Mythbuster: French restaurants and vegetarians
The land of steak tartare and foie gras has long been regarded as a wasteland for vegetarians – but, in the words of the song, the times they are a-changin’.
The concept of vegetarianism is not so weird to the French anymore. It is no longer seen as an ascetic, moralising way of life. Rather, vegetarianism and veganism are increasingly regarded as a healthy and fashionable lifestyle.
That means the stereotype that vegetarians will go hungry in France is, at least, no longer as true as it used to be.
In October 2015, the Happy Cow food website listed 1,228 fully vegetarian restaurants across France. Today, it lists 2,484 – 453 of which are in Paris, where the Association Végétarienne de France (AVF) has named one quartier around rue Paradis and rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière between the capital’s ninth and 10th arrondissements ‘veggietown’. Such is the demand that McDonald’s is rumoured to finally be adding veggie burgers to the menu in France this month (though they could not confirm it to us).
Nonetheless, the change is relative.
AVF spokesman Jean-Benoît Robert said: “Outside actual vegetarian restaurants, there are still a lot of restaurant owners who don’t really know what it is. I recently went to a restaurant in Levallois-Perret [north-west of Paris] where they had a fish dish marked on the menu as vegetarian and they had ‘vegan’ options that were anything but.
“So we’re in a transitional phase. A lot of vegetarian restaurants are setting up, especially in Paris and it’s a choice that is more often taken into account, but people are still learning about it and nationally we’re one of the countries where the average person understands the least what it is to be vegetarian.”
It perhaps comes as no surprise if there has been no Damascene conversion in the home of charcuterie and magret de canard. According to AVF 2% to 3% of the population is vegetarian – a figure that has barely changed over the past five years. In the UK, the percentage is thought to be about 6%, but the French figure is similar to America.
What is especially changing, however, is the number of people who have cut down on meat and who also consequently may demand meat-free meals at restaurants. They may be referred to as ‘flexitarians’ or ‘veggie-curious’.
One result is that veggie options like Quorn are sometimes placed among meat in shops to attract their interest.
Reducing meat is not necessarily based on money concerns. Many move to a semi-vegetarian lifestyle for health reasons or to reduce environmental impact. As well as eating less meat they often seek out products that are free-range, organic and/or locally produced.