Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
If you’re vegetarian and live in France or have ever been to France, you’ll quickly realise that it can be a nightmare. Very often, meals out will turn into moments of anxiety where you wonder if you’ll either have to starve or end up with a crappy sandwich with barely anything inside or with a boring Margherita pizza.
I’ve been vegetarian since I was 15 and it’s always been a pain. Not only did I have issues finding food I could eat in restaurants or sandwich bars (without needing to remove the meat), I had to deal with total misunderstanding. Every. Single. Day.
It started in secondary school at lunch time, when I was 14. I don’t really remember why I stopped eating meat, but I did. So at the cafeteria, I started asking not to have meat on my plate because I wouldn’t eat it: they always refused. I wasn’t even fully vegetarian at the time but I find it ridiculous now. I know they’re probably obliged to give everybody everything to make sure we eat enough, but still. If you’re already vegetarian at that age, the only other option is to go back at home for lunch (because they don’t let you bring your own lunch and eat in the cafeteria) which isn’t always possible.
Anyway. A few months after I started college (aged 15), I become completely vegetarian. It was better than secondary school and after a while, they knew I didn’t want meat on my plate which was great… Except it meant I had less to eat than everybody else. On the rare occasions where the main course was something like Shepherd’s Pie, I only had a starter, dessert and bread.
In supermarkets, I’d never seen a single product that had a “suitable for vegetarians” label, and seeing a “vegan” one was just impossible. That’s what shocked me the most the first time I came to England in 2011.
At home and among my friends, I often had to justify my choices or hear stupid jokes and ridiculous arguments I’d already heard twenty times before. People in France simply do not know what it means (they don’t understand I don’t eat fish either) or why on earth you’d want to reject the “culinary culture” of your country.
Now, years later, it’s better because I’m older and people respect my opinions more. However, each time I go back to France, there’s always at least one person who asks questions or who laughs at me (“What do you eat, grass? hahahaha”).
In England, nobody gives a shit. People do not care. Very few uni friends have asked me why I was vegetarian and I’ve met more vegetarians and vegans than ever (I even ended up with two other vegetarians in my flat which was a super nice surprise!).
In England, I never (or barely ever) have to worry about “Am I going to find something to eat today?” when I go out. I can go to pretty much any restaurants and enjoy a very nice VG dinner. You can even get vegan options sometimes which is unimaginable in France. Going shopping is so much easier too since I don’t have to read the WHOLE list of ingredients.
Things are getting slightly better in France but I hope it truly changes soon because it’s incredibly frustrating.
Mentalities need to change and people need to be more educated about alternative diets (and more open-minded in general). I understand people not wanting to be vegetarian but I don’t understand people mocking us, asking ridiculous questions and people (adults!) making animal noises to be “funny” when you try to defend what is important to you.
I love England for being able to eat in peace 🙂 — which I realise is a sad thing to say.