“Our minds are like our stomachs; they are whetted by the change of their food, and variety supplies both with fresh appetite.” So thought Quintilian for whom food really was for thought. And while we are on the subject of tasty Italian dishes (yes, I know Quintilian was from Spain but he did most of his eating and thinking in Rome) Monica Bellucci’s words, “when I eat with my friends, it is a moment of real pleasure, when I really enjoy life”, will certainly strike a chord with most Poles. But, eating aside, is Polish food good?
Well, increasingly, the world seems to think so if the value of Polish food exports are anything to go by. According to Marek Sawicki, the agriculture minister, the value of Polish food exports could exceed Euro 25 billion in 2015. In the first quarter of this year, food exports rose by 5.5 per cent and were 25 per cent up on the same period last year. If growth continues at this rate then, as Sawicki told the third Polish Food Export Forum, total exports of Euro 25 billion were certainly possible, although Euro 23 billion was the more likely figure.
In order to create high quality food products, the producers need carefully to analyse the needs of the export markets, both within the EU and beyond. And, according Sawicki, the industry should present a consistent message – not a traditionally Polish strong suit, perhaps –since the “fewer disputes between Polish exporters on foreign soil, the better the situation for all.”
Be that as it may, one country which seems to have no difficulty accepting Polish food exports is the United Kingdom. Apparently, Polish cuisine (I think they really mean food – sloppy terminology) is in the top five emerging ethnic foods eaten at home in the UK. Whether Poles would agree with the label ethnic in this context is debatable, but according to a survey carried out by Mintel (of 1000 representative shoppers), ten per cent of UK adult shoppers buy Polish food regularly.
The influx of Poles to the UK since Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004 has resulted in such exotic products as kabanos (a very thin dried sausage) and pierogi becoming widely available in shops and supermarkets, and not just in the ubiquitous Polski Skep. A third of the adults surveyed said that seeing new products on the shelves encouraged them to try new dishes. Japanese came out as the top emerging food among UK shoppers, followed by Moroccan, Turkish, Polish and Malaysian. “Emerging cuisines are set to pose a credible, if still small, threat to the established international cuisines in the UK grocery market,” a Mintel spokesman commented.
This no doubt contributed to Poland’s continuing annual GDP growth which was 3.5 per cent in the first quarter of this year, according to the central statistical office (GUS), beating analysts’ forecasts of 3.3 per cent for non-seasonally adjusted GDP. The figure is much higher than Eurozone growth in the first quarter of the year, which was 1 per cent. Meanwhile, prices continue to fall with GUS announcing that in year-on-year terms, prices of goods and services fell by 1.1 per cent in April compared with the March figure of 1.5 per cent.
Which is all very encouraging unless, of course, you are one of the many Poles for whom Poland’s so-called Golden Age is not shining as brightly as it should. Like, for example, the hapless enquirer who asked President Komorowski how it was possible to live and buy a flat whilst earning only PLN 2,000 a month. “Find another job and get a mortgage,” said the President. “You know that in Poland unemployment is falling? In England it is increasing.” Not in fact true of the UK and the Polish unemployment rate is still too high, but a welcome opportunity nonetheless to paraphrase President Kennedy – ask not what your president can do for your country, but what you can do for yourself (in another country).
I don’t suppose that young man was comforted by the words of either Komorowski or, had he thought of them, Euripedes: “When a man’s stomach is full it makes no difference whether he is rich or poor.” Food for thought indeed.