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Being Vegetarian in Madrid: Is it Possible?

Felisa y Noelia
CIEE Madrid Fall 2010 student Felisa Saldutti with her host Noelia

Being Vegetarian in Madrid: Is it Possible?

By: Felisa Saldutti (Muhlenberg College)

Choosing a study abroad location is an exciting but challenging endeavor. So many different aspects must be addressed and thoughtfully contemplated. In the scheme of things, the food does not seem as important as how close to the hottest tourist sites you might be, the language you will be learning, or the intensity of the night life, but given that your nutrition and health are on the line depending on the foods you eat, the cuisine of the country should be one of the top considerations when choosing one of countless study abroad locations.

If you are vegetarian and looking for a vegetarian-friendly country, Spain offers some challenges, but, with a bit of know-how, can be achievable. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by cured legs of their famous jamon iberico (with which they are obsessed), fresh meats on display, and tapas that somehow manage to turn a normally vegetarian dish into a carnivorous treat. However, there are some tricks to keeping your vegetarian lifestyle while in this country of meat eaters.

First, you must make your dietary restrictions infinitely clear to all necessary personal. The residents of Spain all have different definitions of vegetarianism, so you must be on the same page with them. This is especially true for your host family! Explain what foods you eat and do not eat as well as if you have any issues with preparation (such as you don’t want to eat anything that has been cooked with meat or in the same pot as some meat product). There are different levels of vegetarianism, so explain to people which level you are at. The levels
are as follows:

Semi-Vegetarian: Abides by a mostly vegetarian diet, but will at times
consume red meat, game, poultry, fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet
and/or gelatin.

Pescetarian: Does not eat red meat, game, poultry, but does eat fish,
crustacea, and shellfish. He/She may or may not abstain from by-products
of animal slaughter such as animal-derived rennet and gelatin.

Lacto-ovo vegetarianism: Does not eat animal flesh (red meat, game,
poultry, fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet, and gelatin), but uses
products such as eggs, milk, and honey in food preparation.

Lacto vegetarianism: Does not eat animal flesh (red meat, game, poultry,
fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet, and gelatin), but uses milk but
not eggs in food preparation.

Ovo vegetarianism: Does not eat animal flesh (red meat, game, poultry,
fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet, and gelatin), but uses eggs but
not milk in food preparation.

Veganism: In addition to not eating animal flesh (red meat, game,
poultry, fish, crustacea, and shellfish, rennet, and gelatin), he/she
does not use animal products, including milk, honey, eggs in food

Some students I have met that were vegetarian before coming to Spain switched to being pescetarian to widen their food choices. This is an option, but not the only option. I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian and managed to remain so during my duration in Spain. However, this means that you must be more careful when you venture outside of your host family’s kitchen to the tapa bars and restaurants of Madrid.

As I mentioned, everyone has their own definition of vegetarianism. This, however, really isn’t a shock given how many different types of vegetarians there are. Here in Spain, I have found that most restaurants will label vegetarian options, but, in reality, they are pescetarian options. Tuna is often included in vegetarian salads and sandwiches, so ask before you order! I have found no harm in asking restaurants to make my dish without fish. There is really no harm in asking for clarifications about dish ingredients. Hey, it’s just another opportunity to practice your Spanish! (: The Spanish tortilla (basically an omelet with potatoes and sometimes onions) is the best friend of a lacto-ovo vegetarian. It is an appetizing protein source that can be found just about anywhere in Spain (this dish is in running competition with the jamon iberico in frequency of consumption and availability). I have also eaten grilled vegetables, which are tasty and easy to find in the city. I recommend exploring the city and studying menus until you find something that is appetizing to you.

Remember to keep a balanced diet, finding plenty of sources of protein. I often times run into the local grocery store and picked up a package of nuts to munch on for a quick source of protein. You are in a new country with new experiences and new foods. Although they love their meat here, it is possible to enjoy the city as a vegetarian.


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I tried being a vegetarian for a month it is good. You will feel that it is easier to move.Good for the health.

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