Tacky neon signs advertising seitan döners outside rather dingy-looking kebab shops. Pizzas with vegan cheese and tofu featured on legitimately Italian menus. Enough plant-based spreads and meat alternatives in Rossman and DM, no less, to feed an (animal-product-free) army. Gotta love Germany for making it possible to buy mascara, toothpaste, vegan bratwurst and all things in between gleichzeitig.
A far cry from the usual macrobiotic wheatgrass, kale and alfalfa sprout salad served in a compostable bowl, I hear you say.
I moved to Leipzig from London, a city that embodies the proverb “variety is the spice of life” as much in terms of its vibe and inhabitants as its endlessly diverse food options. As a vegetarian, I must admit I did expect at least a slight gastronomical downgrade. Boy, was I mistaken!
Leipzig is home to a generous number of pure vegetarian or even pure vegan eateries.
There’s the good ol’ Vleischerei in Plagwitz, where punters can sink their teeth into – and Instagram the hell out of – a load of meat-free junk food that seems to be all the rage these days in a punky setting. Cynicism aside, their gyros sandwich with aioli is bloody delicious. There’s also the pricier, but truly taste-explosion-inducing, Zest in Connewitz.
The fantastic selection of strictly cruelty-free restaurants here did turn out to be far superior to that of most other European cities I’ve spent time in. However, this was not the source of my surprise upon upping sticks and settling in “hypezig.” Nowadays, even in far less vegetarian-friendly countries than Germany, you’ll most likely be able to hunt down a Loving Hut, alongside a handful of other vegetarian places with menus of varying creativity (ever tried falafels…?).
What made me do a double take here was actually the ubiquity of vegan options in completely “normal” establishments.
Instead of confining us to a select few, often undeniably tasty, but sometimes just too stereotypically healthy plant-based cafes and restaurants, Leipzig allows vegetarians and vegans to partake in the consumption of fast food in the SAME PLACES as our meat-eating counterparts.
Though the world does seem to be getting increasingly on board with more mindful eating, even in leftist world-saving circles, vegans are still sometimes getting a bad rap. Ever heard the side-splitting joke, “How do you know if someone’s vegan? … They’ll tell you?” Ha ha.
To be fair, we’ve all come into contact with the odd, excessively vocal vegan activist type, roaming around in hemp clothing and judging us for blowing our noses into a Kleenex tissue because its components are tested on animals. It is, however, important to remember that these are the minority.
There are swathes of vegetarians and vegans who are actually uncomfortable with stating their commendable lifestyle choice – not only because of the ignorant questions it can invite, but also because they don’t want to appear “fussy.”
Picture this. It’s 3 am, you’ve sunk a few pints with a group of friends and dinner’s becoming a distant memory. You’d kill (not literally, bien sûr) for something nice and greasy and doused in salt that isn’t just chips. BUT you’re not into that weird alleged meat rotating on a skewer in your nearest Turkish joint.
So, what do you do?
Drag everyone to a late-night pure vegan burger stand (good luck with that one)? Suck it up and be hungry? Laugh along with your companions when they mockingly suggest some lettuce? Go home and fry up some tofu wieners (not a bad shout, actually)?
Not in Leipzig.
Here, you can join in with the best of them and indulge in a mouth-watering seitan creation at 3 am without “putting anyone out.” In fact, they taste so good, chances are, your beige-flesh-chewing pals might even develop food envy.
Isn’t that a better conversion tactic than shoving guilt-tripping statistics on animal cruelty and environmental damage down people’s throats? I certainly think so.
Big up, Leipzig, for not segregating us and for making it easier for closet vegans to come out.