Veganism Finding its Path Even in Meat-loving Hungary
Aspiring vegan David Holzer talks with one of the leading Hungarian plant-based foodies, blogger and YouTuber Kristóf Steiner, about the spread of the movement here.
Kristóf Steiner. Photo by Sára Salamon
Kristóf Steiner, the vegan foodie whose cooking I had been looking forward to tasting at Budapest gastro space Borganika, described it as “the last normal day of the universe back then.”
I was keen to experience Steiner’s cooking because, even before the news that the coronavirus might have come from an undercooked bat or a snake, I’d been trying to go vegan. But this was the weekend when the government ordered the universities to close. So travelling up to Budapest from Szeged by train didn’t seem to be a smart move.
My partner, a vegetarian since her early 20s, was also looking forward to meeting 38 year old Hungarian Steiner, who describes himself as “a passionate foodie and vegan YouTuber travelling the world with his husband Nimrod Dagan, holding cooking classes, pop-up dinners, foodie workshops, visiting festivals and markets.”
Steiner has published three vegan cookbooks, gives lectures, participates in roundtable talks and helps hotels, cafés, bars and restaurants to “veganize” their menus, or come up with new vegan dishes that fit with their profile. He’s also a social media expert helping other vegan, LGBTQ and travel influencers to succeed.
Born in Budapest, Steiner recently moved to Greece, to a tiny village of 12 people, where his lifestyle embraces zero waste, seasonal, locally sourced shopping and cooking with whole, unprocessed food ingredients. As we couldn’t meet, Steiner kindly corresponded by email.
BBJ: How did you get into veganism?
Kristóf Steiner: For many years I was hoping I’d get to a place where I wouldn’t be able to make excuses for eating meat. In our age of freely flowing information, ignorance is a matter of choice, so I got into researching and reading. One day I was sitting with my dog on my lap, munching on a huge piece of meat and it hit me: my pet gets everything he needs from me to be healthy and happy but I’ve just ordered a leg of a goose that’s been slaughtered simply so I can eat. Right then I decided to stop contributing to the meat, dairy and egg production industries. This was 11 years ago, and I’ve never, ever felt like I was missing animal products.
BBJ: Why did you become a vegan chef?
KS: I’m such a food freak that I couldn’t turn vegan and give up on my favorite dishes, so I started experimenting. After uploading my food creations online some editors from magazines and TV programs I used to work for asked me to do a column sharing vegan recipes. Not long after this, famous Hungarian food blogger Zsófia Mautner visited me in Tel Aviv, where I was living, tasted my food, and said: ‘You’re insane for not doing this professionally. You simply must write a cookbook.’ It’s important to state that I’m not a trained chef. I learn from chefs, just as they learn from me when we cook together. But I don’t believe in hierarchy in the kitchen.
BBJ: What do you offer people?
KS: Creative plant-based cooking ideas for whoever asks me. I was recently invited to put together the perfect vegan sandwich that included a Beyond Meat Patty for Burger Market Budapest. Sometimes I’ll do a cooking-free workshop featuring dishes that can be created inside 30 minutes. Other times, we’ll start from scratch and create a four-course themed dinner where we don’t use meat or dairy substitutes or any packaged products. We ferment vegan cheese and make our own “mock meat.” Whatever I do, I put my own stamp on it.
BBJ: Why do you think veganism is becoming more popular in Hungary?
KS: The same reason it’s becoming popular everywhere. We now clearly understand that the system we’ve built and participated in is not sustainable. A plant-based diet – as radical it sounds – is still a relatively easy way of taking a huge step towards a more conscious lifestyle.
BBJ: Do you think veganism will grow in Hungary?
KS: I have no doubt veganism will grow all over the world, including Hungary. Major companies are going plant-based. Governments and global organizations support the shift. As human beings become more and more sensitive and intelligent, as we learn more and embrace compassion, the concept of eating animals will cease to exist.
BBJ: How is coronavirus impacting what you do?
KS: I’m having to rethink everything I’m doing. I was making my living from travelling the world and sharing food experiences with people. Several of our cooking holidays have been cancelled, as has the night of the museums in Budapest and a big food festival I was going to be part of. Several publications that used to publish my articles and recipes have closed down for the time being. I could panic but I’m rethinking how I want to contribute to building a society that can live on.
BBJ: How are you trying to mitigate that?
KS: I’m continuing to share recipes and ideas to help people connect to the joy of cooking and plant-based living. I’m focusing on what made me love cooking in the first place, creating food at home for Nimi, my loved one, and me.
BBJ: What are you doing for your community and society?
KS: I recently published an article asking people to join me raising money for a Hungarian doctors’ organization. My cooking videos and recipes, which I used to be paid for, are now being shared for free. I’m trying to help people survive and be well. We’re helping our village in Greece in every way we can; taking care of other people’s animals and doing their shopping. This is ultimately a time when we need to do things from a place of compassion and empathy.
If you’d like to experiment with plant-based cooking, Kristóf’s YouTube channel is Kristóf’s Kitchen. You can follow him on Instagram @kristofsteiner. His blog is www.proudhippieboy.com. His cookbook is here: http://kulcslyukkiado.hu/kristofskitchen
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