Alexanderplatz: Shopping purgatory. With TK Maxx and Primark nowadays grabbing most of the visitors cheap sale attention, it’s become a typical spatial symbol of a quick, wasteful shopping culture. Cheap and discardable is the motto. 1 You can imagine my surprise when I heard that the first annual Vegan Sommerfest was going to be slapped right into the hotspot of greasy industrialized urban experiences.
What? Between all the mindless shoppers, the tasteless stag parties and the mobile Rostbratwurst grill vendors? On Alexanderplatz, the event-retort of other progressive experiences, such as “Budenzauber Weihnachtsmarkt” and “Budenzauber Sommermarkt”? A vegan Festival? But the peasants won’t understand!
Being Slightly Vegan
I’ve been trying to go vegan for a few weeks now, with some ups and downs on the road. Hell, I love meat, I love weightlifting, and I used to laugh about the green idiots who think that animals need to be protected. But then I grew up and saw what the world is becoming. It took me only a few days of talking to my friends and of making a conscious decision not to close my eyes.
I am not opposed to killing animals for food, but the way it’s being done in our day and age is not how it should be. The dairy industry is just the same. I am opposed to the industrialization of our food, and of our lives. And I can make the sacrifice, because I won’t starve; unlike many other people in this world. This is just my perspective, and I won’t judge anyone for eating meat or eating dairy products. Especially because a real vegan would probably laugh at my attempts of being conscious, and call me a weakling for succumbing to the taste.
Being vegan is a political choice to me. One that goes hand in hand with being against low-incomes, being against classism, being against my heritage being destroyed in Syria, being against agendas that separate people from one another, because they’re scared to lose what they have.
For once, I realize how hard it is to be actually aware and making an effort to be responsible. But what I’ve known long before, is that a community – a social space for like-minded people who share the same struggles as you – can help with the transition. This goes for religion, cross-fit and veganism. I still won’t get my curls dreaded or wear those atrocious hippy pants, and my veganism still stops at fashion in general — but I had to start somewhere, doesn’t mean I’m gonna stop. Just mentioning all that casually in case you wanted to make me your role model. Don’t.
Anyway. When I visited Alexanderplatz this past weekend, I was not only looking at the Vegan Sommerfest as a food market, but as a place to share experiences and evaluate my struggles in the face of others who have taken the same step.
Vegan Food Market on Alexanderplatz? Makes sense.
It may have seemed completely absurd to place such a controversial food market and fair amidst Alexanderplatz, but when we strolled past the various food stalls, we realized that this may have been the best possible scenario for the occasion. Many people got lost in the delicious smells and the range of non-animal products, and some of them may have been just tourists or shoppers who randomly stopped by. I am, in fact, a 100% sure that half of the visitors at the Vegan Sommerfest were neither vegan nor vegetarian. And it was crowded! The festival went on for three full days, so I can only imagine how many people passed by randomly and decided to have a snack.
Kids, tourists, even people with Primark bags were altogether dumbfounded at what they saw: everything. Burgers, tacos, döner, waffles, chocolate, ice cream – just to name a few products. Some stuff took a bit more getting used to, like the Tofu varieties. Some of the vendors are already well known on the Berlin Vegan Map, like the newest addition, Brammibal’s Donuts on Maybachufer. It’s a delight to try these donuts, vegan or not.
Ultimately, “vegan or not” is the right way to think about it. It shouldn’t matter if it’s vegan if you don’t want to be politically invested, but most of the snacks we tried were extremely delicious (and usually healthy). There’s one product I’d like to highlight especially: Guampa. 2 Ever since Blogfabrik loaded a pallet or two into the office fridge, I’ve been drinking this energy drink almost every day. Yes, it makes my poop green, but it’s sweetened with Stevia exclusively, it tastes fresh like Grapefruit, and when it’s ice cold, it can be a delightful mixer for your cocktail. It’s vegan, but that’s now why I like it. I like it because of the meager calorie count and the actual caffeine ratio. There are other brands that deliver “Zero” sugar alternatives, but I hate the slight aftertaste of fake sugars. Additionally, they make my stomach rumble. I know I shouldn’t drink too much soda and energy drinks anyway, but it’s 9pm and I’m still in the office and I have to figure out where I’m going to order-in vegan food, which is going to take me another 2 hours, so this girl staying WOKE. 3
Apart from being a tasty drink, the girls who work the brand and promote it are absolutely fucking hilarious. Did I mention it’s vegan?
