Emilie Kleding Rasmussen - ISTANBUL
At first sight, the selection of products seems fairly normal in the little shop in the side streets of Istanbul’s Cihangir neighborhood, where colorful containers fill the closely packed shelfs. However, closer inspection shows that the milk is made of almond, and the meat is actually made of soya.
Vegan Dükkan is the “only complete vegan store in Turkey,” said the owner Tarkan Aparı about his 12-year-old shop, where everything from condoms, toothpaste, and chocolates are made completely without any animal-based products. “But this is much more than just a store. It is a meeting place for likeminded people.”
Especially in recent years, the shop has “definitely seen more and more interest, especially from young people who are curious about my products and the vegan lifestyle,” he said.
The same is true for the Vegan & Vegetarian Association of Turkey. Although there are no numbers of how many vegans and vegetarians there are in Turkey, “we see that it is growing rapidly, especially among younger people,” Eşref Balcı from the association said.
As an organizer of activities and a member of the executive board at the association, Balcı has noted that many more people are joining on Facebook, more vegan restaurants are opening in Istanbul, and more people are asking questions about the vegan lifestyle. “A couple of years ago, that did not happen,” he said. ‘I want animals to be free’
One of the young people who recently jumped on the vegan wave is 32-year-old Virginia Patrone. Since 2015, she has been living and blogging about her non-animalistic lifestyle. She agrees that interest in veganism is increasing, and she often get messages from her readers asking for advice.
“The community of vegans feels quite big, and I really feel that a lot of young people are interested,” Patrone said.
Originally from Italy, she has been living in Turkey for four years and currently has a home in the Kadıköy district on the Asian side of Istanbul.
“Every day a new cafe is opening here and they all have at least one vegetarian or vegan option on the menu. That was not true even a couple of years ago,” she said.
Although the lifestyle seems to be on the rise, vegans still face difficulties. “It is much easier and cheaper to find vegan food in Italy,” Patrone said.
“Sometimes it is really hard to find products here. It is just very recently that Turkish brands started making their own products,” said Aparı from Vegan Dükkan.
He points to the refrigerator, where cheeses made of fermented cashew nuts and vegan yoghurts are filling the shelfs. It was just a year ago that the Turkish brand Trakya Çiftliği started to produce these alternatives to dairy products, Aparı added.
Recently other national brands such as Atelier Raw, Bitkisel, and The Vegist are rising up and starting to make more and more vegan-friendly products such as special cleaning products and kale chips.
“It is easier now, because people are more and more careful about having an eco-friendly and non-cruel way of living. The movement is just getting started, slowly,” Aparı said.
“I love ethical veganism and this cruelty-free lifestyle and I love talking about it as part of my job, because I love animals,” he added, nodding toward the two cats sleeping in a corner of his store. “I want animals to be free and treated as they should be, not abused like many are at the moment.” First vegan festival in Turkey
However, many people do not know or understand this and some can even get aggressive when meeting vegans, Balcı from the Vegan & Vegetarian Association of Turkey said.
“In schools and hospitals you cannot find vegan menus. Some universities have vegan alternatives, but very few,” he added.
However, the Vegan & Vegetarian Association of Turkey is working towards teaching people about veganism and make it easier to live this way, and every three months it publishes its own magazine about veganism, animal rights and ecology. Balcı also pointed out that on the weekend of April 29-30 this year, they will organize Turkey’s very first vegan festival in the western district of Didim.
“A lot of people still do not know what veganism is, so there is a lot of work to do still. Our festival is a way of teaching that to people. We are even thinking of creating a vegan rock festival this summer. A few years ago, that would have been impossible as there were not so many vegans. So it is really growing,” he said.
In April, it will also be possible to read Virginia Patrone’s book “Dolce Veg - Vegan Pasta” about cooking vegan desserts, which will be published by Kolektif Kitap in Turkey.
“Many people ask me how I can be vegan, because how can I eat desserts? I wanted to show that it is possible. And I really hope I am giving inspiration to people,” she said.