When I moved back to France two years ago this month, I did feel depressed for a while. I came from Los Angeles where you can find over 80 vegan/vegetarian restaurants and a vegan store, and moved to Nimes, bullfighting city on top of it with… well… nothing!
But about a year ago, something started happening in France. My first taste of French veganism was going to Paris and see several vegan restaurants as well as a vegan store, “Un Monde Vegan”, which then had that one location in Paris. But Veganism has been growing exponentially in France. They have opened a second physical location in the other major city of Lyon in the center of the country and another is planned in the south; they also have had an online store for a long time.
In fact, activism in France is actually old. Americans and others are just not that aware of it. Since the 1990s, an antispiecist group has been publishing the “Cahiers Antispécistes” (Anti speciesist files) which has numerous articles on animal rights, veganism and of course antispeciesim but also translate articles from famed foreign figures. Activist associations like the Fondation Bardot (Brigitte Bardot is of course famous as an actress and for campaigning with Captain Paul Watson), L214, 269Life France, FUDA, and many others have been working on behalf of animals for either a long time or since more recently. One of my best friend is a French vegan of almost 40 years and I actually met her at the 2011 Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles, of all places.
About a year ago, we all noticed something changing. Television programs started looking into vegetarianism and veganism from a nutritional point of view. These early programs repeated the old myths: veganism good for everyone, but not good for kids, combine foods, and other non-sense. Then it started progressing with more programs addressing vegans directly and their lifestyle, at first as weird. Then, thanks to the French association L214 and their under cover footage of several slaughterhouses (the last one just a few days ago!), newspapers and televisions started talking about it and millions of people were exposed to the cruelty of French slaughterhouses. A lot had thought until then that it was done “humanely” for the animals (of course we know there is no such thing).
The first catalyst was the declaration by the World Health Organization about the link between processed meat and cancers which really got the media going.
I organized a vegan dinner in a French Lebanese restaurant (which had only a few vegetarian options) in Nimes. The owner was very opened to the idea and we had our first all vegan dinner in a restaurant with 22 people (counting the dog). She borrowed my cookbook from French vegan chef Marie Laforet and devoured it. She has since modified her menu to include more vegan, vegetarian and even gluten-free options, clearly marked. L214 and the French Vegetarian Association (I’m a delegate and member of the dietary committee) has been doing it for a long time with the “Vegorestos” and their “Vegan places” notably and delegates of the Association Végétarienne de France organizing things in their area. But the revelations in the slaughterhouses have been a catalyst for change in a major way. Only last Thursday, I joined a national campaign of awareness in front of the notorious Alès slaughterhouse to hold vigil for the animals (who we could hear) and facing angry animal farmers. This was done in front of 33 slaugherhouses accross the country and organized by the abolitionist association 269Life France.
I have in fact never been more busy since I moved back to France with almost an event every week, sometimes several on the same days, from anti bullfighting, anti vivisection, days for the abolition of meat, vegan days, marches to close slaughterhouses, marches against speciesism like the one in Geneva with people from France, Switzerland and Belgium (and beyond), a table at Organic chain “BioCoop” (which unlike Whole Foods is really 100% organic and with tons of vegan products) to Anti Speciesist days (as I did yesterday), there is never any time to be bored.
At the same time, more and more restaurants and places offer vegan options. Just in my little (pro-bullfighting) city of Nimes, besides the restaurant “L’harbousier” where I did the vegan evening, I recently discovered a little restaurant in the heart of the city which has started including a “vegan burger menu with fries and a drink” on their regular menu. I almost fell on my butt! I discussed with the owner who was present when I saw it and expressed how happy I was to see this for all vegans in the city. Her answer was “we have to serve everyone”. And lastly, vegan restaurants are opening all over the country. We have one coming in September here in Nimes!
Big chains are now offering vegan prepared food (vegan nuggets, vegan falafel, etc.), they know where this is evolving and they are usually a good thermometer of changes in people’s purchases. I just learned that another big chain should be offering vegan cheese but haven’t seen it yet. But I’m sure it will be soon. It is to be noted that they often use the term “vegetarian” as it is more understood in France. But it’s technically vegan. The terms vegetarian and vegan tend to be still interchangeable as the word vegan is an Anglo term.
