I’ve been a vegetarian for about 10 years and vegan for about 2 years. I decided to follow these diets for environmental reasons and also for animal rights.
Some people seem to think that vegetarianism and veganism are the same, but they aren’t. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, and sometimes also neither fish (if they do eat fish, they are known as pescetarians) nor gelatine. Gelatine is extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish. It’s found in most gummy sweets, as well as other products such as marshmallows, gelatine (jelly) desserts, some yogurts and cereals, and even sometimes wine.
Vegans don’t eat meat, fish, gelatine, milk products (such as cheese and yoghurt), eggs, and sometimes honey, so basically nothing animal-based or anything that contains something animal-based such as some kinds of chocolate, ice-cream, cakes, etc.
The term ‘vegan’ was invented in 1944 by the Vegetarian Society in Britain. The word was taken from the first three and last two letters of ‘vegetarian’ because it marks the beginning and end of vegetarianism. Interest in veganism has grown in the 2010s. The European Parliament defined the meaning of vegan for food labels in 2010, in force as of 2015.
Vegans are sometimes represented negatively in the media, perhaps because some vegans are a bit extreme. I hope we aren’t all like that!
Vegan options depend on where you are. In some countries, such as Asia, there are a lot of vegan options. According to the internet, some of the best places in the world for vegans are Berlin, Vienna, London, Tel Aviv, Singapore, and Los Angeles. I also think that Tampere is one of the best places.
Last autumn, McDonald’s’ first vegan burgers called ‘McVegan’ were piloted in Tampere. They are currently now sold only in Finland and Sweden. Some vegans don’t want to support McDonald’s. However, I think McDonald’s is not the only place that is bad in terms of the environment and animal rights. I also think it’s hard to eat in restaurants with friends if someone boycotts certain restaurants or doesn’t eat at a restaurant that serves meat. Vegan options in restaurants are already limited and there aren’t many exclusively vegan restaurants.
‘McVegan’ currently at McDonald’s in Finland and Sweden
Some people think that vegans are like rabbits and only eats grass. Of course, this isn’t true! Vegan options can easily be found in supermarkets, especially when they are on clearly-labelled separate shelves. I took the photos below at Kuninkaankulma K-Supermarket near Tampere’s central square.
Vegan pick ‘n’ mix sweets, frozen vegan options and refrigerated vegan options at Kuninkaankulma K-Supermarket near Tampere’s central square
There is also a website (and its social media channels) called Vegaanituotteet (‘vegan products’, unfortunately only available in Finnish) that collects and arranges vegan products in one place. It makes it easy to check which products are vegan, spot new products, and get inspiration and help whilst shopping. It is also helpful for non-vegans who are interested in trying veganism or who are looking to buy something for a vegan!
‘Nyhtökaura’ (meaning ‘pulled oats’) is a Finnish invention established in 2015. It is a plant-based protein-rich food made from oats. In my opinion, its taste and texture is a little like meat, although I’m probably not the best judge since I haven’t eaten meat in 10 years! Such vegan alternatives are sometimes considered more nutritious than meat. Some people also think that vegans eat healthier. It may be true, but it depends on the person. Vegans also have many delicious but unhealthy options!
Some of the best places in Tampere for vegans/that serve vegan options are:
Café & Bakery Mimosa – vegan cream bun
Classic American Diner – vegan mayonnaise with fries
Fafa’s – vegan options on the menu
Gastropub Soho – full vegan breakfast
Gopal – vegan burger (they also serve a great lunch buffet!)
Hesburger – vegan tortilla wrap
Kotipizza – Vegan cheese, nyhtökaura ‘pulled oats’, or härkis (vegetable protein product made from Finnish broad beans) toppings
McDonald’s – ‘McVegan’ burger
Pella’s Café – vegan hot chocolate and cheesecake
Pizzeria Napoli – pizza with vegan cheese and pesto
Subway – sandwich with vegan patty
Rax buffet – vegan pizza and nuggets
Vohvelikahvila (waffle café) – waffle topped with vegan ice cream
Wayne’s Coffee – vegan bagel
Zeytuun – vegan red velvet cakes
My partner and I planning our wedding for next year and we’re even hoping for a mostly vegan buffet and wedding cake!
So why are some people vegan? Most people argue that fossil fuels from transport are the main cause of global warming and subsequent climate change. Others argue that livestock farming and animal agriculture are the main causes of climate change because they produce so much carbon dioxide (CO2). More water is also used to produce meat. In ‘developing’ countries and elsewhere, land is sometimes used to produce meat for ‘developed’ countries instead of to produce food for the local people. Most vegans also choose this diet for animal rights. In my opinion, eating meat is related to culture. Eating pork is wrong according to some people’s religions, and dogs are eaten in places such China. Many of us don’t want to eat animals that are our pets. I think all animals should be taken care of regardless of how cute they are.
However, I don’t think that what we eat is anybody else’s business. I don’t want others to tell me that I should eat meat and I don’t want to tell others that they should be vegan. On the other hand, I think it is important to consider the environment in all of our actions. There are also negative sides to veganism, for example, we might become too dependent on the ingredients used to produce vegan alternatives (such as soy, oats, coconut, rice, beans).
I thought about becoming a vegan for a while before I actually did. I felt that maybe I was somewhat hypocritical for not wanting to eat meat for environmental reasons and also for animal rights, but then still supporting the dairy industry, which is also usually pretty bad in terms of the environment and animal rights. Animals may even suffer more and for longer in milk and egg production than in meat production. However, I thought that being vegan would be too difficult, especially because I really like cheese. Shortly after moving to Finland, I started working in a restaurant called Fafa’s that serves several vegan options. Some of my colleagues there were vegan, and I learnt how easy it is to be vegan in Tampere. In May 2016, I decided to test being vegan, and I’ve been vegan ever since then!
The most frustrating things about being vegan are that some vegan alternatives are sometimes a little more expensive, and some people don’t know the definition of vegan. I’ve even come across people who work in the catering industry and still don’t know what it means – it takes a few seconds to check online! I usually (sometimes I forget!) try make sure that I eat something before going to parties or take emergency snack bars or my own food with me because people don’t always serve vegan options. It can be difficult when someone offers or gives you something that was made with non-vegan ingredients and you feel that it might be rude to ask or check because it might seem like you don’t appreciate it or don’t trust them. Unlike some other vegans, I don’t want my choices to affect my friendships or make others feel uncomfortable. We can’t judge others until we’ve taken a walk in their shoes, which is pretty much impossible. Luckily, my partner isn’t vegan, so I can pass on non-vegan gifts to her, and at least I’m happy when she gets some enjoyment out of them! It’s also challenging to feel like that ‘difficult’ person who asks whether food is vegan and whether it has been cooked separately from animal products with different utensils, but the fact is that this happens in many restaurants. Admittedly, I myself didn’t think much about these issues until I met vegans and especially until I became vegan myself, and I guess the best way that I learnt was through asking (there is no such thing as a stupid question!). At the end of the day, mistakes happen and we can only try our best.
I don’t think that you have to be vegan or even vegetarian to eat vegan food. I think it can be enjoyed by everyone. If someone is interested in trying out veganism, it doesn’t not have to be so black-and-white. For example, you can eat a vegan meal once a week or even once a month. Even small changes can make a difference. For example, you can order Vegobox from Sweden that’s packed with new exclusive tasty vegan snacks to try out and learn about vegan options. It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.