Is it easy being vegan in the UK?
Being vegeta*ian can be difficult. At least, it’s the cliché people keep linking with the movement: it’s hard, impossible, restrictive… It can be, depending where you live. Not to consume animal products, impossible in France, Spain or United Kingdom?
Today, I won’t talk about ethics, but taste and practicality. Not to eat meat in France can be a real puzzle. So, not to consume dairy or eggs… What a nightmare! Or it’s what you can think at first : French gastronomy is knows for the importance of meat, a fine dish… On the contrary, popular cuisine, the fattiest and greasiest for winter, is often, or even always based on potatoes and cheese… How can we counter that?
It can be difficult to eat out or at least in small towns. When you live in the suburbs or a capital, it’s always easier. By chance, lots of fast food chains tend to go veggie, even if it’s not vegan yet, it’s a good start, allowing you not to be fussy when you hang out with friends. On the one hand, being veggie means not to lose your time looking for prepared dish, full of fat and salt. On the other hand, you can be lazy sometimes and it is difficult not to cook and order a pizza without pulling your hair out.
Against all odds, Spain was a huge and wonderful surprise for me on that topic. Before going to Erasmus, I heard lots of things about how it was difficult and how I would be struggling… It was not the case! First thing first, groceries couldn’t be any cheaper there, so I could cook as I wanted. Restaurants were also very flexible with vegetarians or vegan menus. When I was in Granada, I enjoyed the influence of Northern Africa, with vegetal dishes, rich in cereals: my everyday life was couscous, pitas falafels, hummus and other veggie kebab.
I came to England with great expectations: I was promised a huge vegetal*a community, a lots of alternatives, menus marked by V symbols and a real open-mindedness: I was not disappointed! For those who follow me, I am a teacher this year. I never ate better than at the refectory! (True story) I can enjoy a great variety of choices and alternatives veggie and vegan, also prepared for intolerants. Restaurants are always open-minded and practical, but what is a real life changer, it’s the supermarkets. A whole new world…
Of course, there are lambda aliments you can find in France: vegetal milk and deserts (way cheaper than in France) but also more elaborate products and “free from” ones: free from milk, eggs, gluten sometimes. Here is a non-exhaustive lists of what I can buy: tofy (classic, or wild garlic), soy yogurt, soy cream, fake spread cheese, melting cheese, veganaise, noodles, fake mini sausages, massala salsa, nutritional yeast, soy protein, every kind of beans, red or green curry paste, coconut oil, peanut butter, falafels, black salt, fake eggs preparation, fake grated cheese, marshmallows, cheddar, chocolate fondants, lasagne pasta, vegetal butter, hummus, red lentils or green peas pasta, fake minced meat, black, milk or white chocolate, protein weetbix biscuits, chocolate muesli, red fruits deserts etc.
To my mind, all these « fake products » can be great help but also should remain a pleasure only from time to time. There are already kind of expensive, but are not that healthy either, even vegan! You should better be focusing on a basic and varied alimentation. Sainsbury’s and Tesco offer a lots of “Free from” alternatives but you also need to double check them. A product free from milk isn’t always free from eggs by instance, such as their cakes.
To sum up, I would say that France is actually where it is the hardest to be vegata*ian between those three. Of course, lots of brands have now veggie alternatives such as veggie escalope, or other fake cheese, but the offer is still weak for now. In Spain, or at least in the south, I was offered a lot of opportunities with tasty and simple dishes and despite a few exceptions, the country remains really opened on the topic. For more elaborated plates and more sophisticated ingredients, or out of the box dishes, copies tasting like the original, it is towards UK you need to turn. Moreover, it seems more ordinary and affordable to have a plant based diet.