Hi Bloggies! Hope you are having a wonderful weekend and are enjoying the photos from the Hubz and I’s honeymoon. We are currently in Portland, Maine for our 2nd wedding anniversary and since I am not sure how much time I will have for blogging I’ve invited my good Twitter friend and new blogger Megan to be a guest on my blog. Hope you enjoy her wonderful post!
Ich bin Veganerin: An American Vegan in Germany
By Megan Eaton
In my 24 years, I have traveled throughout the US and Canada, and visited the Bahamas, Finland, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, France, and Portugal. Other languages and cultures define my life, one in particular: 11 years ago I began taking German. Since then I have traveled throughout and studied in German, completed a BA and most of an MA in German Studies, and taught German to university students. Speaking and working with the German language is, it seems, what I was meant to do. I currently teach at a middle/high school in Germany. I am also a vegan.
What is remarkable about my veganism in Germany is that I first became a vegan after I moved here. Nothing particular about Germany prompted my change in lifestyle; my reasons were ethical and health-inspired, reasons that transcend national borders. In fact, my decision to become vegan was all the more shocking to my friends and family simply because it’s Germany. You know, wurst (1500 kinds, according to Wikipedia), schnitzel, cheese, hollandaise sauce, and the omnipresent bakeries offering more custardy, honey-glazed, egg-washed goodness than you can shake a carrot stick at. I heard a lot of ‘It is going to be impossible!’ and, at the beginning, I also operated in that mindset.
It’s true, the concept of veganism hasn’t made its way as far into mainstream German culture as it has in the United States, but being vegan here is far from impossible. It’s actually impossibly easy and has given me a unique point of entry into every day life.
Vegan staples are easily available in Germany, groceries are cheap, and organics are everywhere. The two main drugstore chains, Rossmann and DM, have extremely low-priced in-house organic brands. When I go pick up dish soap or paper towels, I can also buy a huge bag of organic oats, almond butter, maple syrup, pizza crust mix, vegan tortellini, chocolate bars, spelt flour, apple-mango sauce, and soy milk. It’s a dream come true! DM has this organic grocery section as well as a mind-blowing in-house natural bodycare brand. So while I’m getting all that other random organic food, I can also pick from several cheap, quality, and clearly-labeled (!) vegan body washes, shampoos, face masks, and hand soaps.
Rossmann and DM are literally EVERYWHERE and the vegan snacks and pure fruit juices are lifesavers when faced with a 45-minute commute on an empty stomach.
Cooking for and taking care of yourself is only one part of a vegan lifestyle, though. Staying home alone is nice, but you need friends too. Making new friends is difficult anyways, especially the older we get, but in a foreign country in a foreign language it’s even more of a challenge. When I became vegan, I was new here. I wanted to meet new people and I wanted to meet other vegans. I did a search for ‘vegan’ on MeinVZ, which is a German version of Facebook, and found a potluck in my city. I signed up, baked some cookies, showed up and instantly had a new, like-minded group of young people to hang out with. I have even hosted my own vegan food and game night for German vegans from the area!
MeinVZ has an extremely active and welcoming vegan community with lively forums, frequent meet-ups all over the country, vegan couchsurfing, and information about demonstrations and other events. It may be partly because Germany is so much smaller than the US, but I could never imagine this type of a forum being so far-reaching and well connected at home. Everyone knows everyone and people travel far and wide to hang out and be awesome vegans together. It’s pretty great, and all it takes is the (admittedly scary) first step of saying, Hi! Is anyone signed up to bring cookies yet?
Possibly my favorite part of my vegan Euro-trip has been discovering parts of cities that I might never have gone to if I weren’t vegan. A few months ago, I went with a friend to try a new restaurant with a partially-vegan menu (Pizza! Gyros! Cheeseburgers!).
The restaurant, now a favorite of mine, is just three blocks past my grocery store, down a street I’d never seen that is lined with cute shops, a natural foods store, and ends in a market square. Similarly, our local upscale vegetarian café is located across town in a lovely neighborhood I probably never would have visited. Now I ride my bike up there when I’m looking for a gift, meeting up with a friend for coffee, or craving a tempeh sandwich with sundried tomato pesto.
In Paris last December I shared a meal with the amazing family who runs The Gentle Gourmet B&B on a side street behind the Arc du Triomphe. Before dinner my girlfriends and I met up for a glass of red wine at a neighborhood bar and sat under heaters on the patio. The place was nothing special and yet completely magical, less than a mile away from the Christmas madness on the Champs-Elysees. In Lisbon I became a regular at Celeira Dieta, the natural foods store, and had daily picnics centered around to-die-for seitan empanadas.
In Porto, a city I really didn’t like, my veganism led me to a funky student neighborhood and a dreamy natural foods store and café that saved the trip for me.
When I visit Berlin, an unfathomable treasure trove of vegan riches, trying new restaurants and visiting old favorites helps me keep each trip fresh and introduce my friends to awesome veg food.
Are you a vegan planning a trip or move to Europe? Here are my tips, which I live daily.
1) First and foremost, use the internet to your advantage! Your first stop should be HappyCow.net for a listings and reviews of veg*n restaurants and natural foods stores. Make sure to write down the names and addresses of places you want to visit, and find and mark them on your map before you go!
Facebook is also a great resource, as there are many groups for vegans in particular areas. You may also be able to find meet-ups this way! If you speak the language of the place you are going, see if they have their own social networking sites.
2) Get a guidebook. I usually use Lonely Planet; they mark vegetarian and vegan restaurants with a very clear V and seem to be making a good effort to include as many as they can. Note, however, that the restaurants may always change their opening hours or even close after publication. Usually, these restaurants are also listed on Happy Cow, but it’s nice to have a description and address at hand, bundled with all your other travel information.
3) Be prepared! Before you leave, look up the words for the foods/ingredients you do not eat and write them down. Even better, learn how to say them! But definitely write them down and study them briefly so you can recognize them on menus and ingredients lists.
4) Persevere. Sometimes when I’m traveling alone, I get so tired or have such a bad day that the thought of going back out with my map to look for a restaurant or store just seems impossible. But I usually push through and am glad that I did. This past March I spent 8 day backpacking in Portugal by myself. My final stop was Porto, and by the time I got there, I was exhausted and cranky, the weather was terrible, and I didn’t like the city. All I wanted to do was sit in my room and figure out how quickly I could get out of there, but my stomach and my mind needed good food, so I put on my raincoat, grabbed my book, and struck back out in to the wet gray streets of Porto. The restaurant, Nakité, was there where it said, it was open, and I had the best vegan meal I have ever had in a restaurant, hands down. Olive-marinated tofu on a bed of caramelized onions with a thick crunchy topping.
This, sometimes, is the curse of the vegan. You can’t – you won’t – just go and scarf down the first available food you find. But we should be used to this by now, and the rewards are vast.
5) Finally, most importantly, put yourself out there and be adventurous. All the information you collect isn’t worth anything unless you use it! Talk to people, find other vegans, and visit new places off the beaten path. There aren’t very many vegans on the Earth and we need to work together to share our tips, our food, our experiences, and our cities.
In a way, being vegan abroad is really no different from being vegan anywhere else. Vegans are a minority who learn to live a certain way within the prevailing food and lifestyle culture. When I move back to the United States in six weeks, it will be my first time being a vegan in America. It will be both a comforting homecoming and a culture shock as I enter foreign food environment. But I am a vegan, and I am ready.