Veganism in the Netherlands: here’s why it’s achievable

We are what we eat. If that’s true, it’s probably their fuss-free cooking that has rendered the Dutch direct and to the point.

Known for their Calvinistic outlook, Dutch cuisine is seldom varied, but it is certainly functional. Until a decade ago a typical Dutch dinner consisted of a couple of vegetables and meat or a combination of these two — the one pot meal of stamppot.

Modern Dutch food — a movement away from meat

Times have changed. Taco Tuesdays are quite the rage. So are Meatless Mondays. This generation of Dutch (and internationals) are big on vegan food. Remember the Dutch ingenuity? Yes, that has made them leaders of the mock-meat fever that’s gripping the world.

READ MORE: Food for thought: the Netherlands takes the lead in reshaping our future relationship with food.

Veganism in the Netherlands

Unless you live under a beer can at the bottom of a gracht, you must know what mock meat is. It copies all the gloriousness of meat, without all the spillage of blood. As more and more people adopt a vegan diet for health, environment and animal welfare, Dutch supermarkets are flooded with plant based products.

Since 2017, plant-based proteins have grown a whopping 51%. Yes, Folks; veganism is no more a Hippie-dippy fringe movement, certainly not here in the Netherlands! Major supermarkets have an entire aisle dedicated to vegan food. Brands like Alpro, Violife and Oatly take up precious rack space.

Between Beyond Meat, Quorn, Kips Vega, De Vegetarische Slager and home brand meat alternatives, most Dutch supermarkets now provide their customers with a vegan-options-galore scenario. In fact, cities such as Amsterdam have even seen vegan supermarkets crop up!

Dutch supermarkets and meat alternatives

Albert Heijn and Jumbo are almost neck-to-neck in competition when it comes to offering their customers meatless meat. The supermarket chains keep adding an ever increasing range of plant based options at excellent prices.

For over a year, their seasonal magazines have been highlighting and exploring vegan food and recipes. Combine this trend with a year of lockdown, a host of acties, kortings and bonus and these Dutch supermarkets have opened the door to sustainable gluttony (in my case).

Why is the Netherlands going vegan?

Given the limited land, an ever-increasing population and several grim warnings by the Council for Environment; the Dutch government is now a huge supporter of veganism. And so ethics, environment, health and business are all tackled in a single stroke. Talk about keeping your (vegan) cake and eating it too!

The next thing we know — the government tweaks investment policies and benefits extended to the money men. That’s how this country has become the vegan paradise of Europe.

The science of mockery

But what is vegan meat? What is it made of? For those of us who didn’t major in science, it does seem bizarre. But consider this, the key ingredient is generally soy protein or vital wheat gluten or textured vegetable protein.

It is then subject to something called shear cell technology or simply slashing through of molecules that makes the texture “meaty.” Next, a gel is added to help keep its shape and then in go various colours and flavorings. And voila, you have meatless meat!

Meatless meat is readily available. Image: freetousesounds/Unsplash. Image: Free to use sounds/Unsplash.

The Netherlands and the future of veganism

The Netherlands is now forging the future of food in the University of Wageningen, where the brightest of minds test and innovate food for a sustainable lifestyle.

The actual magic happens in Food Valley amidst The Protein cluster. It is a single platform that brings several stakeholders of the chain together. Their webpage shows about 60 companies including big shots like Kraft Heinz and Unilever. It is a whole world in itself helping enable and uphold vegan diet.

A vegetarian butcher?

De Vegetarische Slager (acquired by Unilever) has become a leader of sorts in the meatless meat industry. A native Dutch company, it was founded by Jaap Korteweg who comes from an agricultural family. A former meat lover himself, he had a change of heart after mad cow disease and swine flu gripped the country.

While his mind did reject meat, his tongue lusted for it. After a little reflection and a bit of experimentation, an idea was born. He — along with some scientists — developed vegetarian meat that looked, felt and tasted like traditional meat. A shop in The Hague paved their path to success. And that was only the beginning.

How good are the goods?

Today many meat processing plants are following this trend. Bolscher, a well known butchery has introduced a vegetarian line. Zwanenberg, Vion and many others are joining the vegan bandwagon.

The geographical placement of the Netherlands combined with painstakingly built seaports, access to other European markets, and of course the Dutch business acumen has made the Netherlands a fertile ground for the fake meat industry.

This is not just the case for home grown businesses, foreign brands are also trying to make their mark here. The American brand Beyond Meat, The Upfield Group (which owns Greek vegan cheese brand, Violofe) and AAK, a Swedish-danish manufacturer of vegetable fats have all flocked to steak (!) their claim.

Vegan cheese and milk in the Netherlands

While one could go crazy with any cuisine, thanks to mock meat, the classic (not classy) Dutch lunches of cheese sandwiches and a pint of milk can be recreated with Violife cheese slices and the baby bottle of Oatly Barista (or Alpro/provamel/Abbot Kinney’s/Zonnatura and more).

So, oat milk, rice milk, soy milk, almond milk or coconut milk, What’s your take? Pea protein, soybean or wheat, what’s on your dinner plate?

Would you go vegan in the Netherlands? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Feature Image: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash 

Vatsalya Balasubramanian
Vatsalya Balasubramanian
Born and bread (carb lover here!) in colourful India, my husband and I came to Holland for a short three months. With three months stretching beyond three years, I now juggle various interests while also trying to balance a temperamental toddler. When not cursing the wind while riding a bike, I write a blog, try different coffee blends and of course, wait for the blink-and-miss Dutch summer.


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