As a vegetarian and a promoter of veganism I felt a bit insecure before moving to Northern Norway for half a year where the majority traditionally eat fish, meat and dairy products. Back then I didn’t know that just after a few months I was going to discover a great Facebook-group for vegans in Tromsø, that plant milk would cost just as much as cow milk, and that I’d need to go to international food stores every time I’d need to buy wholefood chickpeas and tahini paste for making humus… However, vegan culture is coming as well to Tromsø, and Vanessa Viajera, an exchange student from Germany and vegan for many years, have agreed to share her story of going vegan as well as her experiences of living as a vegan in Tromsø and give tips to new students.
Text: Auguste Jasiulyte
Could you tell us about your background as being a vegan? What were your reasons for becoming a vegetarian/vegan?
When I was about ten years old, my older sister became vegetarian. Somehow I also couldn’t manage the thought that eating animals is all right just because I like the taste anymore. Especially when it is no secret that most animals suffer a lot before they are going to be killed. Then I cut out meat for around ten years without thinking a lot more about it. Then one vegan girl moved into my shared flat. Veganism sounded somehow good to me, but I couldn’t really think of living as a vegan myself (like a lot of people). I simply loved cheese! Moreover, I wasn’t even thinking so much about the reasons for veganism because at first glance it might sound radical. Even if all cows give milk; it doesn’t hurt them, does it? And for the chickens – I can just buy ecological eggs. IN retrospect, I might have been a bit naive.
Since I have always liked to cook and bake, I wanted my flatmates to eat something I baked, so I started gathering information about what vegans actually eat and what they don’t.
Although my flatmate had already moved out, I continued to read more about veganism. I didn’t know that there are more than 50 million baby chicks shredded or gassed alive in Germany. Also I got to know that every cow undergoes artificial insemination every year in order to produce milk for their calf. And then the calves have to be violently separated from their mothers. Then the end up as dairy cows or veal on a plate. This happens every year until a mother cow is slaughtered as well because she can’t produce enough milk anymore.
All this ran counter to my beliefs. After all I didn’t want animals to be killed just because of people like me. Since I couldn’t imagine going completely vegan, my goal was just to reduce consumption of animal products. Anyway, I quickly realized that it wasn’t that complicated to lead a vegan life at all. There are so many alternatives, e.g. rice, soy, oat, almond or hazelnut milk instead of cow milk; soy yoghurt, vegan margarine, soy or rice cream, rice milk chocolate (I love it!), and so on. Veganism is spreading like wildfire! Moreover, it was nice to get to know how unhealthy dairy actually is, which a positive side effect for me.
So it all started with “I’ll just eat less animal products” and changed to “I live vegan”. Since the summer of 2013. One of the best decisions in my life!
What positive aspects of being a vegetarian/vegan did you notice?
The most important is that I felt much more in line with my values. After I read about milk production, poor shredded chickens and all the suffering animals I felt kind of guilty every time I ate animal products. Becoming vegan was much easier than I thought. It was exciting to try all the new dishes, and at the same time I didn’t contribute to animal cruelty. I also noticed that it became easier to cope with my chronic condition. I don’t know if it was a coincidence that this happened around the time I went vegan or if it was directly connected to my diet change.
What are the differences between being a vegetarian/vegan in your home country and here in Norway?
Since I’m from Germany, many of you might think first and foremost about sausages and schnitzels. However, Germany is very, very vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. We have a lot of veg-options in almost every supermarket, and eating out has also become quite easy. There are lots of vegan and vegetarian restaurants as well as vegan shops. For example, there’s a supermarket chain called «Veganz» which can be found in bigger cities. Its product range includes just vegan options. Norway has not really succeeded in this yet.
Go vegan… in Northern Norway? What are the biggest challenges of being a vegetarian/vegan in Tromsø/Norway?
