Why are people converting to veganism

Veganism in Germany
Germany is going vegan

Germany is the fastest growing market for vegan products. How is this change taking place, and why is the beloved currywurst increasingly made from soy? Why are more and more Germans moving away from their traditional eating habits and switching to a vegan diet? Is this development just a fast moving trend or a real green revolution?

By Joanna Gierak-Onoszko

Cold November rain lashes my face, and my shoes slip on the cobblestones covered with wet leaves. The cozy alleys in the Schöneberg district of Berlin are dark and empty, only light shimmers towards me from the ground floor of one of the corner houses. I push open the glass door and I find myself in a place that is filled with loud conversations and the clink of cutlery and that smells of freshly ground coffee and well-seasoned food.
“We have our regulars' table here today. This is our two hundred and fiftyth meeting, ”says Matthias von Berlin Vegan, an organization for all those who not only want to change their diet, but also want to live in the most sustainable and environmentally friendly way possible.
Tonight the Berlin vegans meet in the Mana restaurant. The interior is calm and minimalist. The counter is tiled with white tiles, at the tables there are simple armchairs made of light wood, the walls are made of white bricks or are painted bottle green. The restaurant is dominated by a tree in the middle of the room. A long table is set up next to the tree and around forty people have gathered at it, but more are still being added.


“Many of them come regularly to our events that we organize twice a month. But there are always new people who are just starting to deal with the subject of veganism, who just want to try out how it is to live without meat. Or people who have just moved to Berlin and want to make new friends. They just come to chat with us and eat something delicious together - definitely not the worst way to start a new life in Berlin, ”laughs Matthias. He is tall and athletic, has a shaved head and wears a dark blue hoodie. He looks youthful, but, judging by his gray stubble, is probably approaching forty.

“I am fifty years old. Since I stopped eating animal products, I feel years younger. I used to have tennis elbow and joint problems. It's all over. It's not just that I'm fitter, more productive and less likely to feel exhausted and exhausted - my whole body has changed. Just look at my skin. I used to have brown spots on my hand. They say it comes from age, but in reality it has more to do with the liver. And just look at how soft and smooth my hands are today. I look better and feel better. "

One day after our meeting, Matthias picked up his blood results. His doctor congratulated him: his cholesterol levels were lower than ever before.

But not long ago Matthias couldn't imagine a life without schnitzel. He was not alone in this: not only the German food culture and tradition, but also the German economy is closely linked to meat. The midday consumption of meat has been a sign of wealth and social status for many years. Between 1961 and 2011, meat consumption in Germany rose from an average of 64 kilograms to 95 kilograms per capita per year. Since then, meat consumption in Germany has fallen slightly again, to 88 kilograms per capita, of which 60 kilograms are human consumption. But Germany is still one of the largest meat producers in the world. According to the Federal Statistical Office, 29.4 million pigs, cattle, sheep, goats and horses were slaughtered in commercial slaughterhouses in Germany in the first half of 2019 alone.
How did Matthias convert to veganism in 2016? One day he had an appointment with a client and took him into town for something to eat. His client ordered a vegan burger and then quickly got down to business. He did not preach and did not try to convert Matthias. When Matthias finally asked him on his own initiative, he replied that he did not eat meat for ethical reasons. Matthias could easily see why by watching internet videos of factory farms, he added, and then they continued to eat.

I ask Matthias whether his beef burger got stuck in his throat as a result?
“Not at all. I continued to eat with great appetite and thought our meeting was very successful. "

But all the way home, his thoughts revolved around what he had heard. He was stuck in a traffic jam and had exactly an hour to think about everything. In the evening he opened his laptop and started looking for information on factory farms. When he finally found her, he realized that he no longer wanted to participate. He sighed briefly and said loudly to himself: All right, then I'll be vegan from today.
But he had known all his adult life where the sausages and chops on the shelves came from. There was no lack of information or awareness. Why had a single lunch with a client suddenly changed everything?

