According to the Telegraph
more than 350 of the 500 milk bars across the country had closed by
2011. Now, Poland’s newly elected Law and Justice
Party leveled another challenge for proprietors of the bars, slashing
their public funding by 25%.
|Typical Milk bar|
For those of you who might not have the slightest clue what a milk bar is: bar mleczny or “milk bar,” is a dying breed of state-subsidized
cafeterias, which in the communist era were plentiful across Poland. The name milk bar comes from the inexpensive
dairy-based meals that were served in lieu of meat during times of
rationing. Milk bars first appeared in the late nineteenth century and
and then became emblematic of Poland's communist past.
For incredibility low prices, they offer quick, stick-to-your-rib staples like soups, stews, and cabbage and root vegetable salads. But these relics of a socialist economic landscape are now in danger of
extinction in a more prosperous free market economy where disposable income is spent at trendier eateries. McDonald's or KFC for instance.
Since Poland boasts the most robust economy of the former Soviet Bloc and was
the sole EU member state to see economic growth in the heat of the
financial crisis in 2009, an onslaught of
new, independently owned restaurants and international fast food joints
has tilted the scales for restaurants that don't rely on state subsidies offering inexpensive food to wide
The Ministry of Finance asserts that demand for the bars has
not been high enough that cuts in subsidies should not cause alarm. Many Poles take
the dramatic reduction as evidence that the milk bar is an endangered
species. For patrons of the cafeterias and those who grew up eating
there, the end of the milk bars would mean not only the loss of a
treasured piece of Polish culture, but also of one of the few places
pensioners, university students, and other low-income individuals can
still turn for a hot meal.
Milk bars are probably the most egalitarian places in Poland. There is a shared love of pierogi and kotlet schwabowy -Poland's version of
Wiener Schnitzel - that brings Poles together from all walks of life. You'll find corporate big-wigs who
have a lot of money next to the guy who
is homeless, or really, really poor elderly people.
A few protesters and activists are trying to preserve the remaining milk bars. Because everyone has to eat, they are one of the most inclusive places you can imagine. For me, I can appreciate them in a museum way. And, as such Bernie Sanders' supporters should make it a point to visit one. If the Vermont socialist is elected president, soup kitchens will become the new norm in America. I'm just sayin'.