Speaking to vegan and vegetarian readers who contacted us, we found there were several social media groups and Emma Letessier, who founded the English-speaking Vegans in France group on Facebook, said more supermarkets were offering vegetarian or vegan options, even yoghurt and ice-cream made from soya milk.
“If you know how to cook properly you can make full meals – and we amazed cattle-farmer neighbours when we gave them a full vegan meal that they enjoyed... down to the ‘camembert’ made from cashews.”
Based in Oloron-Sainte-Marie in Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Ms Letessier said there was a vegan food truck an hour away and organic shops like the local Epicerie Verte and national Biocoop had lots to offer, while there were also suppliers like theveganshop.fr and boutique-vegan.com online.
While restaurant options were more limited in the south-west, “Paris is great, as is Lyon and Toulouse. Even Dijon is becoming well served.”
She said people should ask about vegan or vegetarian food in the restaurant as well as supermarkets, to stimulate demand.
Ms Letessier, who edits the Barefoot Vegan online magazine, said there was a very active community online with plenty of advice and recipes.
Dr Julie Askew, a psychotherapist in Montaudin, Mayenne, who is also a vegan chef, agreed things were much better than they were when they first visited the area 16 years ago.
“Restaurant choices have improved but although vegan would be hard it should be possible to get vegetarian. Local restaurants should be able to offer something if asked and many will put in an extra bit of effort.
“In the last few weeks I have noticed Super U have started a vegetarian section and that is great but when I was in New York to complete my PhD I noticed normal and veggie foods were offered together. You would walk down the frozen burger aisle and the veggie ones would be there alongside the regular ones. Just another burger.”
She said she had been vegetarian for 25 years and vegan for five but, with children aged nine and six, said she would “not make their lives hell over food”. She added: “We have rescue hens and they lay up to six eggs a day. The children love them but, otherwise, they have a plant-based diet and any school lunches are vegetarian.”
Dr Askew said people often ask about vegan food in France but also ask about Quorn. “Forget Quorn. It’s a processed food and there are much better ways to get protein into the diet. Many shops, and especially Asian ones, will have tofu or tempeh.
“I’m getting ready to open a B&B studio this summer (lepetitpoisbnb.weebly.com) and we will offer advice on where best to find vegan or vegetarian food. I hope to attract more of a veggie/vegan market as it’s tough for people like myself to travel around France and find good food.
“I know the health benefits of changing lifestyle. My parents, my father is a chef, had health concerns with cancer and decided to rethink their diet.
“They drastically cut meat consumption and cleaned up their diet and have seen the benefit.”
Louise Elsom in Haute-Vienne says she became vegetarian as her fiancé, Dave Pegram, is vegetarian and “I certainly wasn’t making two separate meals a night”.
Until then she had hardly even cooked but she has now opened a pop-up bistro, The Hidden Veggie Kitchen (hiddenveggiebistro.weebly.com), in her own kitchen in Latterie.
“We’ve built up a regular clientele; British people, vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters (who were impressed with how good the food was. I think they expected a plate of veggies and nothing more!).
“We also cater to people with food intolerances i.e. coeliacs and gluten free. The French are starting to come, too. I’m not here to try to convince people to become vegetarian or vegan, I just want to share the food that I enjoy cooking.
“People are surprised by the variety. Our vegan chocolate mousse is our most popular dessert and people can’t believe that there are no dairy products involved!
“I want to be at the forefront of showing people in this area that we can offer a huge variety of delicious food, that’s full of flavour and often, totally different to anything you’ve tried before. To me, that’s the excitement of going out to a restaurant.”