Becoming a vegan has really enlightened me to the struggles other vegans and vegetarians face on a daily basis, which are particularly apparent in a small town like the one I currently live in. It’s kind of like trying to find water in the desert; it might happen, but you’ll probably face a mirage or two before you finally hit that oasis (unless you die trying).
Okay, extreme example, but if you’re a vegan you’ll understand. It’s incredibly difficult to be a vegan in Ireland, and here’s why:
There are very few vegan eateries
This is especially true anywhere outside Dublin, where there are at least a few options if you’re on a day out or if you want to go to dinner. There are also a few in Galway and Cork but, other than that, you’re going to be looking for quite a while to find somewhere appropriate to eat in.
I live in Donegal, which is at the top of the country and it’s quite rural, but thankfully I live in a town rather than a village so it could be worse! There are no vegan restaurants here but there is one that is almost entirely vegetarian, with the occasional meat dish for other customers who drop in. I think this is a good option as it caters for everyone and it’s nice that vegans and vegetarians have a couple of dishes to choose from rather than just one.
However, if you’re looking for a totally vegan restaurant anywhere in the country you’re pretty much out of luck. There is a vegan butchers in Portobello in Dublin, but apart from that, I don’t know of any other place that’s 100% vegan. Although Cornucopia, also in Dublin, is almost 90% vegan now so we’re getting there! Plus The Happy Pear in Wicklow is a place that caters for many different dietary requirements.
There’s a status quo here
The same goes for drinking alcohol; if you say you’re not drinking on a night out, you won’t get a simple ‘Okay’ and then the subject is dropped, you’ll get the inquisition. You’ll shock people, who will ask if you’re antibiotics or if you’re pregnant because god forbid you have a sober night out. The same thing goes for not eating meat or dairy, which a lot of Irish people find unfathomable.
Everyone I’ve told (out of necessity usually, as they’ll have offered me something with meat or dairy in it) react with shock and surprise and ask me why, as though they expect an answer that’s in line with what they’re thinking, like that I’m somehow allergic to meat and diary and eggs and that I CAN’T eat it rather than that I CHOOSE not to.
Irish people eat a LOT of meat and dairy
Every meal of the day here, for the vast majority, includes either eggs, meat or dairy and sometimes all three. This was something difficult to get used to as I went from eating so many animal products to none at all almost overnight, though I did eat eggs while I was transitioning.
There are no numbers on how many vegans there are in Ireland, to my knowledge, so it’s hard to tell what the market is like, but veganism is rising in popularity all over Europe. In Britain, for instance, more than half a million people are now vegan, so hopefully Ireland will see that kind of a trend in the future as well.
As I mentioned above, it’s hard to disregard the status quo, but it’s also tough because I feel sometimes that it inconveniences my friends and family. Like if they’ve made a meal for everyone and they’ve forgotten that I’m vegan and I have to awkwardly point it out. I think we all face those awkward situations sometimes, but hopefully if you have supportive friends and family then being vegan will be easier.
Farming is huge here
I get annoyed any time someone brings up that if farmers stopped slaughtering animals here then the economy would take a nosedive, but to me that’s just saying that money is more important than the torture and murder of innocent beings. What does that say about us as a species?
Farming is big here, but farmers all over Ireland are paid very little for what they do. If they transitioned to farming crops instead of animals, would their income rise? The global demand for food is rising, and animal agriculture is unsustainable longterm as we simply do not have the land for them to graze. This isn’t the case in Ireland, obviously, but wouldn’t it make sense to transition from farming animals to farming crops well before the meat industry collapses? (because it absolutely will, that is a given).
The sad thing is we have enough food to feed every single person on this planet, but we feed half of our crops to livestock to then butcher them to feed a small proportion of the Earth. It’s madness!
The Free From sections are pretty weak
Compared to other countries, Ireland’s Free From sections in supermarkets generally isn’t great. For instance, a totally vegan supermarket called Veganz is open in London. An entire supermarket! I can only imagine. Generally if I’m shopping anywhere, it would need to be in Tesco as they at least have two or three areas which are Free From.
However, a lot of these products are Free From gluten rather than eggs and dairy, so the once promising looking section gets suddenly very very small. It’s not like I don’t get everything I need, of course I do, as the fruit and veg section is large, but a lot of the time there’s no chance to try other alternative foods.
If I wanted to try things like Tofurkey, nutritional yeast or dessert alternatives then I’d have to head over the border into Northern Ireland to go to Asda. This isn’t something particularly strenuous, it’s just sad that vegans have to go to a totally different country to find a good selection of vegan food. Hopefully with the rise in veganism, we’ll see more options coming soon.
What do you think is the toughest part of being vegan in Ireland? Let me know in the comments!