What growing up as a vegetarian in a communist and post-communist country has taught me about nutrition

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When I was two years old, my parents decided to become vegetarians. That in itself wouldn’t be particularly strange. However Poland in 1987 was a communist, meat eating society with almost zero tolerance for anything different. A few years later my parents and my sister decided to return to carnivorous ways, however I, as a stubborn 5 year old, was hooked on a veggie lifestyle.

My mom would always prepare two meals – one for them and one for me.

Don’t you fancy a big juicy steak?

I often have people asking me if I fancy meat. Or people telling me that I’m missing out on something incredible when I’m not tucking into a burger or at a barbecue.

I always like to say that being vegetarian from a young age is just the same as eating meat from a young age: you are used to eating what you’ve been given as a child. A Mexican wondering why you don’t eat bugs is pretty much the same thing as someone wondering why I don’t eat meat. This just wasn’t part of my growing up process.

He won’t be as smart…

It’s funny how people reacted to me being a vegetarian kid. “He’ll be less intelligent”, “He’ll be bad at sports” or “He’ll sooner or later be anemic” were only a few things people would say to my parents. In spite of all that, I believe I turned out quite well 😉 I’m now following a pescatarian diet, I started eating fish about six years ago because I started thinking it looked tasty. I also appreciated the nutritional value of sea food and knew this would benefit me. This also gave me more meal options- variety is the spice of life after all!

Growing up veggie has always made me aware of my diet. As a kid, I ate more veg than my peers – my plate was always full of greens. I never drank Coca Cola, Fanta or any other sodas. At first I’d hate my parents for not letting me have it, now I’m thankful that I choose pineapples over Pepsi.

There were obvious downsides to my dietary requirements. I was constantly refusing chicken when people assumed it counted as a vegetarian meal because it wasn’t red meat. I had to fight my school friends who would laugh at me because of the way I was eating. I had to refuse meat from the teachers in pre-school because they wanted to “fix” me and what my parents “did” to me.

It might sound crazy now but that was the reality back then in Poland. Luckily though, I believe this  has made me a tougher and more determined when it comes to achieving my goals and sticking up for what i believe in.

Here’s the important bit:

I’d never tell you to eat the same way I do. Eating meat is not bad for you. In fact I recommend my clients eat meat. 

Whether you’re a carnivor, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. I’m a pescatarian because I believe that’s the diet that works best for me. That’s one of the things I’ve learned from having a different diet when I was a kid: Live and let live. Being critical for no reason and with no background information will never be a good thing and will never do any one any good. You don’t know why people do what they do, so don’t criticise them for that.

There is no such thing as “one-size-fits-all” diet

Many of us live in a mixed society of people with different backgrounds, coming from very different parts of the world. Living in a big city means living in a diverse city. Take London as an example: 8,6 million people, out of which, one in three were born abroad. In some areas this figure is 1 in 2. This diversity brings together the best from many different cultures, backgrounds and traditions. Food is a crucial part of every culture. We have our own believes of what’s healthy, what’s good for us and what we’re meant to and not meant to eat. People understand food differently depending on how they we taught about food growing up. We shouldn’t forget this when we speak to people about the way they eat.

Nutrition = Lifestyle

Nutrition is a crucial part of every human being’s life: we eat at least three times a day, it influences our mood, health, the way we feel, sleep, perform and so much more of our well being.  Criticising someone’s decisions when it comes to food means criticising people’s lifestyle choices. Finding the right way to eat can take years to perfect.

Changing your nutrition means that you’re interested in your health and that it’s important to you.  this is the first and most important step. The fact that you care about it at all is a start.

Not so long ago I read a great blog written by the founder of Precision Nutrition, John Berardi, Ph. D. John Berardi’s article concentrates on a number of the worlds most popular diets. So what’s the best diet out there? Read it for yourself:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/best-diet

The main message of John Berardi’s blog:

I don’t believe there’s a single, absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt best diet for every person to follow, always, and forever.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. 😉

 

  1. Kamryn -

    December 15, 2016

    This piece was a liackfejet that saved me from drowning.

  2. Oliver Stanley -

    August 30, 2016

    Such a strange sentiment- a vegetarian recommending meat, but completely get it. It’s what works best for and your circumstance/lifestyle. Nice read Mr Zolkiewicz 😉