Spring is a great time to think about eating lighter, by adding more salads, eating more vegetables, less meat, and fewer heavy sauces. In fact, many traditions schedule a fast or cleansing diet around the spring equinox to clear out winter’s remains and tune the our bodies for spring.
All the creatures of the world seem to enjoy spring’s fresh greens. After a long season of hearty eating to generate warmth and sustain us through a barren season — or after a long hibernation — the first foods of spring attract us with their fresh, bright taste, and needed mineral content. Bears coming out of their winter caves eagerly consume the first spring greens, like ramps, also known as bear’s garlic. Deer and rabbits nibble on sprouting plants that are tender, digestible and nutrient-rich. Even we humans start thinking about fresh crops like asparagus, ramps and sorrel… whether our motivation is eating seasonally, eating more sustainably, or looking better in our bathing suits.
An increasing number of people, both in North America and in Germany, are turning to a way of eating that’s both lighter in calories and lighter on the planet. Vegetarian and vegan eating is on the rise in both countries.
In 2017, fully 10 percent of Germans identified themselves as vegetarians and 1.6 percent as vegans. In the U.S., 6 percent of the population now identifies as vegan, and 10 percent as vegetarian. Recent U.S. reports also indicate that nearly a third of the population is eating less meat and seeking plant-based meat alternatives, even if they don’t identity as vegetarian or vegan.
Just to be clear: Vegans eat an entirely plant-based diet, consuming no animal products in any form. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, and to varying degrees, other animal products like eggs and cheese as well. ‘Flexitarians’ or ‘casual vegetarians’ find a happy compromise in eating mostly plant-based foods but allowing for the occasional meal containing animal proteins (meat, fish, fowl, dairy, eggs). The flexitarian dietary regime delivers most of the benefits to health and to the planet of a vegetarian/vegan diet without the full commitment. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranks the flexitarian diet as the third healthiest diet — after the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet, which are tied for first place.
The shift to lessen our consumption of meat and dairy has grown as consumers learn that eating less meat and more plant-based foods is not only better for our health but also better for the planet. Like Michael Pollan said, ‘Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.’
Germany is a green-minded nation, with a long history of concern over food purity, animal welfare, and naturalness. Now Germans, known the world over for being meat-lovers, are eating less meat. Over the last decade, the consumption of meat among Germans has steadily declined, and there’s been increasing interest in plant-based foods, even plant-based meat substitutes. In fact, Germany is currently leading the world in the creation of vegan food products, creating 18 percent of all new vegan products in 2016 according to a recent market analysis by the global market research firm Mintel. (The US was a close second, producing 17 percent of all new vegan introductions.)
Mintel’s senior food and drink analyst, Katya Witham, explained: “Veganism is now seen as a trendy lifestyle, and Germany is home to the most vegan product launch innovations. Today, vegan products attract attention from a much wider audience, namely health and ethically driven, flexi-vegan consumers.”
In fact, Europes’ first vegan supermarket chain, Veganz, opened in Berlin in 2011. There are several German food festivals devoted to plant-based cusine, such as the Vegan Street Day in Stuttgart and Dortmund. Even Christkindlmarkts are going vegan, or at least offering vegan options.
So what do German vegetarians and vegans eat?
Some traditional German dishes are vegetarian or vegan by nature — think sauerkraut, spaetzle with cheese, or potato salad with lentils. Some traditional recipes can be adapted or ‘veganized’, giving rise to dishes like Vegan Döner Kebab, Portobello Schnitzel, and Mushroom Leek Strudel. And, inventive treatments of traditional German ingredients and flavors are giving rise to light, vegan, and even gluten-free dishes like Sauerkraut Potato Pizza on a Cauliflower Crust. (Browse our collection of vegetarian and vegan dishes.)
Traditional cultures ate far less meat than we do now. Around the world, traditional diets were based on grains, vegetables and fruits. Meat, fish and other animal proteins had a much smaller presence on the plate. Fully satisfying our nutritional needs on a plant-based diet takes a little more thinking (in particular to get enough vitamin b-12), but satisfying our cravings and taste buds is helped along by new recipes and products such as burgers made from pea protein.
As Jimmy Pierson of England’s Vegan Society told National Public Radio in 2016, “With a little planning and knowledge, rest assured, you can get everything you need from a vegan diet for great health … at any age.”
Photos courtesy of veggie-street-day.de: Ein Herz für Tiere – ohne Milch und Eier (Foto: Animal Rights Watch e.V.), Jede Menge fröhliche VSD-Besucher (Foto: Till Martin), Vegan is für alle (Foto: L + A Maurer), Seitan-Döner (Foto: Bas Brader)