Is it easy to be vegan in Europe?
One of my New Year’s resolutions was to become a vegan, however, this decision was pretty spontaneous and in practice, it appeared not as easy as it seemed before. Thus, I started to research the topic more and had a look at the advanteges and some challenges to face of being vegan in European countries. Those findings I would like to share in this article.
When I told my family (who are living in Ukraine) about this decision, they were mad and told me that this is absurd. I would say it is a pretty typical perception of the older generation of people from post-soviet countries. They see it as a threat to my health and well-being. On contrast most of my friends and acquaintances in Germany take this decision calmly, I would say they were not surprised, but even were trying to support me.
Regardless, the huge awareness in European countries, vegans still can feel some social pressure, negative reaction and even kind of isolation. It can be connected to the strong culture and traditions in the cuisine (e.g. most of the traditional Ukrainian dishes contain meat since in the previous times' people were working hard in the field and needed a lot of energy for that). Thus when the person rejects to eat such food it can be seen as insulting to the culture or even rebellious. Moreover, the non-vegan people sometimes feel pressured or guilty when they eat meat in front of vegan, who seems (even without saying anything) proclaims as morally wrong to eat animals!
However, being vegan is not only changing in your diet to plant-based, but it is also part of a lifestyle. Because there are several reasons why humans become vegans, which includes animal welfare, climate change, sustainability, and personal health. Thus, the accomplished vegan, therefore, also indicates a wealth of knowledge in society about the current global issues.
The one thing that is visible nowadays is the growing popularity of vegan topics in the media. It starts to be more present and acceptable in printed media, plus especially in social networks (like Instagram), where you can find a lot of famous food bloggers, nutritionists, and celebrities. Because of the last ones, it is no longer related to some small groups of society but becomes a desirable lifestyle choice considered trendy in mainstream culture.
Those are supported by the figures in Europe and particularly in Germany. Only in 2019 there were 11,655 vegan food and drink businesses launched in Europe, an increase of 93% in comparison to 2016. Furthermore, already that year (2016) Europe was the largest market (39% of global sales) for meat substitutes.
At the same time, Germany is one of the global leaders when it comes to vegan product development and launches (15% of global vegan introductions in 2017-2018). One in ten consumers buy meat alternatives, and it is even higher (one in five) among young people (age group 16-24). In 2005, only 1% of Germans considered themselves vegetarians; this extended to 7,5 % in 2019 (about 6.1 million people in Germany were either vegetarians or largely abandon meat consumption).
Among the other leading country in Europe are the UK, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland and the interest in veganism is growing according to the consumer services provider, Ceuta Group , which researched consumer trends from across Europe over the past five years.
I was also absolutely glad to see Ukraine among the countries that are showing an increase in the searches for information on veganism. And indeed it more accessible (articles, books, etc.) and it is more likely to find a large variety of vegan food in the restaurant and cafes. Still, it is needed to say that there's no problem with being vegan in big cities (Kyiv, Lviv, Odesa, Kharkiv), especially in the last few years. However, in smaller towns, there may occur some difficulties, in particular buying more expensive food or finding vegan cosmetics or medicine.
The financial aspect of being vegan is also certainly crucial. Vegan products and replacement ingredients are often expensive (e.g. when you ordering a coffee with plant-based milk it costs extra!), and not within every family’s budget. Moreover, German and the UK, Spanish or French markets already have very established vegan options and developing even more in recent years, while in some other countries (like Ukraine) vegan production is laying behind.
Despite a lot of people think you should not be super-rich to follow a vegan lifestyle, it is actually possible to eat vegan cheaply by preparing plenty of things by yourself. Of course, it is already time-consuming (in terms of shopping or food preparation), but at the same moment, it gives such advantages as eating not-processed and healthy food. Simultaneously improving your creativity in searching new recipes and flavors, or even encourage you to begin making own cosmetics and so on.
There also remain doubts among a lot of people that vegan diets are not healthy - even though meat-eating is linked with increased risks of cancer, heart disease, and other life-threatening ailments. Although vegetable food is rich in nutrients, some micronutrients (iron) are only contained in small amounts or not possible to gain in vegetable form, notably the vitamin B12. Thus, vegans are recommended to take vitamin supplements. Further, regular check-ups, well-planned balanced diet can help to satisfy nutritional and energy needs. In my opinion, we should also concentrate more on the health benefits of the vegan diet, such as:
- lower rates of cancer and cardiovascular diseases
- reduced cholesterol and blood glucose
- lower risk of diabetes and obesity
Last but not least to gain all the advantages, it is also important not to misuse junk and heavily processed vegan food, that appears in recent years extensively on our shops' shelves.
I will not repeat the health pros that give us a vegan diet (including potential weight loss as well), but we also should consider gains in other spheres of our lives. For instance, vegan eating can lead to mindful eating, which is a practice that involves paying more attention to the meals and increasing sensual awareness and experience of them. When you plan your diet smartly it can also reduce your costs for food, since meat, fish, and seafood are quite pricey as well! With the increasing concern about the climate, vegans contribute a lot to the environment and sustainable lifestyle, which is critical nowadays as the changes are obvious (just look at this super warm winter!) Finally, choosing a vegan lifestyle implies a support to the more humane treatment of animals, since they are not killed or harmed to produce food, cloth, cosmetics or other items.
After revealing different aspects of a vegan lifestyle, I am still intended to follow it, however, step by step. Every person is different and requires various strategies in accepting new habits. Though, it is just important to make a free conscious decision and be ready for the challenges in adapting to the new environment. There is a clear understanding that systemic global changes are present and humans need some real solutions to cope, so maybe veganism will be among them!