Most people believe that surviving as a vegan anywhere is just a huge struggle. But being a vegan in the Netherlands takes the challenge a step further. How is a tree-hugging, animal-loving hippie to survive in a country where a gouda cheese wheel is the traditional souvenir? Follow me down the rabbit hole in this crazy journey to find out how we do it.

Wait a minute! What is a vegan anyway?

First of all not all of us are tree-hugging hippies! A vegan can be an awesome rebel, like Russel Brand, or a rock star like Anthony Kiedis, or a unique, uber-talented granny, like Betty White. What all of them have in common is the fact that they do not consume meat, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin. They do not use products that contain animal ingredients or have been tested on animals. And they do not wear wool, leather or silk. To put it simply, if it involves animal exploitation, vegans want nothing to do with it.

Veganism is not a diet. It is a lifestyle that attempts to be as cruelty-free as possible. Nowadays it is much simpler than it used to be, as there are many vegan products available. Of course, the food industry does not miss an opportunity to make a profit, so now we vegans have our very own fancy packaging and advertisements! Isn’t it cute how marketing finds a way to exploit the noblest of intentions in the end? I am always impressed.

 

Okay. So you have many vegan products. Why is it hard to be a vegan in the Netherlands then?

First of all, it is food availability. Yes, there are now places where you can get fancy vegan products, like Ecoplaza or De Groene Passage, but have you seen how much a tiny package of marinated tofu costs there? Those prices would make the Vegan Black Metal Chef kill himself with his fancy swords! Sure, it is great to go there every now and then and get a treat and it is nice that you can find things like nutritional yeast, that otherwise, you would have to order online. But if you belong to the lower salary ranks, as I do, those places cannot be your daily grocery store.

Additionally, the quality of fruits and vegetables found in Dutch supermarkets is not exactly the best. Yes, the Netherlands might be the second-largest exporter of agriculture goods after the USA, but I do suspect that they export the good stuff and feed themselves – and us, poor expats – the crappy stuff. I grew up in the Mediterranean, so I happen to know that tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and bell peppers do actually have a taste. And they even have different tastes from each other! Well, it took me a while to accept that the differences between the tastes are much more subtle in the products found in the produce aisle of a Dutch supermarket. Buying organic produce is the solution in this case. A costly one.

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Vegan in the Netherlands
Being a Vegan in the Netherlands is quite enjoyable with a Saturday lunch at Spirit, Rotterdam

So how do you survive as a vegan in the Netherlands?

There are various tips and tricks that I am about to share with you. You will find them useful if you are a vegan that just moved here, or if you want to show your love to the vegans in your life.

Grocery Shopping

There are two key places that you need to spot: Asian markets, like the Oriental market in Delft, and Turkish grocery stores. In these places, you can find vegan staples in bulk, like rice and beans, and the vegetables are of a great quality and cost much less compared to the health food store prices. I haven’t figured out why yet, but shiitake at the oriental market look exactly as great as the ones in Ecoplaza and are significantly cheaper. The same goes for bok choy, lemongrass and exotic fruit.

Vegan in the Netherlands
Not all grocery stores are created equal

Eating at the office

Both my husband and I have spent a significant portion of our life in the Netherlands working at TU Delft. The catering company there is Sodexo. Let’s just say that the quality of the food is bad enough that there is a Facebook group with more than 2000 members, called “Sodexo: we’ve had enough”. I am sure all those people are not even vegan.

So what do you do if you are a vegan in the Netherlands and your company’s cafeteria serves crappy food or the only vegan option is tomato soup? Simple.

You prepare an extra portion of dinner and take it with you at work. Trust me, this is the only way out. If you do not have time to cook every night, use a portion of your weekend to prepare food for the week. There is a limit to the amount of tomato soup and cheeps that you can have before you end up with a deficiency.

Eating out

Pasta. Or Asian. Oh, and fries! That’s pretty much it. Every single restaurant will be able to prepare for you a simple Aglio e olio, even if it is not on the menu. And many Asian dishes are naturally vegan. If you feel that people are going to trick you by trying to serve you something that contains “just a bit” of butter or cream as vegan, then just play the “I am seriously lactose intolerant” card. No one likes to get sued! And if you just want some junk food, falafel without the garlic sauce is a great option.

And last but not least, you can always join the Nederlandse Vereniging voor Veganisme and connect with other vegans in the Netherlands, find tons of recipes, information on veganism, events and a quite active forum. It’s all in Dutch, so a good motivation for us expats to practice!

Are you a vegan in the Netherlands? Do you have some tips to add? Let us know in the comments below!

