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December 24, 2018

Vegan Christmas

We met Elisavet on Friday at noon, in downtown Athens at the vegan mini market/café that she’s owned with her partner Fotis since 2012.

Photographed by Angel Sifontes

 

After eating our delicious vegan tarts and drinking peanut butter and banana smoothies, we asked Elisavet to tell us more about veganism in Greece and what it’s like to be vegan during the Christmas holiday.

“Veganism is a way of life. It’s not difficult once you adopt it. You omit all animal-derived products from your life. It’s a process where you try to not think about animals as objects which are useful to you.”

In 2002, Elisavet became a vegetarian. Later she realized that it wasn’t enough and she began to adopt the vegan way of living. “At some point,” she explains, ” the ethical part of veganism strongly resonated with me. Because even as a vegetarian you don’t think of certain things. You may not eat meat but you can’t overlook the exploitation of animals in the industry of products derived from them.”

“I think that nowadays it’s easy to be a vegan without first trying vegetarianism. There’s a lot of information. At the time when I became a vegetarian, we didn’t even have internet at home yet. It wasn’t always possible to have a real picture of the situation and understand all that was happening. It was much harder. There were also no shops and alternatives. We had only the greengrocer and the open-air markets. That was it. Access to information is everything. Then you slowly find your balance.”

“It’s not expensive to be vegan. That’s probably a myth. You just make your choices. I can pay 2 euros more for a meal and choose to not drink ten beers. It’s a matter of choice. It can be very economical. The basic diet consists of pulses, cereals, vegetables. It’s not obligatory to find the most expensive substitute for meat. As for flavor, this is something that you adapt to. If you eat sweets everyday, you’ll constantly want something sweet. After 17 years, I no longer remember the taste of meat.”

“I very much enjoy the creative part of being vegan. You get out of that way of thinking – what will I eat? I’ll have meat with a salad. Veganism makes you think differently, and it’s a much more creative way of thinking.”

Elisavet and Fotis have a son, 4-year old Aris. He’s being raised on a vegan diet.

“Aris is also vegan, and he’s starting to understand some things. On our part, there’s no ‘brainwashing’ and I wouldn’t want that to happen. We are ready to explain everything to him but not to impose it. He can ask me, for example, why is he eating something different than the other children? But now he understands things on a different level and he says it himself – that he’s vegan and does not eat meat. But certainly, I think that later on he will further comprehend the meaning. He has many choices and he’ll ask me for treats, like all kids do. I give him cheese at school, so when the other kids at school have risotto with cheese, he also has his own cheese. Or, if the other kids have ham and cheese sandwiches, I give Aris his own sandwich. I don’t want him to feel left out. At his school, three days a week they have meals with meat, so on those days he brings his own food. We pay to send him to private school, because in a public school it would be difficult, as you’re not allowed to bring your own food. Perhaps for security reasons. Which is odd. Because there could be other children who, for example, may have allergies. In these cases, the system excludes you.”

“With someone who’s aggressive or negative about it, I won’t bother to explain why I have chosen to raise my child as a vegan. I wouldn’t like that. But if someone wants to learn, I’ll talk about it. For all parents, I believe that their child’s nutrition is a big issue. There is certainly insecurity and I see it in myself sometimes. Information also plays a very important role here. You can go to a conventional doctor and he’ll tell you to eat meat five times a week. The child ends up eating nothing else. So many studies have been done about red meat. How can you choose to do this to a little child?”

Vegan Christmas

“We’re not particularly worried about what we’re going to eat. For Christmas dinner I can eat beans and be satisfied. I don’t care about that. What I enjoy more is the atmosphere. I want to spend the holidays with my family and friends.”

“Our friends and family respect our choices. I don’t worry about going or not going somewhere because there might be meat on the table. I have been to dinners with friends who are all meat-eaters. But they usually know that we don’t eat meat and so there’s always other options there for us too. But certainly, I don’t like the image of having a platter with an entire chicken on the table. To me, that’s something violent. Especially when my son is present.”

“There are plenty of delicious choices for the Christmas meal. Many prefer seitan, which is a meat substitute made of gluten and is rich in protein. This is a good solution. You can make whatever you want with it, even a ‘meatloaf’ with various spices and vegetables. There are infinite choices for dessert. My mother sends me a vasilopita (new year’s cake) every year that’s like a vegan cake.”

“It’s difficult to change all these habits related to tradition and the celebration of various holidays. You participate, of course, to whatever degree you want. Even when I was a meat-eater I never had the desire to roast an entire lamb on Easter. My father did it and it was something I thought I could not continue to do myself.”

“Where you grew up plays a role as well. I grew up in the province and all that was more intense there. You do it in a context of participation, which is the point of course, but that’s all. But I have an understanding of this part of the tradition. You can’t impose something on others. And it’s about how each person experiences it. However, I hope in the future some things will change.”

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