Paris, France: Boeuf bourgignon, gratin dauphinois, cassoulet. These are a few of the most typical French dishes you can find in every brasserie on French territory.
In addition to calling forth such national pride (French gastronomy was inscribed on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list), and highly difficult to digest, they have another thing in common: these dishes are all made from animal products whether meat, cheese, eggs or cream.
And that’s a fact you’ll encounter frequently when eating in France: the traditional cuisine isn’t really what you could call vegan-friendly. After all we’re talking about the land of cheese and foie gras right?
Yet, recently, it has become a little bit easier (at least in major cities) to find vegetarian and even sometimes vegan options in traditional restaurants. There are also new restaurants catering specifically to vegans and vegetarians opening in trendy French neighborhoods.
But how did we go from eating meat twice a day to dining at vegan pizza restaurants in such a short space of time?
The plant-based diet boom.
While it took Paris a little longer than other European capitals such as Berlin, London and even Barcelona to change its animal-eating ways, it has now become possible to be a vegetarian or a vegan in The City of Lights.
From specialized supermarkets that only stock vegan products to organic stores that have a vegetarian section, and even mainstream retailers becoming more ‘food conscious’, shopping to sustain yourself is no longer a hassle in Paris. Rather, it’s becoming a new kind of guilt-free pleasure so much so that recently, a chain of organic, vegan and zero-waste supermarkets have opened across Parisian suburbs. Talk about demand!
And, if you feel like eating out, plenty of cruelty-free options are available, from the healthy bowl quickly bought at lunch and eaten at the office, to the trendy Instagrammable brunch, and even fancy vegan restaurants perfect for a birthday or a romantic dinner.
In addition to the global shift in meat consumption, the French animal welfare association L214 has greatly participated in the rising demand for plant-based products by regularly releasing images of slaughterhouses and farmed animals living conditions. These images have sparked such outrage that the government even legislated to improve living and slaughter conditions, almost unanimously.
All of this coupled with the mainstreaming of the environmental impacts of raising animals for slaughter, have enabled cruelty-free entrepreneurs to find a growing customer base in France.
Yet while it has become increasingly easy to live a plant-based lifestyle as a Parisian, it’s important to note that most of these newly opened places are often located in areas where young bobo (the French defines this as the bohemian bourgeois, aka “fashionable middle-class lefty”) live. Indeed, these are the ones that are most likely to be vegetarian or vegan according to several studies and have a high enough income to sustain this ‘ethical’ lifestyle. What this means is that there are many neighborhoods whose inhabitants are either older or earn a lower income, that are not experiencing this veggie boom.
And this differentiation is symptomatic of the ‘vegan awakening’ in France.
Paris versus the rest.
Indeed, this geographical differentiation does not only apply within Paris, but to the country as a whole. My two most recent holidays in France provided the chance to observe this phenomenon firsthand.
My first holiday was a weekend getaway on the island of Noirmoutier on the Atlantic coast. The local specialties there are oysters and eels. So be it. But when asking around to see if pescatorian and vegetarian options could be made vegan, the answer was always a firm no. And to be honest, if it had been, there wouldn’t have been much left to eat as all meals were derived from animal products. Visualise this: A plate with few veggies, lots of cheese and seafood. Vegans beware. My travel companions and I ended up buying our own cruelty-free food at the supermarket and making our own meals.
On a recent trip, I travelled to Marseille, the second largest city in France located on the Mediterranean coast. Here, food is mostly of Mediterranean inspiration so I thought I’d easily find culinary happiness by eating pasta, salads and Greek food. However my hopes were diminished quickly. Between fish restaurants and northern African inspired meals that contain A LOT of meat, I didn’t savor Marseille cuisine as much as I’d expected. I did however discover a few vegan restaurants in the city that were excellent, but the small number in such a vast city is a little woeful. Some conversations with local vegans confirmed my intuition: the second largest French city is far from being a vegan paradise.
But not all hope is lost. I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness and understanding of some restaurants owners in places I never expected such as small villages in Normandy or Burgandy. These restauranteurs kindly accommodated my special dietary needs even when nothing suitable was on the menu.
This proves to me that while there is still a long way to go both in major cities and throughout the country, information is spreading and the “vegan awakening” is definitely on its way to sweeping France. For the sake of the animals and our planet, I really hope so.