“I think that every major change is related to a personal experience, to direct contact - not to an abstract idea, but to a specific person. An organized action never has the same effect as a personal contact, an encounter with another person. After such an encounter, you can find out more and find your own way. Because it's not just about stopping eating chops today. "
Matthias thinks that his conscious decision to forego meat from now on changed his thinking about himself and his place in the world. He soon began to think and ultimately to act in larger contexts. The bratwurst on the corner suddenly combined with the horrors of factory farming, and the morning cream yoghurt with the manure from cattle farms, which seeps into the ground and gradually contaminates the groundwater. He recognized the extent of the environmental damage caused by the food industry, if only through the generation of waste and plastic waste. In response, he increasingly stopped using plastic, used his car less and less and tried to keep his ecological footprint as small as possible. There are many little things: you take a cloth bag with you when you go shopping, you have your coffee-to-go filled into a reusable cup you brought with you, or you stop ironing your clothes.
Fashion is also trying to keep up with the green revolution, as there are more and more conscious consumers who are willing to pay a little more for sustainable products. Matthias rolls up his pants and shows me his classic Dr. Martens: eight eyelets and the characteristic yellow seam on the rubber sole. But the shoes are not made of leather, but of a synthetic material. Matthias says it is no longer a problem in Germany to dress in an ethically correct manner.
There are several possibilities for this. Either you buy used clothing - be it in cheap second-hand shops or trendy vintage boutiques - or you swap your clothes with friends and acquaintances or at special clothing exchanges. That saves money and protects the environment. But also for all those who prefer to buy new clothes and like subtle designs, there are special shops, especially on the Internet, that offer sustainable fashion: minimalist blazers made of ecological cotton dyed with environmentally friendly dyes, warm winter jackets with a filling made of recycled PET -Bottles and jeans with nickel-free rivets.

The market turns green

The range is becoming more and more diverse, because the market for vegan products is booming, and Germany is leading this trend.

“Along with Great Britain, Germany has the largest share of global vegan food and beverage launches. Of all vegan foods and beverages that were introduced worldwide between May 2018 and April 2019, 20 percent of the new vegan products came from Germany, ”says Katya Witham from the market research institute Mintel. Germany is the fastest developing market for vegan products. As Katya Witham adds, significantly more vegan than vegetarian products are now being introduced in Germany: Almost every sixth of all food and beverage products newly released in Germany are labeled vegan.

Vegan products are increasingly ending up in the shopping basket of consumers who do not want to completely do without meat and animal products, but instead follow a flexible diet and increasingly include plant-based products in their diet.
“Vegan products are also attractive to a broad group of consumers who are guided by health and ethical criteria in their purchase decision. There is a growing interest in food that is produced in an environmentally friendly and animal-friendly manner, and that is exactly what drives the demand for vegan products, ”explains Witham.
More and more shelves are being filled with vegan products in German supermarkets. There are vegan restaurants that are increasingly being visited by people who basically eat meat, but increasingly include plant-based products in their diet. Even many currywurst stalls have adapted their menu and not only offer kosher or halal sausages, but also a vegan variant based on soy. And although the classic currywurst is still the most sold, the freezing visitors to the snack bars around the historic Checkpoint Charlie are increasingly demanding the vegan variant, which they drown in ketchup just as uninhibitedly as the classic pork sausage and which they go for with mulled wine Drink styrofoam cups.

The vegetarian butcher

If you are looking for a more sophisticated meat substitute, you should visit the vegetarian butcher in Berlin-Kreuzberg. The concept was developed by the Dutch farmer Jaap Korteweg, who wanted to switch to a meat-free diet without sacrificing the taste of meat. So he developed plant-based meat substitute products that look and taste like fried minced meat, grilled chicken breast or shawarma. The concept is very well received at food fairs and in the media, because the vegetarian butcher not only offers attractive food, but also a no less attractive ambience.
The visual identity with which the company presents itself to its customers and fans is well thought out and consistent down to the smallest detail. The logo, which is somewhat reminiscent of a painting by Alfons Mucha, shows a young woman with a butcher's knife and a bunch of carrots. The Art Deco style is consistently maintained, both on the website and on the menu that the waitress puts on the table in front of me in the concept store on Bergmannstrasse.
  • © The vegetarian butcher
    The vegetarian butcher
  • © The vegetarian butcher
    The vegetarian butcher
The interior is extremely dignified and screams to be posted on Instagram right away. Minimalist shelves hang on a raw, bare brick wall, on which a black pressed sausage and a sliced ​​mortadella with green olives rest. Chains made of sausages and sausages hang next to them.

All just plush.
At the tiled counter you can order various warm dishes: Chicken nuggets, bratwurst in a roll, currywurst with french fries, various burgers, doner kebab and shawarma - all of course not made from meat, but from vegetarian or vegan meat substitutes, the so-called "meat".
The waitress advises me to start with the vegetarian ground beef, which is made from soy protein, barley malt extract, glucose syrup, rapeseed oil and spices. The thawed and seared minced meat has a gristly texture, and although the taste is reminiscent of meat, I can immediately taste the difference.
It is Saturday afternoon and you can hardly find a place in the surrounding bars. But the vegetarian butcher is almost empty despite its perfect brand identity. The wink to the younger generation and the stickers on the front door with slogans such as “Eat pussy not animals” or #myplacetobeer are apparently not enough to attract enough guests.

