Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Being vegan in 'Schland

And we're back!

Hi folks! Real life (moving to another state, trying to find a job, continuing problems with internet) caught up with me, and hence my post about being vegan for 5 weeks in the big D (aka Deutschland, aka D-land, aka 'Schland, aka Germany) has been delayed until now. But, JP and I are almost completely settled into our new apartment in Berkeley and we're getting on our feet. I'm unfortunately jobless at the mo', but hopefully that will change soon!

Happy shite: I celebrated my 1-year Veganniversary on the 26th of July! Yaaaaay me! I celebrated by cooking a ton of food for my and JP's going away party, and unfortunately forgot to take any pictures. In my defense, I had been in the country less than 24 hours - I blame jetlag!.

So on to the 'Schland. I'll admit, I was apprehensive about traveling abroad as a vegan for the first time, especially in a meat-and-potatoes-centered food culture like Germany. There is a Metzgerei (butcher's shop) on every corner. The ubiquitous bakeries are full of beautiful but dairy-laden baked goods. Even the foreign food is meat-based: döner kebap, the most popular fast food in Germany, is basically a pita pocket full of dead sheep with veggies and a dairy-based sauce. I was optimistic but cautious.

My purpose in going to Germany was to work on an archaeological dig sponsored by the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. We were located about an hour south of Leipzig, which was cool for me because my year abroad in 2005-2006 was almost entirely spent in southwest 'Schland. I was excited to see what if any cultural differences existed and to hear other dialects (I'm used to Schwäbisch, which in my opinion is the best dialect EVAH: "'n bissle!").

The great thing about this is that I was staying with a bunch of people and we had a budget with which to buy groceries and make our own food, so there was no time when I was forced to go to a cafeteria or eat pre-prepared food or had to go hungry. Grocery lists were communally drawn up and everyone was responsible for his or her own breakfast and lunch. Dinners were eaten together every night, with two people responsible for cooking.

I was living with 15 people, and eating with 15-20 people depending on how many of the scientists were staying for dinner. Luckily, there was another vegan in addition to me (from Belgium), a vegetarian (from England), and a lactose intolerant pescatarian (from the Netherlands), so with 1/4-1/3 of us being veg, that was enough of a crowd to ensure one of the two entrees would be vegan. The downside to living and eating with 11-15 omnis is that we had two fridges basically STUFFED with lunchmeat and cheese. The amount of animals and animal products that people ate on a daily basis was fucking disgusting. It made me a bit ashamed to remember that I, too, had eaten that way (or worse) for the first 22 years of my life. However, it served as a good reminder of the many reasons why I'm vegan.

It was easy enough to find vegan food in normal German grocery stores. We went to Plus, Aldi, or Kaufland, and once or twice we went to Edeka or Lidl. When I visited the fabulous Mihl of Seitan Is My Motor, she also mentioned that DM has lots of vegan food AND household and bodycare products, too. I stuck to veggies (Gemüse), fruit (Obst), beans (Bohnen), bread (Brot), tofu (Tofu), grains (Getreidekorn), soymilk (Sojamilch), soy yogurt (Sojajoghurt), muesli (Muesli - make sure it doesn't have honey!), soy pudding (Sojapudding), chocolate (Schokolade), chips (Chips), soy-based margarine (pflanzliches Margarine), jam (Marmelade), and tea (Tee). I also went to a Reformhaus (health food store) in a nearby town and bought some 'specialty' items: vegan cookies (veganische Kekse), vegan hot dogs (Wurst), vegan Nutella (Soja Schokoladeaufstrich), and vegetable-based bread spread (Brotaufstrich).

Breakfast (except for those weekends when I made vegan pancakes for the lucky few who woke up early) was always soy yogurt and muesli and a piece of fruit, and sometimes a piece of bread with jam. On weekends when I was staying there I sometimes made tofu scramble with mushrooms, leeks, onions, and red pepper. Lunch had to be portable, as it was eaten out at the site. It usually consisted of some sort of sandwich or two (veggies, veg and tofu, PB&J, or PB & vegan nutella & banana), fruit, sometimes a carrot, chips (usually red bell pepper, or paprika, Pringles), and either vegan cookies or vegan chocolate. And either water or Vita Cola (also known in some circles as 'Commie Cola' or 'God'). I dressed the sandwiches up with paprika and cayenne and salt and pepper - spices take up little to no room in a bag and are superlight.

