Whether it is for health-related reasons, environmental, or ethical ones, vegetarianism is a lifestyle that many have considered throughout their lives. Even though in Romania, it may not be as prevalent as in other European countries, people who choose not to eat any type of meat make up about 12% of the country’s population, according to a study made by IPSOS. The highest non-meat-eaters percentage in Europe was found in France (26%), followed by Sweden (24%) and Italy (23%). Worldwide, India is the only country where more citizens are willing to eat vegetarian than not (56%).
The difference between vegetarians and vegans and why are they choosing these lifestyles
People who do not eat meat are divided into two categories: vegetarians and vegans. A vegetarian is a person who simply does not eat any type of meat, seafood, or fish, whereas a vegan does not consume or use any animal product (meat, milk, eggs, fur, leather, etc.). Essentially, both lifestyles have the same goals: to stop cruelty against animals and to bring more health.
Elena is a 20-year-old college student who has been a vegetarian for almost four years. She considers herself to be a vegetarian, and not a vegan because, sometimes, she still consumes dairy and eggs. Her reasons for choosing this lifestyle are not only ethical, obviously to not take part in animal’s suffering, but also health-related, since she was suffering from gastritis. Following a plant-based diet has helped significantly reduce her symptoms: “Obviously, eating fresh fruits and vegetables is better for your digestive system than eating meat, which takes longer to digest. Being vegetarian has never been as accessible as it is in the present, having so many alternatives for meat. I can find vegan bacon or cheese even at the corner store, 20 meters from where I live.”
Also, a big part of her choice was determined by the environmental effects of meat production. “I know that everyone is thinking: Well, what difference can I make? I am one in 7 billion people. I somehow agree because the real cause of pollution is big corporations, but on the other hand, change starts with you. I feel good to know that I am not contributing to a worldwide issue, and I encourage others to do the same.” She believes that shopping at local marketplaces is the most ethical thing we are in power to do.
A survey conducted by VOMAD shows that 68,1% of participants went vegan for the animals, 17,4% for health-related reasons, and 9,7% for the environment. Apart from stopping the demand for animal products, and as a result, stopping the death and suffering of millions of them, there are also many health advantages of being vegan. According to “Healthline”, a vegan diet can offer you richer nutrients (if you create a well-organized vegan meal plan), it can help you lose excess weight, it can lower your blood sugar levels and improve kidney function, and can lower the risk of diabetes, certain cancers, and heart disease.
From an environmental point of view, “The Humane League” states that veganism reduces greenhouse gas emissions, reduces energy consumption, conserves water, stabilizes the ocean, protects the rainforests and lands, preserves habitats and species extinction, protects the soil, and ultimately, by using fewer resources, it can reduce the world hunger.
How accessible is vegetarianism to romanians?
Elena believes that, from her experience, we have just as many resources to be vegetarians as any other country, maybe even more. “Here we can turn to fresh and unprocessed fruits and vegetables from the countryside or from local markets at cheap prices (especially in the spring and summer), whereas, for example, in the US it would be harder, considering most of the food is overly processed and contain lots of food additives.”
When it comes to money, she did not notice a significant increase in her grocery budget. The money that would’ve ended up going towards buying meat is now being used for different vegan products. Even if it might have increased a little bit, she believes that her health is worth it. “The only inconvenience that I deal with is that I have to go to multiple stores when I do my grocery shopping, as I do not find all the products I need and like in just one place. But, of course, this is a personal preference.”
As we’ve probably all heard by now, the usual anti-vegetarianism argument was: How are you able to keep a balanced diet and get all the nutrients you need without animal protein? From her experience, Elena believes it is attainable. “As long as I am careful at the things I put into my body, I don’t think this will be a problem for me.” Elena cooks for herself most days of the week and makes sure that her meals include the nutrients that her body needs: vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, and carbohydrates. She doesn’t order take-out very often; she does her blood work regularly and takes supplements like vitamin B12 and iron to compensate for the lack of meat. “Of course, there are days when I don’t feel like cooking, so I end up eating buttered toast, but that’s totally ok, as long as it’s not an everyday thing. It’s all about balance.”
According to the National Institute of Health, vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal foods like meat, fish, eggs, milk, and other dairy products. “Plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are fortified” (foods with nutrients added to them). “If you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, you may feel tired or weak.” Other symptoms related to B12 deficiency are pale skin, heart palpitations, loss of appetite, weight loss, infertility, problems with balance, depression, and confusion. The good part is that these issues can all be prevented by having a balanced diet. Vegans can get their vitamin B12 mostly from fortified foods and supplements. As stated by The Vegan Society, you can incorporate into your meal vegan foods rich in vitamin B12 like nutritional yeast, vegan alternatives for milk (soy milk, almond milk, oat milk), fortified cereals, etc.