26 COMMENTS

  1. As an omnivore, I’ve
    never cared much being a vegan – as far as I am concerned – but I’ve always
    been interested in how people deal with the lifestyle. Good read!

    • with a lot of patience and a dash of creativity 😀 To be honest, most of the times it’s a fun challenge. Glad you enjoyed the article!

      And yes, Davey Havok is indeed vegan (I admit I googled to find out)

  2. Hello there, maybe it’s not good thread for my post but i’ll try.

    My name is Seweryn Student since few weeks me and my girlfriend Ola arrived to the Netherlands.

    We are a couple of polish “raw vegans”, now we are living near Utrecht (De Meern). We are looking for small room to rent in Utrecht where we are working now. We don’t have any addictions, no cigarettes, alcohol, drugs etc.

    We are trying to earn some money to buy a piece of land in Poland to live totally with nature, we have a great plan to live like people should live in harmony with mother earth. This plan contain everything what to live self-sufficient is necessary including eco friendly small “cob house”, permaculture, and many other stuff which makes people happy and free from civilization diseases as well as todays rat race.

    If anybody can help us we will be very greatful. Finding other job for both of us with cheap acommodation in small room will be also a great solution. In presnt work we have only 22 hours guaranteed it’s too few, especially when we must pay for expensive flat.

    Find me on facebook or send me an email:

    sztudynt@gmail.com

  3. There is a nice shop in the Hague called veggie4u, tons of supermarket products (join the vegan supermarkt on Facebook for tips), and the local markets have cheap fruits and veggies (cheaper than at supermarket). Life as a vegan in NL is better than in other countries.

  4. Just wanted to add that I find amusing when you go to buffet restaurants and they label a dish of vegan with egg and cheese in it. Or when you but veggie burgers in the supermarket and they contain egg in it. How is that veggie???? Arghhh!!!!

  5. <<< vegan in NL.. you have to challenges but still wouldnt change it. The one thing about not having a ton of options in not too distant past, it forced me to become a very innovative cook. I learned so much and am thankful for that. I can make everything now from scratch and I am better for it.

  6. The effort a chef has to put to prepare a vegan meal because that’s your lifestyle, is a hundred times LESS than the effort a chef has to put to ensure a meal has not even a molecule of something a client is allergic to. The “just play the I am seriously lactose intolerant card” is why chefs no longer trust that you have an allergy, as opposed to a lifestyle choice, and begin to get sloppy, which puts those who are ACTUALLY allergic in life danger… Great advice!

    • Yes, what I was thinking too. This is the reason people question the legitimacy of real allergies. Badly done on the writer’s part.

  7. I visited the Netherlands twice (coming from Florida, United States) and as a vegan had no problem eating well in the summer from all the great fresh stuff at the outdoor markets. When I visited in the winter though, I thought I was going to have falafel coming out of my ears. I mostly ate that and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made in my hotel room. The best meals I had were at the vegan squatter cafes! I knew I was going to love the Netherlands when one of the first things I saw was “go vegan!” spray painted on a cow statue. 🙂

  8. you can buy grains/nuts/beans… in bulks online from website such as biovoordeel and it saves a lot. I live in Leiden and I buy most of my vegetables from the saturday weekend market. And really I doubt the quality of shiitake mushroom in Asian supermarkets. I read that the most shiitake mushrooms are produced in China and the ones we can find in Asian stores have a lot of nasty pesticides and chemicals.But… who knows?

  9. I REALLY dislike that you use lactose intolerance and/or allergies to guarantee your began choice in restaurants. I don’t mean to sound harsh (as we are a plant based family), but as the mother of a child that does have a life threatening allergy to milk, it really bothers me when people “just throw that out there”. Plus, it doesn’t always work. We barely eat out anymore, because eating establishments so often get it wrong! We know RIGHT away and have to use serious medications, but you don’t know, because you are not really allergic. You may be getting more than you realize. Plus, then the eatery feels like it can relax its policies on allergy food preparation because it has worked out fine so many times before. When they used just a little or accidentally cross contaminated something and nothing happened (because the client wasn’t actually allergic) they may begin to thinks that it is okay to continue to just a little bit. Please be careful with using this method. It only weakens the safety for actual allergy sufferers. Rather, continue to ask and fight for the right to get REALLY GREAT VEGAN food. Vote with your dollars. Spend money in vegan restaurants, cafes and shops. As the vegan eateries get more popular and other restaurants get less dollars, maybe we will continue to see positive changes. Thanks for the other info…the rest was spot on.

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