Unrelated to veganism: while on my trip, I acquired der Brothass (breadhate), which is a word I made up to describe the fiery rage that surged up from my tummy whenever I saw a piece of toast. I had bread at two meals a day if not three and sometimes as a snack, and by the last week I was fucking sick of it. And I was apparently eating the bare minimum; the Dutch and Belgian folks ate twice that!! I don't really eat that much bread at home unless I get a PB and banana craving. I felt STUFFED to the gills with breadiness. I developed an irrational hatred for it and would do anything to avoid eating bread. It got to the point where I was bringing leftovers from dinner in a plastic container and leaving it on the truck in the sun to warm up.


Dinner was an interesting affair, depending on who was cooking. There were some very excellent meals. I cooked three times while I was there, and made awesome chili twice, and teriaki tofu/veggie kabobs once. Siglinde made an amazing Moroccan tagine, Jess and Nick made lovely baked balsamic veggies with pasta, and tomato curry over spiced rice, Uli and Coen made tomato basil spaghetti, Freya and Sander made lasagna (the vegan version was AMAZING, and the white sauce was made with COCONUT MILK...sounds weird, but tasted SOOOO GOOD!), the Romanian girls made stew...there was never a night where I went hungry. Sander (the other vegan) and I were clear about what we could and could not eat. Most people were respectful of our wishes, even if they didn't completely 'get' veganism. Many of them began to come around after I made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies on the last weekend. ;) I had some interesting discussions with folks, some of which I'll be touching on in a later entry.

I didn't get a chance to go to many vegan restaurants while there, sadly. I was lucky enough to dine twice at Zest, a vegan restaurant in Leipzig, which Mihl recommended. HO MEINE GUTE! I am so sad I do not live nearby, because the food there was amazing. The first time I had a BYOB burger with tempeh, the BEST potato salad I've ever had in my life, amazing red pepper hummus with pita, and a yummy lemon ginger drink. The second time I have a BYOB burger with grilled tofu, these amazing jalepeno and cream cheese tamales with roasted corn salad...


...and a strawberry basil smoothie.



The food was very fresh, very creative, very flavorful, amazing presentation. Sander, Jess (the vegetarian) and Nick (an omni) all raved about their food as well. Sander got this amazing chocolate cake that looked as if it was pure chocolatey goodness, and tasted that way too! (I got a teensy bite :3) Not eating out a lot definitely helped me save money though. For quick food at train stations and such, falafel (sans yogurt sauce, if applicable) was easy in a pinch.

I also had the pleasure of visiting Mihl in Dresden and eating her wonderful amazing food! You can read all about and see the enormous delicious spread she cooked herself (a friend and I helped chop veggies, and I frosted the cake, yay!) here at her blog. Everything was amazing but my favorite was the curry burry soup and the mocha devastation cake from My Sweet Vegan! She sent me home with leftovers, and I was the envy of the archaeological dig team the next day. I gave an omni friend a taste of the cake, and she liked it so much that she wants the recipe! Many MANY thanks to Mihl for inviting me and feeding me such lovely fare!

So I managed to stay vegan in Germany for five weeks, aside from a cookie mix-up that wasn't my fault. What worked best for me was buying most of my food from grocery stores and cooking myself. Even the hostel I stayed at in Berlin during my last week had a kitchen. Yeah, some of the meals I had (especially some of those lunches at the dig) were kind of boring, but it was just one meal out of my life. And some of the meals I had were amazing (I'm still dreaming about that lasagna...). If you don't have access to a kitchen while traveling, I found that buying bread, tofu salami (or not), veggies, margarine, and mustard and making myself sandwiches suited me just fine.

I'll be surprised if anyone is still reading after all that! Next entry will be about being vegan and visiting friends and how to cook together, as well as discussions about hunting, sheep, and European veganism. Also I promise more food porn and less musing (eventually).


Mihl said...

Awesome blog entry and great to hear that you are in Berkeley, finally. Hope you will find a job soon. Thank you for your invitation again! I would love to visit you one day.
So sorry about the "Brothass" - don't mention this to Germans, you know how proud we are when it comes to bread! I still love your word creation.

pavotrouge said...

I only just discovered your very cute blog and put it on my blogroll :) Good to hear you had a nice time in Germany!

pavotrouge said...

P.S.: I don't mind "Brothass", I'm German and I don't like bread myself :)