Everyday veganism

Instead, there is a crowd a few steps further in the Marheineke market hall. The stalls do not offer a perfect ambience, but the food on offer is fresh, fragrant and colorful. The sellers assure that many of the products are certified organic and people crowd around the market stalls looking for the real taste. Too expensive? There is a Veganz supermarket on the first floor of the market hall. Veganz is the first vegan supermarket chain in Europe: It was founded in Berlin and now also has branches in Vienna and Prague. The range includes both premium products that need to be paid for as well as inexpensive own-brand products. The schnitzel, croquettes, Köttbullar and Cevapcici from the Veganz brand are also available at Lidl, Metro or Edeka. Veganism is neither expensive nor elitist in Germany.
  • Source: flickr.com; Photo: Tony Webster; CC BY 2.0
    A Veganz branch in Berlin
  • Source: flickr.com; Photo: Josefine S. (Protected by Pixsy); CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
    A Veganz branch in Berlin
This can also be seen in the nearby Kiezmarkt. The line in front of the cash registers is so long that it extends into the aisles and another line has formed in front of the shopping shelves. There are not only vegan products here, but everything is organic. In addition to raw products such as fruit, vegetables, mushrooms and herbs, numerous ready-made meals and sauces are also offered.
There is a shelf with gluten-free pasta and breakfast cereals, a section with vegetarian spreads and a refrigerated counter with artisanal sausage and high-quality cheese made from cow, sheep and goat's milk. A little further there is an extensive range of vegan foods: sausages, sausages, viennese sausages and bacon - real home-style cooking, but everything is plant-based.

A little further there is a cooling shelf with vegan cashew quark in all possible flavors, with herbs, horseradish or paprika. There is a huge range of vegan cheeses on offer, including cheddar, parmesan, French camembert and grated mozzarella. And of course numerous milk substitute products: not only almond milk with red rice or shiitake mushrooms, but also yoghurt, sour cream, sauce thickeners, dessert bases, plant creams and whipped cream. Sweets are sold near the ticket offices, including chocolate bars made by a Warsaw company and vegan advent calendars with milk- and butter-free chocolate.
There are not only hipsters and trend-conscious young people in the queue in front of the cash registers, but also families with small children - who are then loaded onto the bicycle trailers with their purchases - and also older people who do their usual shopping here. In Germany, veganism is no longer just an option for wealthy, but also for conscious citizens.
"Regardless of whether it is a question of vegetable or animal products - the quality and origin of food are increasingly becoming the decisive criteria for German consumers," says Katya Witham. “For Germans, health aspects are in the foreground and that's why they are increasingly relying on natural and wholesome products. German consumers pay very close attention to what is in their food, they prefer products with the shortest possible list of ingredients. Our studies have shown that 34 percent of adult Germans regularly check the list of ingredients when shopping for food. If possible, they want to buy food without artificial additives. "

The opinion research institute's studies also show that many Germans do not find it difficult at all to go without meat. They are buying more and more plant-based, wholesome and natural foods and prefer the unadulterated, real taste. You simply do without meat and see no need to sweeten this waiver.


“We do this primarily for ourselves,” admits Thomas Sorriso Brysch from the non-governmental organization ProVeg Germany. "Neither for me nor for my friends is this a question of fashion, but a conscious decision for a sustainable way of life that is as harmless as possible for the environment, but also for ourselves."

Thomas is a little over twenty, has his hair tied in a small bun at the back of his head and wears elegant tortoiseshell glasses. Thomas tests and certifies vegan products. As he himself says, his organization doesn't have to do a lot of advertising - the companies break the doors down for them because they know very well that certificates help them to open up new sales channels and to reach new groups of customers.
“Four years ago I was working in a dairy and cheese processing company on an island off the coast of Australia. It was a shocking experience. Antibiotics, pesticides, industrial agriculture. I've seen with my own eyes how things are produced there. Forests were cleared to make grazing land for the cows. The whole island was destroyed just to produce more cheese. "
Thomas' main motivation was concern for the welfare of animals and the environment. He soon changed his shopping habits. He admits that the transition to veganism was difficult for him at first and that he first had to learn to plan his diet. But since everything has worked out, he has basically no longer given any thought to his type of diet - just as little as his height or the color of his eyes.

