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A Vegetarian In France Is Not For The Weary

View Outside a Parisian Restaurant

This picture was taken during a recent trip to Paris.  A photo snapped outside a restaurant while walking through the Latin Quarter, a busy artistic neighborhood known for its student life and bistros.  I turned a corner and there it was…something that used to be alive and kicking.  Can you see what is roasting in the photo?  It resembled a small pig or hog. Now in front of me it was skewered and was turning on the rotisserie. I could see its teeth and head, it looked like it was sleeping.  At the top of the rotisserie potatoes were being cooked, at the bottom a thin sauce of animal drippings and onions.  No doubt that was the “Plat du Jour” being served in the restaurant that day. Quickly, I took a couple of pictures and ran away.  I am not a vegetarian but this image of a whole animal being roasted out in the open saddened me. Is this normal to feel sad on images such as this?  Do vegetarians living and traveling throughout France also feel this sadness to see whole animals cooking or ready to be cooked? It is one of the cultural aspects of living in France that I find difficult to get used to:  seeing the whole animal ready to be cooked or pieces of the animal (head, feet, tongue) displayed for anyone to buy and eat. This “open” aspect on the animal/fish for eating also translates to misunderstandings in France towards vegetarians and vegans.  Just ask a long-time vegetarian in a small town/city/village in France and you will hear their stories on their meat-less eating adventures in France.  A vegetarian or vegan here needs to be strong and speak some French.  A vegetarian in France is not for the weary!

The rabbit and my daughter

Recently my father-in-law came to visit.  He was very proud to bring two organic rabbits with him, freshly bought from “le marché” (the market) and ready to be cooked.  “We don’t eat rabbit.”  I told him.  “I think of little bunnies hopping around in a field, it makes me sad to eat rabbit.  But go ahead and cook it and we will see if the kids want to try it.”  The day came (uhm….too quickly) to cook the rabbits.  I was in the kitchen helping.  My father-in-law asked me, “Should we put the rabbit head in to cook with the rest of the meat?  It is so good!”  I said, “No, please don’t do that, the kids will freak out!”  So, he cooked the rabbit (without head) and brought it to the table to serve. I told my father in law, “Don’t tell the kids what meat it is unless they ask.”  Well, they asked.  When my 12-year-old daughter saw the pot with pieces of rabbit in it, knowing what it was, she burst into tears. I could really feel she was upset.  She loves animals and especially she loves rabbits.  Although the rule in our house is to taste every food that is brought to the table, this time I made an exception.  No, she didn’t try it.  I did.  So did my 2 youngest kids.  They loved it.  (I thought it was good too).  Can you imagine if the head of the rabbit was in there too?  Oh, la, la….When I tried to explain to my father-in-law that his granddaughter is eating less and less meat, that she finds it hard to distance herself from the fact that she is eating an animal, he said, “But animals are supposed to be eaten.”

Seeing the whole animal is a cultural thing, n’est-ce pas?

No, a vegetarian in France is not for the weary. Even the concept of vegetarianism is not well-accepted or understood in France. A French chef here thinks he is serving you a vegetarian dish if it doesn’t have meat, not realising that the sauce he served on your vegetables has meat drippings in it.  As a vegetarian in France you have to sometimes be more relaxed and patient with your values.  If not you will end up tearing your hair apart.  Living here you regularly see the whole animal, how it is presented for food and how all of it used in French cooking. It is just something to be experienced.  Just walk into any French butcher and you will see calf brains, tongue, heart, liver, intestines, blood sausage etc.  Buy your poultry from the market and it comes with the head and feet.  Order your fish in the restaurant and it may come whole.  Even shrimp bought in the supermarket comes with its full body armor. The French use everything and every part of the animal and fish in their cooking. Nothing to be wasted.  There is something to be said about that. Now, will someone please come and help me cut off this chicken head?  I need to get it in the oven for dinner…!

Are you a vegetarian or vegan living in France or have traveled here?  Would love to hear your comments or stories about your experiences (good or bad!).  Shout them below in the comment section.  Will end with Julie Child’s (a big meat-eater) famous qoute ” Bon Appetit!”

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6 Responses to A Vegetarian In France Is Not For The Weary

  1. Cat December 24, 2011 at 21:03 #

    I was born in the USA first generation…I was raised in farm country and witnessed as a child much good stewardship and many brutality’s perpetrated on animals…It influenced me greatly.
    We were poor so meat was not served often and when it was it was “stretched”, meaning that very little was offered.
    As I grew our finances got better but meat, milk and eggs made me nauseous. As a child I thought this was normal! Working my way thru college I bought books and oil paints rather than meat. Met a wonderful model who’s skin was flawless her health robust and her attitude genuine, peaceful and energetic! ….When I asked she offered several books on vegetarianism. I made the transition slowly over 5 years. My health improved. The nausea was gone, I lost weight. I am now over 60 take no drugs to live, am healthy and strong, flexible and happy. I note that many of the people around me half my age are not so fit. suffering immune deficiency, allergies, major diseases. depression, lethargy, paranoia, diabetes, cancers……this is what embracing an American diet can do for you?

    On visiting France, 6 years ago I was told by friends that I would not be able to eat in France. I was told that the French do not like Americans. I was told that I would pay twice for everything ….My question when given this sage advice was, “When were you in France?” None had visited France!

    Here is what my experience was…..Delightful! So much so I would love to live in France!!!

