I am a first generation American. My parents immigrated to the United States from Poland around 20 years ago. Despite living in the States for over two decades, my parents haven't expressed much enthusiasm for American culture. I was raised in a traditionally Polish household, from speaking only Polish at home, to eating homemade Polish foods for every meal. 

My diet throughout most of my time at home was dictated by my parents. My parents are the ones who would do grocery shopping on Saturdays while I would still be sleeping. I had practically no say as to what was bought or what was cooked. I would come home from school to lunch cooked by my mom. Although sometimes my mom asked if I had any meal requests before I left for school in the mornings, the foods that came to my mind were not a creation of my own imagination; they were what I have eaten in the past, foods I knew my mom knew how to cook.

Image from WikiCommons

Image from WikiCommons

As I've gotten older, I have become more critical of the Polish diet. It is rich in meat, especially pork, dairy, potatoes, and cabbage. My mom spoils my family with mouthwatering traditional dishes such as kotlet schabowy, which is fried pork cutlet, bigos with kiełbasa and bacon, and pierogi stuffed with potatoes and cheese, with caramelized onions sprinkled on top. Every meal is incredibly indulgent and satisfying, but also very heavy on the stomach.

I didn't really have a chance to experiment at home with cooking the more healthful recipes I found online. The foods I was interested in cooking did not agree with the foods on my mom's menu. When cooking, my mom always had the rest of my family in mind. She wanted to make sure everyone was well fed and wouldn't give into my silly health obsessions. 

Coming to college was a big change. 

It was really only until I moved away to college that I had the freedom, within the realms of the dining hall, to dictate what I wanted to put into my body. I was suddenly faced with decisions I have never had to think about before. Did I want to follow a vegetarian diet? Vegan? Dairy-free? 

I was also faced with the challenge of summoning the self-control to not eat complete crap for every meal. I was suddenly exposed to foods on a daily basis that I previously have not had so much contact with. Never having had to practice this degree of self-control, I found it surprisingly hard not succumb to the simple pleasures of indulging in a slice of pepperoni pizza or hamburger at every meal. 

While I slowly found my own rhythm of eating at college, I found myself missing my mom's cooking. Don't get me wrong, BU's dining halls are pretty great, but I missed all of the memories that came with home cooked meals. 

The Polish diet is full in values and flavor.

The Polish culture is centered around food and believes that food, the act of cooking and the act of eating it, are all things to be celebrated. Whenever I travel to Poland for the summer, my grandparents are almost obsessed with feeding me and making sure that I am not hungry. When I was younger, I was always so irritated by their seemingly nagging behaviors. I've realized that my grandparents were just trying to connect with me. Our English may be weak but have have another language that conveys a stronger connection. Through food, we express our incredible love and care for each other.

Compromise is key. 

When I am home, I respect my mom's desire to cook the traditional foods of her childhood for me. In return, I ask that she respect my desire to stay away from certain foods. So we compromise. I cook one component of a meal, and she cooks the rest. 

I am still navigating achieving the optimal balance of staying true to my Polish culture and finding myself through new foods. However, I will always hold close to my heart the values instilled upon me through my Polish upbringing.