Vegetarians offer Parisians faux gras for Christmas
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A French Christmas meal often involves copious amounts of meat and seafood, even less for vegetarians and especially not for vegans, who eat no animal products at all. One group, who are used to staging animal rights protests, decided to reach out this holiday season with a vegan Christmas fair to show alternatives to turkey, goose and foie gras.
At the fair Bea Ceccarelli, describes a sample Christmas meal made without animal products.
“It starts with a vegetable bavarois,” she explains. “Then I came up with a risotto with sunchokes [Jerusalem artichokes] with a few pieces of truffle.”
Nice ingredients, like truffles, can embellish a dish for the holidays, she says.
These are recipes from a cookbook of vegan recipes Ceccarelli put together to appeal to meat-eaters, including her own children.
An animal rights activist, Ceccarelli is involved with L214, a French group that raises awareness about animal rights, usually by showing photos of caged chickens and videos of geese being force-fed to produce foie gras, the fatted liver that some regard as the ultimate luxury food, others as a product of cruelty.
LISTEN: Truffles and Faux Gras are all you need for a good Christmas meal, say French vegans
But during the holiday season the group is taking a less aggressive approach, including offering recipe suggestions.
This inclusiveness is something that Constatin Imbs, of the French Vegan Society, would like to see everywhere.
He has been working on a European project called Eating Together.
“We have drawn up a list of positive ingredients that enable anybody to come and have a meal together,” he explains.
This means anyone, vegans, vegetarians or anyone from any culture or religion with a dietary restriction, can eat together.
“Some populations do not eat mushrooms, for example," Imbs points out. "Strict Hindus won't. Jains [followers of another Indian religion] do not consume any roots, such as potatos, carrots etcetera. Muslims won't have wine or pork. Jews won't have pork. Vegans won't have any animal products.”
When you take all these into consideration, what do you have left?
Lots of vegetables, says Imbs.
He describes a full meal, that starts with the chickpea purée hummus (without garlic, which some Buddhists don’t eat) and a yeastless bread (Jains don’t eat yeast; nor do Jews on certain holidays). The main dish is a seitan and vegetable stew (seitan is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten).
And for desert?
Apple pie and chocolate muffins.
This is a meal that anyone can eat, at any time says Imbs - even at Christmas.
But Patrice, who is sceptically eyeing a plate of vegan cupcakes at the holiday market, finds the idea of a Christmas meal without meat a bit sad.
For him a Christmas meal is about turkey and foie gras.
He admits that he is not comfortable with the way it is made but he’ll eat it with a good wine.
“With a good wine, a Monbazillac, which is a little sweet,” he says. “I do like it with that wine!”
It turns out that for those who do not like the idea of eating force-fed goose or duck liver, there is an alternative: Faux Gras.
Faux means fake in French and it’s a vegetable-based pâté that has appeared on the shelves of French health food stores in recent years.
People tasting samples at the Christmas fair say it is surprisingly tasty. Yulita, who has been vegan for a year insists it’s even better than the real thing.
Thierry is also impressed. He intends to serve it to his non-vegan friends who need convincing.
Johvan Roe, who is promoting Faux Gras at an animal rights stand, says he is not usually a fan of vegan or vegetarian versions of their meat counterparts. But he sees how they can be appealing to meat eaters who are considering becoming vegetarian.
“For French people that are used to eat meat, they want to find the same texture and same taste," he explains. "They are used to cutting their meat in a specific way.”
Of course, Faux Gras and meat substitutes will unlikely to convince meat eaters like Laurent, who is walking by the Christmas fair. But he admits that while food is a very important part of a traditional meal, it’s not the only thing.
“A Christmas dinner is a copious meal, full of joy and festivity,” he says. "Whatever it is you are eating.”
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