How to be vegan on the Camino

A personal report about being vegetarian/vegan on the Camino

Nowadays it's not an uncommon aim to live a healthy and environmentally friendly life. Therefore looking at your personal environmental footprint soon leads to a discussion about being vegan. It's not only the ethical issues of the way we raise animals for us to eat, its also the fact that we simply can't feed the world if everyone ate meat. Wasting precious vegetable proteins turning them into cheap quality meat proteins makes no sense.

My way to a vegan lifestyle was a continuous process over many years . It finally led me to a much wider field of self responsibility and conscious action, living a healthier and more environmentally friendly way of life.  There was no question that I would maintain my vegan diet while walking the Camino.

I was used to compromising on the variety of food choices and preparing my own food. So it was not really difficult for me to avoid any meat or dairy dishes as it was not a big difference to everyday life. I have learnt to 'eat with the nose', to know that freshly barbecued meat smells much better than it tastes and to actually enjoy the memories of the former and unconscious years of eating meat.

As I always travel on a tight budget, being vegan was also a way of saving money on the Camino as I had less reasons to visit expensive and mainly meat serving restaurants. The small village shops along the way became my best friends and I was curious about what treasures I would find in the limited range of items. What they always did have were apples, bananas, biscuits and chocolate. These became my staple diet throughout the day and I enjoyed the more environmental friendly bananas from the Canary Islands, the gluten free cookies and the sugar free chocolate bars. I always carried some food with me to make sure that I never went hungry and was able to eat wherever I wanted to without being forced to visit a bar or a restaurant. I enjoyed having my lunch in nature rather than in crowded bars.

Even if the pilgrims’ menus are more or less the same at every albergue, I occasionally liked the comfort of ordering food and eating in the same location where I slept. Of course it was never that easy because there are not too many vegan options on the Way yet. But I was always able to communicate my needs and usually ended up eating two starters as they are often vegan. An 'Insalata Mixta' usually comes with eggs (huevos) and tuna (atun), so order it without (sin). I didn't care if the wine was vegan though. If you speak basic Spanish, it will be possible to let the staff understand what you want, even if it is frustrating from time to time. But every vegan person knows that procedure I reckon and here it is not much different.

Usually the whole discussion about the vegetarian protein sources are exaggerated as the body recycles protein within itself and there are plenty of high quality vegetable proteins in abundance. But the limited available variety of food and the never changing pilgrim menus make it a bit harder to serve your body what it really needs. I ate soy products like yogurt and tofu with fresh salads and salty chips and managed to get along very well. Also you might think of taking some supplements like magnesium for your nerves and muscles which is not only important if you're walking on a vegan diet.

So don't be afraid of walking the Camino if you have any special dietary needs. This won't cause any problems! Walk and you will see that everything unfolds in front of you once you set one foot after the other. And to make things much easier for you we created a Vegetarian Map to help you find vegetarian food on the Camino which you can download on your phone or read in many places along the Way.

Johannes C. Elze, Pilgrim