When I first went to France as a ten-year-old pescatarian, I spent the whole time guzzling mozzarella pizza, crepes with Nutella and cheese baguettes, served by headstrong waiters. Upon returning as a vegan in June, accompanied by Corrie who is a vegetarian, I was initially slightly worried about the difficulty of us avoiding animal products. A cursory google search beforehand confirmed my growing fears- there weren't any exclusively vegan places to eat near our accommodation and besides, all the ones I could find listed were considerably out of my travel budget. Nonetheless, I was determined to make it work.
Hemingway was completely right when he described Paris as 'a movable feast,' it just happens to not be a vegan one.
So, here's what I learnt about staying vegan during my time in Paris.
Firstly, baguettes are your best friend.
There's actually a law in France which stipulates that they must be made with four ingredients; flour, water, yeast, and salt. This means that it's possible to safely buy any baguettes from patisseries without needing to inquire about the ingredients.
(Note: some vegans regard yeast as an animal product. I personally don't agree with that view and have no issue with consuming it.)
Whilst in Paris I ate a whole baguette each lunch time and would eat it while exploring the streets, simply tearing off chunks and enjoying them plain. They taste completely different to the pale, fluffy bread sold in England which I strongly dislike. I didn't find a single shop which sold vegan sandwiches- cheese or ham seemed to be the standard fillings.Generally, I don't eat much bread, however it proved practical. That's another point; sometimes it's necessary to be flexible whilst travelling.
Eating out is difficult and largely impractical.
Most traditional French dishes - escargots, croquet monsieur, crepes etc - are far from being vegan and the only options on menus seemed to be side-salads. Whilst there are a small number of vegan restaurants in Paris, I didn't find any near me and also didn't see and menus with specific options.
I recommend cooking from scratch as much as possible, so choosing self-catered accommodation is a good idea. My apartment had a little kitchen so I had fun making vegan versions of French dishes each night. Corrie and I turned cooking into part of our day, listening to French radio whilst we chopped vegetables and enjoying the process.
Find outdoors fruit and vegetable markets and buy fresh.
I found that produce was considerable more expensive than in England (with the exception of oranges) although markets were slightly cheaper than shops. As someone who eats kilos of them a day, it proved costly. However, it was probably far less expensive than eating in restaurants. Also, I relished the high quality of items like figs, Medjool dates, and apricots, which were a world away from those in England.
I recommend buying little and often.
Shops seemed to have different deals on each day and this made it possible to buy quite a range. There are a lot of tinned fruit, vegetables, beans and pulses available and I managed to stick to my budget by mixing these with fresh items.
For example, one night I made a delicious dinner using zucchini noodles, tinned green beans, grated carrots and fresh, locally grown cherry tomatoes. The zucchinis and tomatoes were quite costly, but the tinned beans and carrot were very cheap which balanced it out. We ate it with a baguette and it was as good as any meal in a restaurant.
If you aren't fluent in French, aim to eat as much unprocessed food as possible.
This is because labels can be tricky to work out and consulting google translate for lengthy ingredient lists is a pain. I noticed that supermarkets had very few imported items and most were unfamiliar. So I mostly stuck to unprocessed foods, or those with only a few ingredients to be safe. Be wary of dressings (many contain egg or dairy) and aren't always actually listed on menus. I stuck to balsamic vinegar as it goes with practically anything and seemed to be available everywhere.
Side note: replacing a tipsy friend's red wine with balsamic vinegar is a fun prank, guaranteed to make them never trust you again. I did this to Corrie because I am a terrible person.