Changing Lithuanian diets tell tale of transformation

If what you are what you eat, experts say current trends show that Lithuania is becoming an affluent society.

What Lithuanians eat has really changed. With less potatoes and cereal on the table and more meat and vegetables, Lithuanians’ dietary habits are converging with those in rich countries, experts say.

Bread is a staple of the Lithuanian table, and the nation is particularly proud of its dark rye breads. However, ordinary Lithuanians are eating less of it.

The bakery Fazer said that, for instance, Lithuanians are buying 16% less bread than in 2005, with the average Lithuanian consuming 15.3 kg of bread last year.

Lithuanians are also eating less cereal. On average, each Lithuanian consumes 121 kg of cereal, 6 kg less than a decade ago. Surprisingly grain production in the country has almost doubled in the same period, with last year’s crop hitting an all-time high, 1,861 kg per capita.

However, that increase is down to developments in the country’s agriculture industry, experts say, where most of these food crops grown are for export.

Lithuanians also eat significantly fewer potatoes. A decade ago, a person would consume, on average, 120kg of potatoes a year, but that had fallen to 96kg in 2015.

Instead, Lithuanians eat more other vegetables, although less of them are locally grown. On average, a person in Lithuania consumes 100 kg of vegetables a year, one kilogram more than a decade ago.

However, vegetable production in Lithuanian has decreased from an average of 120 kg per person a year in 2005 to 94 kg last year. Potato production has also dropped significantly, more than halving over the decade.

This has to do with both a shrinking population and changing dietary habits, says Zofija Cironkienė, president of the Vegetable Growers Association.

“We have lost about a third of our potato eaters – they left Lithuania, which means that there’s no one to eat those potatoes. Another factor is changing diets. For the last decade, nutritionists have been advising against eating too much carbohydrates, so people are switching to meat and vegetables,” Cironkienė tells LRT.

She says that many potato and vegetable farmers went out of business after Lithuania joined the European Union. Growing costs have rendered some farms uncompetitive.

On the other hand, she adds, some people are growing their own vegetables in their back yards. Amateur farming, however, is not included in official statistics.

Food production has changed significantly with food industry insiders saying that many Lithuanian producers who could not compete in the European Union’s open market have gone under over the last 10 years. Agricultural production depends to a great extent on policies and subsidies of the European Union, specialists say. Right now, subsidies are more favourable to grain farming than livestock rearing.

Other changes in Lithuanian diets are also apparent. Lithuanians now consume as well as produce a lot more milk, eggs and meat. On average, per capita Lithuanians eat 312 kg of dairy products a year (10 kg more than a decade ago), 224 kg more eggs (up by 9 kg) and 83 kg of meat (up 12 kg).

Milk production has grown by more than 10% over the decade and is double what is locally consumed.

However, when it comes to meat, Lithuanians are eating less beef than a decade ago, but more pork and poultry.

“It is said that a person must consume no more than 70 g of red meat a day. Sure, we eat much more than that, over 70 kg of meat per year, which is a lot,” says Albertas Gapšys of the Agrarian Economy Institute.

“Meat consumption in Lithuania, however, is almost equal to the EU average. But we are still far behind those countries where people eat up to 120 kg of meat year.”

The United States leads on meat consumption globally with an average of 127 kg consumed per person per year. In Europe, Spain is the top meat consumer, at around 118 kg per person per year, while France and Germany consume around 88 kg of meat per capita, and British consumers eat around 84 kg of meat a year on average.

There are still some products, that are mostly not locally produced, like fish that have not increased their share in Lithuanian diets because they are still less affordable than in wealthy Western countries with much higher consumption levels.

However, Gapšys said that, judging by what Lithuanians eat, they are starting to resemble more and more wealthier societies in Western Europe and North America.

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