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‘Call the restaurant’: Your tips for being vegetarian or vegan in France

Wondering how to successfully avoid meat in France, while still getting to enjoy the fine cuisine? Our readers have some advice for you.

'Call the restaurant': Your tips for being vegetarian or vegan in France
The organic (bio) fresh section of an hypermarket store of French retail giant Carrefour, in Villeneuve-la-garenne, near Paris, on December 7, 2016. (Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP)

Trying to avoid meat and cheese in France is often seen as a lost cause. Often in France, you might be told that a meal does not qualify as a meal if it does not contain a protein (i.e. meat).

As of 2020, only 2.2 percent of the French people reported having “adopted a meat-free diet (pescetarian, vegetarian or vegan),” and an additional 24 percent said they try to limit their meat consumption, preferring to classify themselves as “flexitarians.” The remaining 74 percent of French people, according to the survey, are meat-eaters.

So, we asked our readers their advice for being vegan and/or vegetarian in France:

Tips for shopping

Bio shops were resoundingly popular amongst our vegetarian and vegan readers – almost every respondent recommended shopping either in the ‘bio’ section of your local grocery store, or seeking out a specific ‘bio’ store in your area. For reader Per Axel, these stores are essential. They explained that these stores can also be a good resource for finding other vegan or vegetarian friendly spots in the area:

“I always stop by a local Bio and ask for advice,” Axel said.

Chris Welch, among others, was pleasantly surprised to find large supermarkets’ ‘bio’ sections to be shockingly well-equipped:  “When I moved to France, I was surprised to find tofu easily available in the bio section of most supermarkets and this is a good place to shop for basics. The range of plant -based food has also increased significantly over recent years (at least in my city – it may be different in the countryside).” He added that the bio specific stores can be a bit pricier, but they have good options. 

However, it can still be a challenge to find some specific vegan products, like nutritional yeast, for example. Mary in Lyon explained that she has been successful in finding the ‘basics’ but that niche items is still a bit of a challenge.

Finally, baguettes! Regina Sinsky-Crosby, who lives in Bayonne, France, recommended heading straight to the boulangeries: “Baguettes are always your vegan friend! We will grab a couple with hummus, mustard and olives for le pique-nique.”

Finding the best stores and restaurants

Many readers use the app “Happy Cow” to find vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants/ stores in their area. The app can also be found in website form, and it is a crowd-sourced collection of recommended vegan friendly places near you. It offers an interactive map that allows you to set specific filters in order to find exactly what you are looking for. The website also has a blog page and community page, which allow you to interact with other vegans or vegetarians in the area. 

Per Axel said that they have found online groups to be particularly helpful in finding the best spots, so considering Facebook groups like “Veggie & Vegan Food in France” could be a good place to start. 

Ensuring a positive restaurant experience

Wondering how to make sure you don’t end up with lardons in your salad? Our readers had some tips for that. First, you should definitely do your research and try to call ahead to explain your dietary restrictions.

“We have called ahead to high-end restaurants for vegetarian meals and have never been turned down. I think the French pride in cooking has lead to a culture shift enabling seasonal vegetables and fruits to take the spotlight,” said Regina Sinsky-Crosby. She also recommended ‘accidentally vegetarian’ restaurants, especially those that are immigrant owned. Three other readers echoed this advice, saying that Asian and Italian restaurants are typically safe bets for being to find some meat-free options. 

“Ask,” said Lynn Crosby, who lived in France from 2012-2020. This seems to be the best, and most practical thing our readers suggest. Lynn said that when she asked, she found that French chefs “love a challenge.” While some readers have had negative experiences with chefs who are unwilling to adjust the menu, many others have found chefs who are up for a challenge!

Member comments

  1. I wanted to arrange a very (very) special lunch at Le Grand Vefour, Paris. I emailed them with details of what we as lacto-ovo vegetarians of 40+ years’ standing and received by quick return an absolute guarantee that we could eat in full confidence.
    One asks. especially at Vefour prices. (But oh, the decor!)
    We also had a very good vegetarian lunch at Maçeo in the financial district.
    No problems if you check in advance. You can always not book if they don’t understand.
    Only ever had one issue in France, the chef lectured me about what vegetarians eat. He offered an omelette. I declined. I can make those at home.

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Climate change could take snails off the menu in France

The Federation of Conserved Foods, a French industry group that represents 139 food manufacturers, has warned that the snails could soon become a thing of the past.

Climate change could take snails off the menu in France

Hunter gatherers in a land that was yet to be named France were eating snails as far back as the 8,000 years ago. Today the country goes through about 30,000 tonnes of them every year. 

But the future of this delicacy does not look bright according to the Federation of Conserved Foods (la Fiac). 

“All the signals are dire,” it said.

“While the harvests in recent years were already insufficient, the quantities will still not be enough in 2022.” 

The reasons for this are multiple, but there are two that stand out in particular. 

The first is climate change.

“The gathering [of snails] this year was strongly disrupted because of erratic variations in temperatures,” warns La Fiac. 

“The late persistence of cold temperatures followed by the brutal arrival of heat led to a rapid spurt of grass growth, quickly making it difficult to gather snails and reducing the quantities collected.”

As the climate continues to destabilise traditional weather patterns, this issue will only get worse. 

Labour supply 

The majority of snails consumed in France are harvested, wild, in the forests of central Europe and the Balkans. 

Wages have not kept up with soaring levels of inflation in this part of the world so many have abandoned the snail harvesting trade in pursuit of more profitable activities. 

The lack of staff means that French importers cannot outsource as much of the processing work to the countries where the snails are collected. This in turn has a knock-on effect on prices. 

Rising fuel costs, packaging costs and butter costs are also translating into ever greater snail prices on menus. 

Around 1,500 people work in the snail industry in France. Their future looks bleak.