"Where we go depends on what we know, and what we know depends on where we go"
while this quote may be straight out of a comedy-crime novel (Tess Gerritsen, The Surgeon), it surely applies to real life. When it comes to being vegan, you may be tempted to stick to your routine. Why try out ten brands of tofu if you've finally found the one you like the most. Why risk disastrous experiments if you've already found that perfect combination of veggies for Pad Thai. Naturally, whatever we do, we tend to assume that everybody is doing the same thing. But, being vegan is an experience which can vary from country to country. Since traveling helps broaden our views, it certainly is a great way of learning more about veganism in other countries. We can't really travel at the moment, but we can daydream and create our travel bucket lists, all while being heroes for staying at home.
In this article, you will find an overview of four countries observed through the lens of veganism, starting from the traditionally meatless ones, to the countries with a bright and promising future for veganism. If you are on a mission to explore the places on Earth which have the most to offer to vegans, this article will equip you with information useful for planning future trips.
Let’s start this list by tracing veganism to its roots. Although we can’t pinpoint who or when first started practicing veganism, Buddhism and Hinduism surely spring to mind when discussing the origin of veganism. Ahimsa (non-violence in Sanskrit), a principle of non-harming, is present in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. It applies to all living beings, meaning that a lot of followers choose to abstain from eating animals.
I remember learning in primary school that cows are sacred in India and that people treat them like royalty. That was before the Internet was a thing, so I just believed it because it sounded cute and carried on with my life. Now I know that’s not exactly the case and that cattle there are treated (read: exploited) like everywhere else. Still, there are vegans in India, possibly because Hinduism is the largest religion there, and Hindus usually practice Ahimsa. Regardless of the origin, we owe it to Indian culture for many delicious vegan dishes, such as kitchari, kofta, chana masala, pakora, and many more. One thing you’ll notice all these dishes have in common is being spicy. India is a hot country, so before the age of refrigerators and preservatives, people came up with adding spices to food to prevent spoilage. As a result, we can now enjoy dishes with flavors of turmeric, cardamom, coriander seeds, garlic, mustard seeds, and cumin.
When traveling to India, make sure to check if the dishes you order contain ghee or other dairy products. If possible, ask to substitute those for oil. Since it’s hot there, don’t eat things that have been sitting in the heat for a long time. If you see restaurants with the word vegetarian in their name, give them a shot, chances are that a lot of meals will already be vegan, just ask for the list of ingredients. Language matters, so as always, equip yourself with vocabulary; learn the words for no dairy, no eggs, no fish, no honey, no meat.
Out of all of the countries of Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia, how to choose which one to represent? Countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam have all contributed to veganism by offering us their traditional vegan meals or giving us opportunities for veganising them. Just think of the times when Chinese takeout saved you from starving! I decided to write about Singapore because that country is a true medley of cultures. A multicultural country whose citizens are Chinese, Malays, Indians, and Eurasians, and which is a home to many non-residents from different countries, Singapore gives you a taste of all these cultures in one place. Since Buddhism is the largest religion in Singapore, you can find many vegan establishments there. One of the peculiarities you will probably encounter in Singaporean restaurants is being asked “no onion, no garlic?”. That question also has to do with religion. Some Buddhists don’t eat pungent vegetables such as onions and garlic, so many restaurants either cook onion and no-onion dishes separately, or don’t serve onion at all. One fewer thing to worry about if you take your date to dinner!
If you love mock meats, then go ahead and book the tickets to Singapore right away. Well, maybe not right away, but, you know… right away after this pesky global pandemic. Singaporeans have mastered the art of crafting fake meats so convincing that you’ll have to do a double take. If you’re more on the whole foods side, worry not. Many restaurants cater to patrons who choose to eat whole foods, gluten-free or raw food. Overlapping of all the different cultures in Singapore has resulted in many cuisines, and no matter how picky you are, you are bound to find something for yourself.
German culture, like many other European cultures, relies heavily on animal products. However, awareness of veganism is continuously spreading. In 2020, USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service issued a report on the vegan revolution in Europe. In the report, Germany is said to be leading a vegan revolution in Europe, with approximately 814,000 vegans residing there. Even people who aren't vegan have positive attitudes towards meatless food items being available in stores.
While you may not find many vegan options in rural areas, as you come near bigger cities, your chances of scoring a nice meal improve. You can choose between vegan restaurants, vegan options in non-vegan restaurants, and street food. If falafel is your thing, you're in luck! Falafel places are virtually everywhere, and even vendors who sell non-vegan street food usually offer falafel (just remember to ask for it to be grilled separately). The opulence of the vegan lifestyle in Germany doesn't stop here. There are also many vegan festivals, such as Vegan Street Day, Veganes Sommerfest Berlin, and VeggieWorld festivals. If you're a vegan visiting Berlin, Veganz stores are must-visit places for you. Veganz is a brand that first started as a plant-based food company, and they later became the first vegan supermarket chain in Europe. And due to Germany's strong economy and fondness for veganism, you can find German-made products in supermarkets all over Europe.
As much as Europeans love dairy, Americans like meat. This maybe used to be true, but hopefully, such stereotypes may soon become obsolete. But in the meantime, we can't just ignore the fact that meat products are in demand. Enter food entrepreneurs. The reason for including California on this list is because this is where the two globally popular plant-based meat substitute companies, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, were founded.
Some people go vegan for the animals, for the climate, for their health. Rare are those who go vegan just because they dislike the taste of animal products. Of course, it's possible that after some time being vegan your taste preferences change and the cravings for non-vegan food stop. For many people, these cravings are what make them stumble on their way to veganism. But now, with so many meat and dairy alternatives, it's getting harder to come up with excuses for not being vegan. Due to the increasing demand for plant-based products, the profits of such companies are rising. Beyond and Impossible are just some of the companies which make veganism more accessible. However, let's remember that there are many more vegan options other than fake meats, especially in Oregon, Vermont, Washington, and California, the most vegan states. In a melting pot (or a salad bowl) such as the USA, all vegans can thrive, regardless of their cuisine preferences.
It wasn't long ago that the only vegan options for travelers were beans and fruit from grocery stores. Today, a lot of cities have so many vegan options that you can travel just to eat local food. Almost anywhere you go in the world you'll find some new delicious vegan dishes to explore. If you haven't already (and once it's safe to do so) I urge you to travel somewhere outside your comfort zone. The experiences (and recipe ideas) will stay for life!