Finally, on top of all the good things above, a very popular journalist, Aymeric Caron, went from vegetarian to vegan and published a book called “Antispéciste” (antispeciesist) which sold 40,000 copies according to BFM TV which is a news station similar to MSNBC. His book was part of a debate in which he defended his position extremely well in a very watched TV show for over an hour. His book is a serious game changer and gives credibility to veganism and antispecism even more. And L214 keeps on uncovering what’s going in slaughterhouses and finally a vegetarian-vegan/culinary magazine is at last available in all bookstores! it’s called “slowly veggie” and tries to push people towards vegan food in a convivial and delicious way, which is smart as we are a big food nation. The pictures of recipes are absolutely beautiful and mouth-watering and even the few vegetarian recipes are mostly easy to veganize. They clearly try to move people from vegetarian to 100% plant-based and they prove to the general population, which tends to still think “but what do you eat?” that we don’t just eat salads.
I have been roaming bookstores every day in the past few months because I constantly find articles which address either veganism, ethical issues about animals, vegan trends, nutritional aspects of plant-based eating (in a more and more positive and supporting way) and I just found a psychology magazine talking about the work of slaughterhouse workers and how it affects them. The national daily and weekly newspapers and magazines “Libération“, “Marianne” and “Paris Match” as well as “Charlie Hebdo” (which has been doing it forever) have now pro-animals journalists on their staff and write things nearly every week, whether it is about the latest scandals in slaughterhouses or animal agriculture to the benefits of plant based eating. Even the southern newspaper “Midi Libre” which is pro-bullfighting had 2 full pages about the latest slaughterhouse scandal with an interview of the co-founder of L214!!! Once again, this would have been unthinkable only 2 years ago! It is simply astonishing.
I myself have been on radio 3 times to talk about veganism, anti speciesism and the scandals of slaughterhouses notably on France Bleu Gard Lozère and the journalist even called me Thursday night to warn me about the “angry” farmers coming to the Alès slaughterhouse to confront us.
Lastly, the general population’s reaction to just what we do as activists has also evolved. I see more and more people coming to say that they agree more and more with us, have changed their lifestyle, or are transitioning to a more ethical lifestyle. I don’t have yet statistics in the number of vegans and vegetarians in France, but L214 has seen its membership explode in the last few months and they get messages all the time from people who have changed, from former hunters to just non vegans making changes. The successes of the Veggie Pride (which was created in Paris and later picked up by the New Yorkers) and Veggie World this year, with tons of participants and thousands of people are clear signs of the changes happening.
At the French Vegetarian Association (which is in fact vegan), we get asked for help constantly in finding vegan doctors and dietitians for adults and kids alike! The AVF lists vegan and vegetarian as well as veg friendly restaurants all over the country. L214 even has a list of politicians who either support or are against animals so people can vote with their conscience.
I could go on and on but this is truly an exciting time to be in France. And if you want to visit, I think you will find the country a lot more open to veg opinions and offers of plant-based options in restaurants.
- Is France finally set to embrace vegetarianism? The local
- Veganism on French TV – BFM TV
- The Vegan store “Un Monde Vegan” in Paris and Lyon
- Les “Cahiers Antispécistes”, the magazine started in the 90’s.
- L214‘s website which shows their undercover footages and more.
- The website for cookbook author and ethical vegan Marie Laforet
- Website for the French Vegetarian Association (Association Végétarienne de France) with tons of vegan nutrition information, vegan recipes and news. Vegetarisme.f
- Website of the abolitionist group 269Life France
- Happy Cow page on Nimes (which I keep updating)
- “Vegetarian” (really 100% plant based) foods now found at the big chain Carefour
- Anti speciesist vegan journalist Aymeric Caron defending Antispecism in the very watched TV debate show “On n’est pas couché”
- Caron’s book Antispéciste, hopefully translated for other countries soon. Amazon.fr
- Magazine “Slowly Veggie” with fabulous recipes for vegetarians and vegans alike.
- Article from “Libération” about the Paris Veggie Pride.
- The Veggie World event in Paris gathered thousands of people.
- The Paris Veggie Pride happening each year since 2001.
- “Végéannuaire” (veg listing of restaurants and places) of the French Vegetarian Association.
- Midi Libre about the latest scandal in the Pézenas and Mercantour slaughterhouses with interview of Sébastien Arsac, co-founder of L214 denoucing the cruelty and false idea of “happy meat” and asking for vegan menus everywhere.
- Happy Cow page on vegan/vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants and stores in France.
- Find a “BioCoop” if you visit France. BioCoop.fr
- World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer – Cancer society website
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