Also, many studies have shown that too much meat is not good for you anyway. “Processed meat has been classified in the same category as causes of cancer such as tobacco smoking and asbestos.” (The World’s Health Organization) This does not mean it is as dangerous. “According to the most recent estimates by the Global Burden of Disease Project, an independent academic research organization, about 34 000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meat.” Red meat is also taught to be carcinogenic to humans, but this classification is based on limited evidence.
When Elena started her journey, she was new to this world and had no prior experience with vegan or vegetarian cooking. She did her research on different blogs, followed vegan/vegetarian Instagram pages, but what helped her the most was joining Facebook groups. Here is a list of Elena’s favorite groups for people who do not eat meat:
- “What do vegans eat” (Ro) – providing vegan recipes
- “What do vegetarians eat?” (Ro) – providing vegetarian recipes
- “Vegan in the supermarket (Romania)” – sharing new findings of vegan products in Romanian supermarkets
- “What broke vegans eat?” (US) – sharing easy low budget vegan meals
“At first, I started eating boring salads like everybody else, but in time, with some research and sometimes by improvising, I learned to cook some really tasty meals, even vegan desserts. It’s pretty easy to make them and it takes less time than cooking meat”, Elena says.
Since she became a vegetarian, she extended her preferences in food. Before, she settled for those same things that she knew how to cook, as most of us do, and never explored further. It was comfortable. Veganism brought her out of her comfort zone. “Living in a small city, I didn’t have many vegan or vegetarian options in restaurants, so I took it upon myself to discover them.” Elena tried some really random and weird recipes such as dessert with aquafaba (the liquid that results when washing garbanzo beans), rice with mango and coconut milk, cashew soup, the traditional Romanian “ciorbă de burtă” (tripe soup) using pleurotus instead of meat and many more.
The VOMAD survey shows that 28.1% of participants think that the best way to influence someone to go vegan is by showing them tasty vegan food. 18,6% of them believe that you should initiate a conversation. Other alternatives are to get active on social media, to get fit and improve your health as a vegan, or to promote vegan documentaries, movies, books, or videos.
When someone asks Elena if she will ever consider going back to eating meat as part of her everyday diet, her answer is definitely no. “Probably, in my lifetime I will feel the need to try seafood for at least one more time and I will indulge my taste pallets, but nothing more than that.”
But on a bigger scale, how evolved is the vegetarian/vegan industry in Romania?
Ciurtin Tania and Both Andreas (both 23) are two young people driven by the will to change the way Romanians see veganism at the present moment. They are also the owners of a vegan small business from Cluj-Napoca (delivery only). They believe that their plant-based products are giving everyone a chance to be a hero: while enjoying a delicious meal they are also reducing the negative impact on the environment, without making compromises when it comes to taste. “While junk food deprives the human body of energy, our vegan alternatives provide it with the essential nutrients, removing the feeling of too full that we may get after typical meals. Excessive meat consumption can lead to heart diseases, oncological affections, or digestive problems.”
They have been interested in activities towards saving the environment for many years, but the desire to get involved in saving our planet has grown bigger in the last few years. After reading lots of articles, studies and doing their research, in October 2021 they opened a vegan restaurant in Cluj-Napoca. “We wanted to do beautiful things for our country and to show that it is possible for a new concept to grow and evolve in Romania. We were impressed even for the very first days about how much love and support we received from the citizens of Cluj-Napoca.” The owners feel like the heartwarming and reassuring feedback and ratings are their main source of ambition, dedication, and confidence to make beautiful things happen.
They promote their business mostly on social media, on their Instagram account but also by sharing flyers all around the city. There are also digital banners in Cluj-Napoca’s malls that inform people about their plant-based products. Their most popular products are the vegan burgers and the “Wrappy” – an invention that replicates the well-known shawarma. Even though vegan alternatives tend to be more expensive, their products are accessible to everyone, without exceeding the average price on the market.
Andreas believes that, even though Romania is not as familiar with vegetarianism and veganism as other countries, people are open to trying new things: “According to the studies that we’ve looked at, plant-based consumption is rapidly increasing. The people that are educating themselves about our ecosystem’s current condition have become aware of the human’s negative impact on the environment and the cruelty that animals are being put through. The ones that have access to this kind of information realize that the food they are consuming has direct involvement either in saving or destroying the planet. Together we can do so much good!”