A vegan in Paris

Elizabeth Greathouse, a friend and former colleague, describes herself as being a 95 per cent vegan who eats like a monk at home and feasts like a queen on holiday.

A lawyer by trade and a yoga practitioner since 1982, Elizabeth teaches yoga, trains yoga teachers and leads retreats around the globe. She created Yoga House Studio in Washington DC in 2005.

Knowing she had just spent two weeks in Paris, I asked her to write something for SFN on how a vegan copes with eating out in France. “While in Paris I let myself indulge completely with whatever drew my attention… “, she said.

This is what she wrote for SFN:

“Lao Tzu reminds us “a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” This is especially true of the traveling vegetarian seeking a meal outside his or her own kitchen, culture or familiar restaurants. Eating in a new country or restaurant is a process, an adventure to discover new foods, new cultural approaches to dining.

As soon as we leave the familiar, we must loosen our control on the quality and type of food we might encounter. It’s ultimately our choice whether to lift the fork to our mouth, and it’s our responsibility to find choices that work for us.

When I travel I have to ask myself, am I willing to bend my personal rules at all to be gracious to my host? Or are my principles about food choices more important than perhaps eating something I wouldn’t normally eat, but today I might try?

Whatever you decide, visiting a restaurant in a foreign country is not the time to take your crusade to the proprietor, and certainly not the waiter who has no control over what is on the menu. Take the responsible choice before you enter, and once you decide to eat there, be flexible and be willing to eat light if you don’t like the food.

If you eat eggs, cheese and other dairy products, and can tolerate gluten, you will have no trouble eating a vegetarian diet in most Paris or French restaurants.

I first became a strict lacto-vegetarian in 1982, long before the vegan movement. Pasta, rice, steamed vegetables and the occasional feta cheese were pretty much all one could get on request at a restaurant in the USA then, and these were usually bland and everyone was uncomfortable about it.

Today that has changed and even the renowned chef Alain Ducasse has reduced the amount of meat on offer at his famous three-star Paris restaurant in the Plaza Athénée hotel in recognition of vegetarian choices.

If you have gluten and dairy restrictions, eating in any restaurant is harder, but still not impossible. If that is your situation, your best friend in a Paris restaurant is a “Salade composée”.

I lived for six years in Brussels as 95% vegetarian and this was my favorite restaurant meal. If you eat cheese, you can have one with cheese. If you eat eggs, hard-boiled eggs will be added. If you are strictly vegan, this still works with a medley of vegetables and greens. And if occasionally you eat fish, (many vegetarians are really VegAquarians) you can add sardines.

If you have celiac disease, a debilitating intestinal condition aggravated by gluten, ask for oil and vinegar only on your salads, or your dressing on the side, to be certain. Many sauces are made with flour and this will send a celiac sensitive person to bed, or even the hospital, with pain.

A few other wonderful dishes if you do eat cheese and eggs and gluten are:

1. A salade de chèvre chaud – a green salad with warmed goat-milk cheese.

2. If you eat eggs and butter, an omelette “fines herbes” (usually a blend of oregano and rosemary based herbs). These are delicious and filling. Or have an “omelette aux champignons”, eggs with mushrooms. These are often eaten for lunch in Paris.

3. Couscous with vegetables. This is a delicious and hearty meal, especially in winter and there are many Moroccan restaurants in Paris.

And of course there are many pasta dishes in the many wonderful Italian restaurants in Paris.


Here’s a good list of raw, vegan and vegetarian restaurants for Paris:



The good news for those folks moving to France is that you will have your own kitchen! With access to wonderful daily fresh local markets filled with fruits and vegetables, lots of organic products on sale at small health food shops, you can pretty much re-create your UK or American kitchen in France. I do find the prices higher in France than in the USA for organic foods, but food in the USA is cheap in general.

Bear in mind that a lot of produce might not strictly qualify for “organic” labeling, but will meet the lower standard of “natural” and won’t have been sprayed with a lot of pesticide. It can be expensive and arduous for a small farmer to get the organic label, but s/he might still be selling a wonderful clean product.

