Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Traveling Vegan: France

France … the land of 35 hour workweeks, 2 hour lunches and Michelin 5 Star restaurants.  With the focus so heavily on food, you would expect the French would have come a long way in the realm of vegan dining, but alas, this is not the case. While the rest of Europe has embraced the vegan diet as the US has (my first book, Vegan in 30 Days, has been published in both Hungarian and Polish, but not French!), the French staunchly refuse to embrace the vegan diet, just as they won’t embrace the English language! But this stubbornness is, of course, one of the things we love about the French.  Decades from now, when the Russians are speaking English and the Chinese are eating hot dogs, the French will be sitting in their cafes, eating Coq Au Vin, drinking wine at lunch … and speaking French.

If you’re planning a trip to France, take heed:  While I guarantee you will struggle a bit to place a vegan order that is 1. understood, and 2. arrives without dairy tucked into it, there are some amazing respites for us vegans, and a few tips to get you something to eat most anywhere.

The first thing to note is that any café or bistrot (and there are millions) can make you a delicious salad.  All salads come with French dressing (not the orange kind that Kraft makes, but real French dressing), and it’s great to know that, while the dressing looks like a creamy vinaigrette, it is actually only Dijon mustard that gives it the creamy appearance – French dressing is vegan! Thank God for small miracles.  But you still need to beware – even if you ask for “no fromage (cheese)” and “no oeuf (egg)”, they will likely still get it wrong.  And even though they claim to understand “vegetalien” (French for “vegan”), they will still be totally perplexed that you are not happy when your order arrives with cheese and egg.  So, if you’re tired of playing the “Je suis vegetalien” game, go to a vegan (or vegan-friendly) restaurant instead.  Here are two to know…

If you are in Avignon, don’t fret … just when you’re about to eat another dinner of baguette and grapes from Carrefours, you’ll stumble across Les 5 Sens.  A true gourmet French restaurant, they just happen to have a 4 course vegetarian meal on the menu, which they will make vegan if you tell them – in no uncertain terms – that you are vegan, vegetalien, no fromage, no lait, no crème and no oeuf.  Truly a gourmet delight, you will be treated to a tiny appetizer that will make you worry about the upcoming portion sizes, a medium bowl of soup, and then a hearty entrée, all followed by dessert, which is always France’s coup de tat.  All four courses are delicious, and you may find yourself a little embarrassed that you’re done with all four of your courses before the French at the table next to yours have made it half way through their soup.

If you’re in Paris, there are several vegetarian restaurants that serve vegan dishes, and a small handful of 100% vegan restaurants too.  But before you settle for that old stand-by, Loving Hut, hold your horses, and head over to the Bastille to the Gentle Gourmet.  Everything on the menu is vegan and truly unbelievable, and the owners are delightful.  From “faux gras” to Seitan l’orange, to Dijon Tofu, you’ll have to go with other people so you can try several things.  The vegan Caesar salad was so good I had to go back the next day and get it again, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be serving the Chocolat Bavarian while you are there.  If you are in town on a Sunday, do not miss the Gentle Gourmet’s brunch.  You will need reservations, it is that good!

Between work and pleasure, I travel a lot, and all in all, I’d say France is the hardest place I’ve ever tried to eat as a vegan.  However, it’s still worth going if you know a few places to eat beforehand, and a few tips to make it through your trip.  Quite frankly, there are so many great things to see and do that you just might forget to eat!

Bon Apetit!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Veganism: Just a Diet, or is it a Philosophy?

I have a new column in VegNews magazine, and will be discussing controversial issues that face vegans.  There are actually quite a few (including a recent blog topic I posted – on whether to speak up or not when others are eating meat) and I’m bracing myself for a potential onslaught of criticism.  While I’m very excited for this opportunity, I don’t like having my feelings hurt!  But I suppose I’ll consider any tough criticism a growing experience in the hopes of opening some hearts and minds.

My next topic for the column will be on whether veganism is just a diet, or is it a philosophy?  Not only is this question controversial, it also will define why many people do what they do.  For example, a person who is a vegan only in their diet may still wear leather and fur, yet be calling themselves vegan.  This will outrage many philosophical vegans!  Some are calling for a change in terminology – “vegan” is used for those people who philosophically believe it’s not right to harm animals for any use, and “plant based dieters” for those who only eat plant foods, but otherwise don’t worry about their use of non-food animal products.

And what about those people who say they are vegan, yet aren’t 100% vegan?  They are, for example, 90% vegan, occasionally eating cheese or even a little meat here and there.  Again, a philosophical vegan might argue that you can’t be “kind of” vegan – just like you can’t be “kind of” Christian.  You either believe it’s not right to harm animals or you don’t, and act accordingly.  Semantically, it’s important to some people that these “kind-of” vegans clarify: “I’m working toward eating a 100% vegan diet, and do so most of the time.”

It seems rather important how you define veganism.  I believe that – even for those of us who have been vegan for years – this topic can really get you thinking. 

What are your thoughts?  Do you think that being a vegan only defines what you eat, or does it define your approach to life in some way?  I’d love to hear from you!