Being a life-long vegetarian, coming from the land of boerewors (farmer’s-sausages) and braaivleis (barbeque), where your average hamburger is the size of a mini-cooper; meat lovers’ paradise, South Africa, I was used to the occasional raised eyebrow or ten when ordering a meal at restaurants or attending dinner parties. Looking back, it all seemed so simple then. I now realise that back then, my choices were ample. Fast track to Switzerland, the land of chocolate and cheese. Every kind of cheese you can possibly imagine, sliced, grilled, melted, aged. Fondue, raclette, crepes and don’t even get me started on the chocolate…. Of course, me being who I am, that’s when I decided it was time to become vegan….
Oh, I can almost hear your sharp intake of breath as your eyes roll to the heavens and you groan, “not another one!” Yes, this is me. I am a tree-hugging, bunny-loving, no leather goods for me please, vegan. Now, before you retreat to a corner and begin to gently hack away at your wrists with a blunt spoon, allow me to invite you to come and take a little peak into my world. I’m not trying to change your world, I’m merely trying to create a greater understanding between us, the herbivores and you, the omnivores and carnivores out there. Think of it as my diplomatic attempt towards building a bridge of understanding between the divide, and in doing so, promoting the very thing that the beauty queen and/or hippy, inside each of us wants, that being, world peace.
This journey into the world of veganism here in Switzerland and its surrounds has been interesting, to say the least. My fondest memory is sitting quietly and nodding politely as the chef of a very smart and well-known restaurant flamboyantly rattled off the menu from memory. He was super proud to be able to lovingly describe his succulent offerings to us in English, making them sound even more delicious with his seductive French accent. My husbands’ eyes shone brighter, and his smile grew broader as each new delicacy was announced; pate foie (liver paste), steak tartare (raw mince), duck, rabbit, veal and lamb. At the end of this chefs’ poetic performance, my husband looked at him and apologetically said, “this all sounds so wonderful for me but what would you have for my wife, she’s a vegan?” The chef turned towards me, his moustache bristling with disdain, he looked down his nose at me and announced, still speaking English, in his beautiful French accent, “For you, I have a carrot!”
Then there was the time I was at a wedding and was served with a beautifully presented starter of tomatoes and rocket with a lump of white “stuff” perched precariously on top of the culinary creation. When I asked the server what the lump of white stuff was, she replied, “c’est fromage.” (it’s cheese). I patiently smiled at her and said, “je suis vegan.” (I am vegan). She then retorted, “oui, c’est vegan!” (Yes, it’s vegan!) Throwing her hands up in the air and looking at me like I was an imbecile.
And I’ll never forget the time I was attending a luncheon at a colleague’s home. It was a beautiful summers day and we were all gathered on the lawn chatting and helping ourselves to an assortment of finger foods. After a warm and very kind welcome, she proudly told me that she had prepared a special vegan salad just for me. You can imagine my surprise when I was handed a plate garnished with a vibrant multi-coloured salad complete with a generous helping of roti (roast) chicken laid out on the top of it. I’m sure you get the picture by now…
A couple of months in, as my experiences unfolded, I had visions of being limited to ordering either salad vert (green salad) or salad mele (mixed salad) every time we would venture to dine out. Becoming vegan was a very personal choice for me. Looking back at my life, I think I made up my mind to be vegan; as Don McLean sang American Pie, a long, long time ago. One of my earliest memories is spending the day with my family on Brighton Beach, on the Bluff in KwaZulu Natal. My father was fishing from the beach. He had scooped a hollow in the sand and was placing his catch in that same hollow.
The confusion and frustration on his face was clear as he returned to the hollow after each fish he caught, only to find it empty. He would then look up to the sky, yelling, “those blasted seagulls are stealing my fish!” You can imagine the horror on both his face and mine when he turned around unexpectedly and caught me in the act of stealing his fish and tossing them back into the ocean… He quickly forgave me as I was only 4 years old, but he never invited me to accompany him on any of his fishing trips ever again.
As I am the only vegan in the family, I don’t want to drag my family to exclusively “animals are friends not food” restaurants every time we go out for a meal. With this in mind, I’ve discovered some interesting places here by trial and error. I am pleased to tell that there are some amazing little gems out there that have proved to be gastronomical delights, for both me, the herbivore of our herd as well as for my family, my beloved carnivores. I have discovered this amazing App called the Happy Cow, they list all vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants where-ever you may be.
Now all I have left to do is figure out how to run a zero-waste household, change all my household cleaning products to eco-friendly ones and use exclusively vegan friendly cosmetics and my job will be almost done.
With that, I’d like to wish you all happy munching, my fellow herbivores.
Written with love by Barbara-Anne Puren.
Pixabay photo credits: Truthseeker08, Silviarita, Thomas_G, Robin Higgins, TomaszProszek, LC-click, T_Tide.