    I was always treated with respect and consideration. Even when my attempts at speaking French, were as clumsy as a stick shift in the hands of a first time driver!

    A wonderful corner shop owner and a patron patiently helped me find items I needed. As with a vegetable vender who took the time to help me choose fruit ripe for eating that day. I was impressed with the “hands off” protocol. In the US everyone touches, squeezes and puts back the fruit. A thoroughly disgusting practice when one considers the differences in peoples hygiene.
    There were many vegetable options on all of the menus as I ate my way across Pairs. At one little cafe the chef created for me a unique plate! We shared a bottle of wine and talked about social reform at the end of the night….As for being charged more? I spent 10 magnificent days and nights in Paris. visiting museums, traveling, seeing the sights and eating wonderful vegetarian cuisine all the way. I had 1000 euro’s , I returned to America with approx 200 euro’s. It was to me a bargain for so much pleasure and experience!

    My conclusion is that one finds, always, what one is looking for. Moreover one gets what one offers.
    It is interesting that the new law’s being installed in France undermine the integrity of the Republic? We also are loosing our freedoms here. There is evidence in France’s history where using food thru grain, controlled the economy and the people. This leading after 3 generations to the Revolution…My source a book Lafayette a life Andreas Latzko”. It is also interesting that Imperialist governments spend much effort in dividing people against one and other….Only to install conformity making exploitation easier. I would suggest that the USA is a good example of the control that food can have over a people.

    They can be made unhealthy, unable to think, unable to respond, fat, dependent on a health industry and finally enslaved by those who own the food and the drugs. Food can be made toxic as it is in this county….Look to us for your example….Not so much with contempt but with intelligence and interest to make wiser choices. ….See what is happening to our freedoms. How laws that take your freedom to eat and your right to your children can weaken you.

    I have no interest in anyone becoming a vegetarian. I can sit happily at a table with people eating horse or dog or cat (as long as it is not my horse,dog or cat!) This is a matter of diversity and freedom. “The powers that were,” have their panties in a knot, and they are using methods they have used for centuries….DIVIDE US AGAINST OUR OWN FREEDOM then chip, and herd us all into cattle cars for the ovens….Look deeper into where these ideas come and you will see it is not about eating meat or not…it’s not about Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jew, Hindu….It’s about Control …VEGAN, SUPPORT THE MEAT EATER, MEAT EATER SUPPORT THE VEGAN!! their rights are your rights to choose and to be free to choose….

    No leaders, no followers Cat

    • mbrighton December 26, 2011 at 21:55 #

      Dear Cat, You speak from your heart with such passion! I admire people who stand for something. You know the saying “stand for something, otherwise you will fall for anything?” We can hear from your words what you stand for. I appreciate your comment very much. It shows also your views on visiting France and how accomodating French people can be just by trying to fit in the French culture. French people are so proud of the food they produce. Food efforts are appreciated here. Merci beaucoup! Please keep your comments coming, love to hear more of your views.

  2. C. R. October 9, 2011 at 17:24 #

    I am a 35-yr-old French teacher, and I’ve been a vegetarian for the past 20 years, and am leaning closer and closer to veganism. I have lived in the UK and in the US, and I travel quite a lot, and yes, France is one of the worst countries when it comes to dining out (though Scandinavia is pretty challenging too). But I’d like to point out that things are getting a lot better – thanks to Indian restaurants (which you can now find in any average town), and quite a few restaurants offering vegetarian alternatives (mind you, they’ll never say it’s vegetarian, you have to take a long, hard look at the menu!). On the down side, the laws are getting tougher and tougher in schools, hospitals, retiring homes, etc, where it is now illegal to offer a meatless dish (mind you, the government made ketchup ingredient-non-grata too). It basically states that not eating meat makes you a criminal. It also puts an end to a lot of mayor’s choices to offer “meatless Mondays” in their canteens. Our associations are currently filing complaints with the UN as it looks like a real threat to our right to think and eat differently (I mean, what’s the next step? Making Kosher illegal??)
    I am sometimes ridiculed by family and colleagues alike, but my take on this is that they’ll come around. I am quite convinced that if given the choice, and if you show them the way, a lot of people would like to try it. It’s no use being confrontational. Just keep your heart in the right place. After a while I had to narrow down my options (both in terms of friendship and possible places to visit), but I feel all the better for it. If people can’t understand your little “quirks”, they’re probably not worth your time anyway.

    • mbrighton October 10, 2011 at 01:07 #

      Dear C.R, Thanks, Merci very much for your comment. You seem strong with the right attitude: “if people can’t understand your little “quirks” they’re probably not worth your time anyway. ” So true… Thanks for sharing! Yesterday at a restaurant in Pau was speaking to someone who told me that she has walked out of numerous restaurants that don’t understand her need to have a special diet at their restaurants. (She is not a vegetarian, but has food allergies). Continue to be strong and continue to believe in your convictions. I support them too.
      Bon courage et Bonne Continuation. Mary

  3. Villas in Provence June 7, 2011 at 15:21 #

    I completely empathise with your situation. It can be tricky to strike a balance between respecting local cultures and your own beliefs and views; especially when abroad.


  1. Suzanne Saxe-R, Ed.D - June 1, 2011

    RT @mbrighton66 A Vegetarian In France Is Not For The Weary: Vegetarianism can be a challenge in France because …

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