The Vegan Struggle
The Vegan Sommerfest wasn’t just all about food, though. There were also panels and discussions about vegan lifestyles, and many petitions to sign to combat animal slaughtering and meat-consumption. It’s fucking tough, man. And I’ve been through all of the arguments again, and again, against living vegan, and I find it absolutely worth to list them. It might seem counterproductive at first, but that’s what everybody goes through:
- Will I have enough protein intake? (Yes, albeit at a shittier protein to calorie ratio if you want full proteins)
- Will I be able to stay flexible diet-wise? (If you live in Berlin, yes, although it can get hard here if your carnivore friends aren’t flexible. There are many vegan options on this cities menus, though, even if they’re just accidentally vegan)
- Will I still be able to to shop in regular supermarkets? (Yes, and it’s much easier now, because you can leave out entire rows of products that cater to carnivores.)
- Can I afford being vegan? (Honestly, I haven’t figured that one out yet. It’s feasible to me, but because your flexibility of cheap food choices is impacted, it takes a lot of preparation to sort our office lunches or dinner with friends – or, if you’re careless, it means spending way too much money at lovely, but horribly expensive Charlie’s Bakery. Lentils, beans, spinach and tofu aren’t expensive, and surely they’re cheaper than mid-quality meat. If you’re poor, you won’t afford meat either, in which case going vegan can be actually a beneficial financial choice. But it’s not frugal if you’re constantly eating out or have to shop for meat replacement products. That being said: the reason meat is cheap is because animals and farmlands are being completely raped, so future-you is paying off an environmental debt. I get by perfectly without Superfoods or Smoothies, so you don’t even need that kind of luxury).
- Is being vegan healthy? (Yes, it is if you don’t resort to sugar all the time. Yep, you will have to chose your carbs and fats and proteins carefully, but you should do that anyway. It’s easy to say “learn how to cook”, but goddamnit, if you want to lose weight, if you want to have nice skin, if you want to help the environment, all of that would require for you to learn how to cook anyway, so you should do that anyway. Ordinarily healthy people (read: inner fat kid) people like me will still eat over their calorie count despite being vegan, so don’t worry about starving, ya fat ass. And as for the vitamins, there are some you have to measure carefully, but if you’re like me and accidentally keep buying stuff with hidden animal products, you might get by just fine).
- Isn’t the process of industrialization just the same as with meat, following the same capitalist logic that kind of negates the whole aspect of political veganism? (Well, depends on how vegan you want to be! There’s a lot of plastic being wasted, and a lot of R&D money going into making fake meat products and alternatives to meat – because the lifestyle is hip right now. But veganism doesn’t imply that you have to eat more processed foods. In fact, just like with a carnivore diet, one should learn how to cook with real food and produce, and not rely on food wrapped in plastic. In an ideal world, you’d bake your own bread, harvest your own legumes and grow your own fruit. But it’s possible to be vegan even without going all the way, and without supporting an industry that rapes animals for food that we throw away regularly).
- I don’t have time to be vegan / to cook / etc (I get it. You’ve got a full time job, you’re a single mom, you don’t want to compete with all those Gutmenschen who have the superpower to cope with life, hustle for money and then care about their environment and the world we live in. How do they do that?, you ask yourself. It makes you angry because you are not as well off, or as privileged to meal-prep on Sundays for the whole week. You’ve got shit to do, you just want to lie down and close your eyes. You don’t even remember the last time you did your nails or bought something for yourself. I understand that. It makes me angry, too. But the problem is not your nutrition habits or that you don’t want to save the world, the problem is that the system is rigged in the favors of those with money and power and time; and you’re the victim. You don’t have to be vegan to accept this fact. But you’re not powerless.)
At the end of the day, it’s not easy to go through with it. I’m only at the beginning and everyday I think about just giving up. And most of the time, I do, because I love cake and chocolate. But these are the things I should be giving up anyway, so this has nothing to do with being vegan at all. I do believe sincerely that if alcohol wasn’t vegan, this whole concept wouldn’t be a thing.
Anyway, what has all of this to do with the Vegan Sommerfest? Just to wrap it up, I think it’s fascinating to see where we’re at with the development of products that will keep us healthy and satiated without relying on animals. As I carefully tried to explain through the bullet points above (you may correct me if I’m wrong at any time), it’s hard being vegan. It’s hard changing habits, and it’s definitely not easy hitting the right macros if you don’t pay attention. The Vegan Sommerfest is important, as it displays the “state of the art” products and ways to embrace being vegan.
I hereby apologize to all my friends whom I’ve made fun of for being vegans in the past. I’m trying to become one of you, but I may need help along the way. Where’s my Crossfit membership?