I believe that one of the biggest challenges in Tromsø and in Norway is currently the social pressure, in general. You are visiting someone? – «Here, have some [non-vegan] cake.» or «Let’s come over for dinner, I have cooked some fish.» And it might be not that easy to say no and explain why you don’t eat such food every time. I’d advise to be prepared to answer the following question with: «Where do you get your proteins from?» Going vegan is not that hard. I also belonged to the group of people who used to say «I can never go vegan, I love cheese so much». Going vegan was much easier than I expected.
Let’s get back to the topic. Even though meat eaters are obviously still the majority in Germany as well, people at least know the definitions of veganism and vegetarianism. And as I have mentioned before, there are much more vegan/vegetarian options. In addition, Norway is quite well-known for its fish industry and the abundance of dairy products. Therefore, traditional dishes are usually non-vegan, even more often than traditional German dishes. Hunting is a bigger thing here as well.
However, it is awesome to see that veganism is spreading. Our Facebook-group «Tromsø Vegan / Veganere i Tromsø» has more than doubled its members within a year. There are more and more restaurants that offer vegan and vegetarian dishes and special vegan shops.
Can you tell us a little bit more about vegetarian/vegan community in Tromsø and your partnership in it?
In our group it is much easier to get any relevant information one needs. Wonder what restaurants offer vegan dishes? Or where you can buy a special ingredient? Members of the group will usually respond quite quickly and help you out.
There are also occasional social meet-ups. For example, every month Lise Lorentzen, who is the local coordinator of the Norwegian Vegan Society (Norsk vegansamfunn), arranges meetings. Last year we also had potlucks together and participated in the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale with volunteers from the group and in the Restaurant Day. More than that, we opened a vegan restaurant for one day. Otherwise you will find information about other events related to veganism there. Last year I also could organise film screenings, a presentation about veganism at the library and regular street stands informing about animal rights and veganism. It would be awesome to see more people involved in arranging and participating in meet-ups, stands and other events. I managed all that without speaking Norwegian at that time, so if you are an exchange student, don’t be afraid!
What are your favourite places to eat vegetarian-/vegan-friendly in Tromsø?
I have to admit that I didn’t eat out that much as it’s usually quite expensive in Norway. Though did you know that there is a completely vegan cafe in Tromsø? Check out Sivertsens kafé! Another nice place I went to was Kafé Globus. Both places are located right in the city centre. However, if you want to eat out, take a look at discussions in our Facebook-group – there is a list with places that offer vegan/vegetarian food. The members post new locations regularly.
What are your top 10 food products you can’t imagine your life without?
Hmm, I usually eat oatflakes with soy yoghurt and fruits for breakfast. The fruits I use are simply frozen raspberries – I’m usually quite hectic in the mornings and prefer sleeping a bit longer instead of cutting fruits. So, I guess these are the first three products. In other case blueberries are great for everything! I really like blueberries: you can add them in porridges, in muesli; you can make blueberry muffins. Use your imagination! It kind of works out for me that Norway is such a «blueberry-country». Or a blueberry-orange smoothie! I also like to have a variety of vegetables, but if I had to choose, I’d go for tomatoes. You can use them effortlessly in lots of dishes. Also you can easily find chickpeas and kidney beans in every supermarket in Norway.
What would you recommend for someone who considers going vegetarian/vegan?
Make friends with other vegans/vegetarians! That will make things better. They can help you out on your way to becoming a vegan. You can go on a shopping tour through a grocery store together, cook together, give each other advices, etc. I’m sure there are lots of people out there who are willing to help you! There are also a lot of Facebook-groups that can be helpful. It’s all about just looking around a bit!
Also: Don’t be too harsh on yourself. You don’t need change your eating habits overnight. Smaller steps in the right direction make it more likely that you’ll stay vegan for a longer time. And there are many different reasons to go vegan/vegetarian (environment, animals, health, social justice). If you want to go vegan because you care for animals, keep in mind that you already can contribute to saving a lot of animals by cutting out meat and dairy from your diet because animals get slaughtered for that. Cows that give milk are less likely to be killed.