Our resident foodie writer Katie Sandwell shares some thoughts on veganism and community in Holland, and tips you off about where to get good cheap vegan food in the lowlands.
–>Have you ever thought about going vegan? As a long-term vegetarian with a deep and abiding love of cheese I am of two minds about this. But, while going vegan in the long-term may be a step too far for me, I am always interested in knowing more about vegan diets and cooking. As I come up on my six month “anniversary” of moving to the Netherlands and my diet drifts slowly towards 100% cheese, at the same time as early greens and asparagus start to grace the markets, I am feeling more than usually inspired by vegan recipes and restaurants.
Perhaps this sudden abundance of enticing vegetables is part of why the organisers of the “Vegan Challenge” – picked April as their month to invite the vegan-curious to give a plant-based diet a 30-day try. Though I confess that am not participating in the Challenge myself, I love that it is built around the idea of a supportive community: the front page of the website proudly proclaims that 1625 people have signed up to take part in the challenge and an interactive “Buddy map” helps you find participants, “experienced” vegans, and other resources in your neighbourhood.
Veganism can be a demanding diet, especially at first, but this challenge can bring people together: they support and encourage each other, learn, share recipes, and often cook together. For most people converting to veganism involves picking up new kitchen skills, from blending non-dairy milks for a neutral-flavoured “cream” to replacing eggs in your baking, and these skills are most easily learned from other people. A community can also help you master the sometimes-daunting mountains of information available about where animal ingredients can be “hiding” in every day foods, not to mention consoling you if you find out your favourite beer isn’t vegan.
While the Vegan Challenge and its Buddy Map is one quick way to tap into a supportive community, it is building on a stronger and deeper foundation of vegan culture already present in the Netherlands. Most of Holland’s major cities feature community cafes, usually located in legalised squats, mostly run by volunteers, and almost always serving super-affordable, remarkably delicious vegan food. Whether you’re considering actually converting to veganism, want to get some experience cooking vegan, or just want to eat some tasty budget-friendly food in a fun and quirky environment, these venues reward a visit.
De Peper in Amsterdam and Kitchen Punx in Utrecht are well-established long-running neighbourhood centres well worth seeking out. But venues like the Vrijplaats Leiden (full disclosure – I volunteer here) and non-profit restaurant Water en Brood, in Scheveningen provide great vegan meals in your back garden.
Author: Katie Sandwell