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Can I Be a Vegan in Madrid?

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The challenges of upholding a vegan lifestyle in a country that ranks second in Europe for meat consumption. 

For those of you who aren’t aware of the British phenomenon of "Veganuary," it is essentially a campaign to promote veganism and encourage non-vegans to give the lifestyle a go for the first month of the year. In recent years, the campaign has taken off, with thousands more people trying it every January.

I have personally been a vegan on and off for the last two years, occasionally switching back to vegetarianism for a few months at a time, including my first few months in Madrid. When I first arrived I didn’t want to limit myself too much or feel like I was missing out on an exciting new cuisine or the opportunity to indulge in some churros con chocolate.

By the end of the first semester, though, I realized that I wanted to revert back to veganism full-time. I was acutely aware that in Britain I am incredibly lucky with the number of vegan options that can be found in shops and restaurants and, generally, places are now much more willing to accommodate different dietary choices. However, in Madrid I understood that I might not be blessed with such luxuries.

Traditionally Spaniards eat a very meat-based diet; just take a walk through any town and you will undoubtedly come across a carnicería, where you will see huge legs of pork hanging from the ceiling and metres of chorizo lined up on the counter.

Traditionally Spaniards eat a very meat-based diet; just take a walk through the streets in any city or town in Spain and you will almost undoubtedly come across a carnicería, where you will see huge legs of pork hanging from the ceiling and metres of chorizo lined up on the counter. In fact, as a country, it ranks 14th in terms of meat consumption worldwide, and second in Europe. There is also a plethora of bakeries that offer delicious freshly-made pastries that in my first few months here have proved hard to resist. Long story short, I was quite prepared for the fact that being a vegan in Madrid was going to prove a challenge.

Nevertheless, I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised. When I started doing some research about the best vegan restaurants in Madrid and what were the best places to do my weekly food shops, I was met with a huge selection of quirky organic cafes and little independent health food shops called herborlarios. Meat replacements, such as tofu or seitan, are slightly more expensive than back in the UK, but only by a matter of about 50 cents. I have also been delighted to discover that although vegan products may not be so readily available, there are some really delicious finds that I wouldn’t get back home. (Since my first taste of the raspberry and matcha green tea soy yoghurt, I’ve been hooked.)

The specific vegan restaurants are also fantastic; many even take traditional Spanish recipes and "veganise" them so you don’t have to feel like you’re missing out on the culture. The only pitfall I have found is going out to restaurants that are not specifically vegan as there really does seem to be a lot of misunderstanding about what a vegan can and can’t eat; I once ordered a "plant-based" sandwich, which I was assured would be fine. . .only to be served an egg and tuna sandwich 10 minutes later. There was still some slight confusion when I politely explained that tuna was, in fact, not vegan.

However, I have found situations like this are few and far between and have generally been very impressed with the ease of maintaining a plant-based diet thus far. Upholding a veganism in a traditionally meat-loving country really doesn’t have to be difficult, just be prepared to do some research and accept that it will be a slightly different experience to one you may be used to.

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Anna Matthews

Anna Matthews is a 21-year-old English Literature and Spanish student at the University of Leeds. She is currently undertaking and Erasmus study placement at the Universidad de Alcalá, just north of Madrid.

Website: https://www.instagram.com/annaamatthews/

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