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Saturday, October 16, 2021

The rescue pig who inspired a Croatian activist to create a vegan sausage

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It was while volunteering at Slovenia’s Koki animal sanctuary that Croatian vegan Anita Petrović met Stella, a rescue pig, and the idea to create a plant-based sausage was sparked.

Croatian vegan Anita Petrović describes herself as a former meat lover who enjoyed eating all kinds of meat-based delicacies. “But the moment my compassion got bigger than my appetite, I became vegan,” she says of her epiphany. Today, as a vegan, food lover and avid cook, she loves the challenge of adapting traditional Croatian meat-based dishes with plant-based alternatives.

One of the tastes she missed after making the switch to a vegan lifestyle was the flavour of her father’s homemade pork sausages. This delicacy was a firm family favourite, and Petrović was on a mission to perfect a vegan version. She got busy in her kitchen in Zagreb experimenting with her father’s original recipe, tweaking it by substituting gluten, soy and oats for the pork. She then added the same familiar spices he used in his version. She was onto something.

The beginning of Stella’s Sausage

 

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Today, her vegan sausage is stocked by supermarkets across Croatia under the brand Annapurna, a Croatian vegan company producing seitan, tofu, tempeh and other plant-based foods. She donated her recipe to the company and named the sausage after Stella, a rescue pig she met while volunteering at the Koki animal sanctuary in neighbouring Slovenia.

“My desire was to come up with a simple, inexpensive and delicious recipe,” she tells me. “I am very proud and grateful because today, you can buy Stella’s Sausage in larger retail chains. I renounced all profit and gave my recipe for free. For each sausage sold, 1 Croatian Kuna (about 12p) goes to Animal Friends Croatia to support their work.”

‘Stella’s Sausage’ was launched on June 16, 2020 during the 9th Vege Fair, an annual vegan event in Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb organised by Animal Friends Croatia, an NGO dedicated to animal protection. The cruelty-free sausage was one of the plant-based meat products available to the veg-curious for sampling on the city’s central Ban Jelačić square that day.

Going vegan

Petrović shares the story of her vegan awakening, which she credits to her rescue dogs, Gigi and Miško. “11 years ago, we adopted two dogs from a shelter that killed dogs after 60 days. This was then a legal possibility and practice in most dog shelters in Croatia. This was my first encounter with inhumane animal shelters and animal suffering.

“I couldn’t understand that Gigi would have been killed after 60 days if we hadn’t adopted her, and I was haunted by the thought of how many Gigis were killed because no one came for them. That is why I had a strong need to help and contribute to the ban on killing shelter dogs in Croatia. We eventually achieved this in October 2017, when a new Animal Welfare Act was passed.”

But her vegan journey had started much before that, when she volunteered at the NGO Pobjede (Victories) in Osijek and their dog shelter. “At the time, I only considered dogs and cats to be animals,” she says. “There, I met real vegans in the flesh and thought they were crazy. But in front of these people, for a reason unknown to me, I felt ashamed.

“That feeling of shame haunted me and I didn’t understand it. I had to prove to myself that veganism is extreme and unsustainable. My critical thinking about veganism and my arguments against it just melted away and I realised that veganism is the only right way of life. I no longer had excuses for not becoming a vegan.”

A passion for food

 

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Once she made the switch, Petrović realised that “veganism is not about fasting”, as she puts it, and that she didn’t have to give up her favourite foods and desserts. She found that she could combine her dual passions for food and animal rights by experimenting with vegan substitutes in her favourite dishes. Her principle? “Every vegan burger is one bloody burger less, and that’s how we save animals.”

“I try to cook simply, seasonally and from local ingredients,” she says of her culinary ethos. “Traditional cuisine is my inspiration because of the flavours I am used to and love, which are probably woven into the genes of all of us. It’s surprising how easy and simple it is to veganise traditional Croatian cuisine. This is how I cook various goulash, sarma [stuffed cabbage rolls], filana paprika [stuffed peppers] and čušpajze [a vegetable stew].”

Petrović even makes her own tofu, sourcing the soy locally and grilling the freshly-made blocks on a barbecue to give it a smoky flavour. “Tofu is such a wonderful and adaptable food,” she says. “I’m fascinated by it because it can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes and cakes.” Though tofu is not at all familiar to the Croatian palate, she adds it to gibanica (a pastry dish), even using it as a replacer for eggs, cheese or meat.

A defender of animal rights

 

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When she’s not cooking up a storm at home, Petrović is presenting vegan cooking workshops on behalf of Animal Friends Croatia, or volunteering at the Blue Cross farm animal shelter near Zagreb. “Activism is inextricably linked to veganism because it’s a struggle for a better and more just world without exploiting both animals and humans,” she says of her work as a defender of animal rights.

She’s also involved as a mentor in a project run by the NGO Pobjede (Victories) called Super Challenge 22. “It’s an online platform that helps people switch to veganism in a stimulating and non-judgmental atmosphere with support, advice and recipes,” she clarifies. This initiative models the Challenge 22 programme created by the Israeli organisation Animals Now.

Veganism in Croatia

 

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Croatia is not one of the first countries to show up in search engines when you type in ‘vegan-friendly countries’ but attitudes are changing and minds opening to the cruelty-free lifestyle.

“The vegan scene in Croatia is not evolving, it’s exploding like in the rest of the world,” shares Petrović. “What I have seen since I became a vegan is that the number of vegan products has increased significantly and their price has decreased. In shops, but also in restaurants and cafes, it is no longer a problem to get a vegan dish, eat vegan cake and ice cream, or drink coffee with plant-based milk.”

As its popularity spreads, the word ‘vegan’ has become an everyday word in Croatia. “It’s no longer strange or unknown to anyone,” says Petrović. She points out that people now see vegan products on store shelves, in TV advertisements, as well as in the newspapers, social media and on billboards. “Most people know a few vegans personally, for sure,” she adds. “So, the perception of vegans is also changing, especially among young people.”

Isabel Putinja
Isabel is a long-time vegan and freelance content writer specialised in topics related to travel, sustainability and all things plant-based.