“In Europe, and now also in Germany, it is no longer a problem at all to eat vegan. The market is full of vegan products that are deceptively similar to the originals made from milk, butter and meat. There are vegan sausages, patties and hamburgers - you have the taste of meat on your plate without anything that comes with it. Vegan nutrition is also increasingly accepted in society. "

Only Thomas' family, who still cook traditionally Polish, cannot quite get used to his eating habits. His family lives in western Germany, in a city with 55,000 inhabitants near Aachen. “They try to respect the fact that I no longer eat pork chops for lunch, but for breakfast they serve me sandwiches and ham. That’s sausage and not meat, they say. You shake your head and declare me crazy. "


Even as a child, Thomas had a lot of contact with animals, he grew up in the country. It was quite normal to keep chickens or pigs there and then eat them. “But those were different times. Animal husbandry was much more restricted and sustainable back then and not as industrialized as it is today. Today everything is automated, the animals are slaughtered en masse, completely industrially, and consumers are not always aware of this, ”says Thomas.

“You are being fooled by the advertising. Just look at all the milk cartons with smiling cows chewing daisies, poultry boxes with cute chickens or refrigerated trucks with happy pigs. That's one big lie. Such advertising messages paint a completely wrong picture of the conditions under which these animals were kept and slaughtered. "
Is knowledge of the origin of meat, cheese and milk responsible for the fact that more and more Germans are abandoning their traditional eating habits?
The trend towards veganism is not just a fad, but a long-term development that is reflected not only in the menus of the hip Berlin restaurants, but also in the range of grocery stores and supermarkets and thus also in industrial and agricultural production.

“It's one of the fastest growing areas of the economy,” says Katya Witham. “A survey we carried out in Germany at the end of 2017 showed that 6% of all respondents describe themselves as vegans, compared to only 4% in the previous year. This trend is mainly driven by younger consumers who are much more interested in the subject of vegan nutrition than the rest of society. Our surveys show that 8% of all Germans between the ages of 16 and 24 and even 13% of all Germans between the ages of 25 and 34 describe themselves as vegans. "

The benefits of a vegan diet are tangible and measurable. It can therefore be assumed that all those who are already vegan today will follow this diet into old age. Thomas says that vegan nutrition is simply a rational answer to the challenges of today, and that the rational is inscribed in the Germans in their national DNA, so to speak.

“Veganism is just another expression of our pragmatic and rational approach to life. We have been sorting our rubbish for many years and nobody is resisting it. We realized it was necessary, so we have no problem with it. We recognize the benefits of renewable energies. We do calculations, check profitability and quickly learn to benefit from these developments. If something makes sense and also has advantages, then you just have to do it. It's a typically German approach, ”explains Thomas.

He also points out another reason. “Others may laugh at us and declare that we are unimaginative, but we Germans actually prefer to approach things carefully. We like to think and plan long-term and always see the long-term risks and dangers. Even if everything still seems okay today, we worry about what might be tomorrow. We are prepared for any eventuality and insured against practically everything. Veganism is our policy. "

“That doesn't mean that Germans always fear the worst, but they try to work towards a better future. They shy away from risks - especially avoidable ones. After all, it is only logical and wise not to stick your finger in boiling water. It is just as logical and wise not to eat foods that are not good for us, but make us sick, ”says Thomas.

"Safety is our top priority," says Thomas. “This approach is characteristic of us. But I don't see it as a burden, but rather as an expression of wisdom. A vegan diet, sustainable agriculture, this is not a fashion, but an economic method, a way of life, a survival strategy. We have all the figures, the facts are irrefutable, and the consequences are clear. Avoiding animal products is not a fixed idea, but a pure instinct for self-preservation.

Matthias is also of the opinion that there is no return to meat-based agriculture. He tries to lead by small steps and by example and to convince people to give up animal products - even his mother, who is already eighty years old. Once she even came to the regulars' table with him, ate vegan desserts and talked. And recently she invited her son over for cake.

"Come on over, I've baked your beloved apple strudel," she said on the phone. In my mind's eye I saw apples stewed with cinnamon in a batter made of flour, milk and butter. I only sighed briefly, but then she said: »Of course in the vegan version«, "laughs Matthias.
“I will die knowing that I convinced my mother to be vegan. But of course I will not die until the year 2200, because I will live a long and happy life, after all I am a vegan, "he says with a wink and cuts a large cake that was prepared without milk, butter or eggs.
The vegan cake is decorated with a replica of the Brandenburg Gate. The gate is green and has an apple on the attic instead of the quadriga.

Translation: Heinz Rosenau
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Poland
November 2019

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