eat your veggies-home
eat your veggies-home
While by no means a new phenomenon, the vegetarian lifestyle has earned increasing numbers of adherents in the West over the past decade. While some vegetarians consider their choice to eat a meatless diet as a sacrifice for better health, many see it instead as an integral part of a lifestyle that embodies respect for all living creatures, animal rights and a wholesome, healthy planet. Many cities have developed multiple resources for vegetarians, helping foster not only a meatless diet, but vegetarianism as an active attitude about making a better world.
In recent years, the preference for plant-based food and beverages, animal cruelty-free cosmetic products and clothes that don’t require the killing of animals to be manufactured has made itself a commercial force. Even ‘mega’ corporations like Starbucks, Subway and Burger King are addressing vegetarian and vegan diets among their customers, offering dairy-free beverages and vegetarian meals around the globe. It is safe to say that vegetarianism has irreversibly entered the mainstream.
However, in blogs and on-line forums, anxious first-time visitors to this city often worry along the lines of, “Oh my God, I’m going to Barcelona. What will I eat?” But in reality, although Spain isn’t necessarily known for vegetarian inclinations, once in Barcelona the vegetarian’s worries are quickly dispelled.
In Barcelona, there are over 40 restaurants and markets dedicated to providing meat-free meals, according to Happy Cow, one of the world’s largest on-line vegetarian guides, and the figure is echoed by the Barcelona-based web for vegetarians, Sin Carne. A poll by the Happy Cow guides recently listed New York, San Francisco, London, Singapore and Portland, Oregon as the top five places for providing an easy, enjoyable vegetarian lifestyle. And although Barcelona isn’t even found amongst the runner-ups (Chiang Mai in Thailand, Toronto, Canada, and Taipei, Taiwan), it still ranks 19th in the world in the number of vegetarian restaurants and cafés, coming in just after San Francisco. With places like Amaltea, Veg World, Sesamo, Vegetalia, Juicy Jones, Maoz and Organic, the Catalan capital seems equipped to respond to any vegetarian caprice.
“The attitudes towards the concept of vegetarianism have definitely changed over the last decade in Barcelona,” said Mads Rademacher, the Danish man whose Juicy Jones offers a vegan alternative—–meals that don’t contain any animal by-products—to Barcelona’s ‘old-fashioned’ vegetarian cuisine with less flavour, eggs and dairy in the ingredients, and an often unappetising presentation. The vegan lifestyle opposes all forms of cruelty to animals, and its adherents eat no cheese, eggs or butter, and wear no clothes or shoes made of leather. It is not popular in Barcelona, although the concept isn’t unknown, and groups like Acción Vegana do exist. In addition to Juicy Jones, other places cater to vegans, like the venerable vegetarian Indian restaurant Govinda, which was the first in the city to do so.
Giselle Tarrés, who helps her mother run the Organic vegetarian restaurants in Barcelona, agreed with Rademacher that the growing abundance of information on nutrition has made people in Barcelona more open to the ideas of eating and living vegetarian. “Young people in particular have become more aware of the vices of the modern food system—the killing of animals, the frozen and canned food, the mechanised processing of what we eat. More and more often, the ethical motivations come first.”
The clientele at Organic and Juicy Jones consists of both locals and tourists, and ranges from teenage skaters to elderly ladies. Barcelona may not be a cutting-edge city in the vegetarian world, but its residents are generally an open, tolerant bunch, willing to consider different world-views and embrace a healthier, more humane way of life, according to Rademacher. “You won’t see the people of Barcelona shouting animal-rights slogans in the streets, but they are progressive in their own quiet way, as they are inclined to contemplate and embrace radical ideas.”
In fact, vegetarianism here has quite a long history. One of the first vegetarian organisations in Spain was the Lliga Vegetariana de Catalunya, established in 1907. In 1920, the Sociedad Vegetariana de Catalunya was created. Since then, the region has been distinguished as the Spanish autonomic region with the greatest number of vegetarians, and vegetarian-friendly environments. Even Antoni Gaudí is known to have kept a strict vegetarian diet. “His meager lunches had often consisted of just a bowl of fresh lettuce leaves dipped in milk, finishing later with a handful of nuts or sugared almonds,” according to Cèsar Martinell’s book, Conversaciones con Gaudí. In 2004, Barcelona became the nation’s first city to declare itself an ‘anti-bullfighting city’ after nearly 250,000 residents signed a petition to oppose the bloody sport.
About four percent of Spain’s population follows a vegetarian diet, according to the European Vegetarian Union (EVU). That same percentage of vegetarians is also estimated for countries like Canada, the US and the Netherlands. The European chart is topped by Italy, with 10 percent of its population defining themselves as vegetarians, Germany and Switzerland have nine, and the UK has six percent. At the bottom of the Old Continent’s list are countries like Portugal, Poland and Denmark, where vegetarianism seems to attract few adherents.
While popular demand in countries like Canada and the US has forced college campuses and schools to introduce vegetarian and vegan options, coffee shops to offer vegan pastries and dairy-free cappuccinos and music festivals to promote vegetarian and eco-friendly practices to attract visitors, in Barcelona the vegetarian lifestyle is still characterised by its relative scarcity and a much lower demand. In markets like Veritas, a pair of veggie burgers costs about five euros, a handful of seitan (the wheat gluten meat substitute) is about four euros and less than half a kilo of tofu is more than three. Vegetarian products are not only expensive, but their variety is more limited, and often lacking in flavour compared with cities where such products are in more demand.
For many environmentally sensitive, politically active and socially aware residents, embracing vegetarianism or seeking to include vegetarian alternatives is becoming part of their daily lives, and a way of building a new relationship to other species and affecting a positive change in the world. It can also seem to be in direct opposition to centuries of a meat-based diet, a cuisine founded on flesh and stretching back a long way. Nevertheless, attitudes are changing and vegetarians here are finding it easier and easier to eat according to their heart’s delight.
First published February 2009.