bother arguing.
So yes, it’s all about taste in Poland – well, at least for my parents’ generation. And as much as I disagree with that in principle, I absolutely love my mum’s cooking. It’s DE-LI-CIOUS. End of!
This love of richness and flavour and disregard for health and calories reminds me very much of France. We conducted a few studies earlier this year across various European markets where we tested new product ideas and worked on communication development for a variety of innovative new kitchen appliances. To help our client get the context right for their marketing, it was crucial to understand consumers’ attitudes to food and cooking. Looking at the French and their enviable figures, I expected to hear a lot about eating well and healthily. But boy, was I mistaken! All the concepts built on healthy eating and preservation of nutrients tested brilliantly in Germany. In contrast, they were polarising in France and often got rejected altogether. Seeing the French consumers throw their arms in the air and pour scorn on the ‘healthy’ ideas was just like seeing my mum when I tell her off. “Who are they to tell us what’s healthy and what’s not?,” they said. “It’s patronising.” Or: “Food is about delicious flavours and the enjoyment of eating and not about counting calories. Let me decide what’s healthy for me and my family!”
But what does this say about the Polish and French from a cultural standpoint? Does the fact our taste buds so often take over suggest we’re more hedonistic and impulsive than the Germans? Possibly…
No wonder the French say ‘Bon appétit!’ before they start eating. The Polish equivalent ‘smacznego’, translates as ‘have a tasty meal’, even more directly focused on taste. So perhaps mum might be right after all: “Why would you want to eat it if it doesn’t taste good?”
Author: Kasia Gandhi