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one are the days when vegetarians in France would get served a dish with ham or chicken because, well, “that’s not meat”. And the meat-free option on a French menu is now thankfully more interesting than just a green salad. There’s still a long way to go, however, before vegetarians can expect more than one meat-free dish in their local restaurant (that’s if there is one at all). Why has vegetarianism been slower to catch on in France? Theories abound. Is it gastro-chauvinism? Colonial history? Dina Zerbib (left), the bubbly one-woman band behind vegetarian landmark ‘Carottes & Gingembre’ in Saint Jean d’Angély (17) favours the latter. As she stirs a coconut curry crammed with well over the ten recommended vegetables, you should eat in one day, she explains: ‘British colonies, like India for example, were widely vegetarian, and this will have influenced the cuisine that came back home with them. Curry and dhal are naturally vegan. And yes, France inherited dishes like couscous, but they are not served as they were originally, when a goat would only be killed once a month or so. It wouldn’t have been laden with chicken and lamb and merguez, like it is today.” It’s not just an historical absence of vegetarianism in French habits; there’s still a general reticence to accept it as a lifestyle. According to a study led by French foodie website quitoque.fr in October 2018, 95% of French people don’t think humans are meant for a meat-free diet, and feel that their body would lack nutrients and energy without meat. “I think there is a lot to say about the word itself,” says Dina. “In ‘végétarien’ there is the sound ‘rien’, which means ‘nothing’ in French.” People, in France at least, tend to believe that a purely vegetarian diet will leave you hungry, bored and lacking in energy, and that therefore our bodies just aren’t built for it – a fact that Dina contests with a simple lesson in human anatomy. “Humans have very long intestines, which were not built to eat meat at all,” she explains. “Felines have very short intestines to digest protein very quickly, but in our intestines, meat just rots...” As for a lack of energy, Dina is living proof that the theory doesn’t stand up:

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on top of cycling 10km to work 6 out of 7 days each week, she practises yoga, swims and dances in her spare time – and that’s before going to the market twice a week and single-handedly running a successful restaurant. Despite the general lack of French enthusiasm for vegetarianism, Dina’s 100% meat-free restaurant has been going strong for 11 years in a relatively small town, where she has watched many other businesses come and go. Nobody thought it would work, but she has seen some people making their vegetarian “coming out” at her table, and ‘Carottes & Gingembre’ is one of only three restaurants in the Charente-Maritime listed in 2018’s ‘500 Tables Attentives’ guide (Ed. de La Martinière), sponsored by ecological

superstar Yann-Arthus Bertrand. The fact is, it’s not only vegetarians who come to enjoy Dina’s curries, choucroutes and chili sin carne; mostly she sees people who are trying to reduce their meat consumption, whether for planetary or health reasons. Thanks to increased communication about the impact of meat eating on things like global warming and obesity, people are starting to think more carefully about what’s on their plate. As a result, France’s attitude towards vegetarianism is gradually, incrementally changing. Last year French media outlets tried to sell people on the concept of ‘Green Monday’, or what other countries have been calling ‘Meatless Monday’ for a while now. Apps like Vegg’Up, which offers

“Nobody thought it would work, but she has seen some people making their vegetarian 'coming out' at her table”

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Living Magazine April/May 19