If you are living in France you will want to develop a relationship with your outdoor market vendors; start a conversation, try the different vendors and see what you like. If they get to know you and know what you like, they will look out for you and let you know when something special comes in.

Remember – all fresh food is better than old tinned food prepared ages ago and shipped over from the “old country”. Apart from something whimsical you can’t live without from time to time, let go of food that is carbon inefficient, that takes energy to be packaged and shipped over. If one of your reasons for eating vegetarian is to be environmentally conscious, then eating local supports that same thinking.

Here are some markets in Paris that sell only organic produce:


I live in the USA, and when I travel to France I suspend some of my most ardent practices. I learned as a child expat that sometimes being a gracious guest is the most important thing I can be, with an adventurous heart.

French agriculture prides itself on clean, wholesome food born from centuries of tradition. Enjoy yourself! If you wanted to stay home, you would have. While a traveler, look up, breathe deep and take in the life around you.

Keep your integrity about your eating practices, to be sure. Animal husbandry today is quite cruel in that it is so massive. France is one of the few countries today that still has some small farms. Visit the ones in your region and support good clean farming practices.

Food is about vitality and prana. The fresher the food, the more life force it contains. Listen to your body, find the balance it seeks, and most of all, be joyful in your relationship to food.”

If you want to know more about Elizabeth you can connect to her website www.yogahousestudio.com and her food blog http://www.foodintheworld.com.

This one talks about her experience in Paris.

@ Maureen, a bacon sandwich has been the downfall of more than vegetarian/vegan!

That is so well said Joe.

I suppose as a trained layer Elizabeth is well qualified to try to justify conflicting behaviour. We often see this happen and find that it depends on why the person chose to be vegan in the first place. If one is vegan for health reasons (heart problems like Bill Clinton for example), to lose weight or to please an audience it is easy to switch back to non-vegan for convenience or pallet pleasure. It appears that Elizabeth (if I can be familiar) is in one of those camps. I don't think she is vegan (part time or otherwise) for ethical reasons.

Ethical reasoning is the belief that it is morally wrong to hurt another being for convenience or pleasure. For example, let's put it like this; we would not harm a family pet for our pleasure or convenience so why not extend this to all other beings?

The argument about whether the person eats meat for survival is not covered here because it is a non-starter, not in the article and not a valid excuse in our society. Before anyone gets on my case, I am not judging those that do not share my opinion about what is food, but my own conclusion based on my own belief system.

As for not wishing to upset our host then again this is an excuse used to avoid confronting a difficult subject. I do whatever I can to make my dinner guests comfortable and welcome their opinions and suggestions. I would be surprised if my host was not aware of my diet choice and, as good hosts, would cater to that. Having said that, I always offer to bring along the main course, help with the preparation or offer vegan recipes from the thousands available on the internet. I would never put my host in a difficult position. We would never dream of offering a person food that conflicted with their religious beliefs and put them in the difficult position of having to refuse. Of course veganism is not a religion but a religion is also a belief system. Just to emphasize my point, we know that in some countries dog is a delicacy but you would not expect to be offered dog in our society no matter where your host is from. If a vegan chooses not to eat cow, pig, dog, chicken of fish why would that be different?

Living in France or holidaying in France as vegan is easy and getting easier by the day. There are new vegan restaurants opening every month and vegan shops on line for food, personal care and pet food will deliver to your door next day. All the excuses in the article fail to justify doing what she knows is not right.

I was a vegetarian for 12 years, more or less, because I have an intolerance to egg white (a digestive food intolerance rather than immune intolerance) clearly avoided them entirely, but I often drank milk, ate cheese, butter and other dairy products. Vegans I have known did not do that - it was just the one step I could not manage, but much of the time I nonetheless lived more or less vegan, not having my dairy produce at all. I stopped because my work took me to places where I had no choice other than to accept hospitality or not be able to work. In that sense I understand 95% vegan perfectly well, my diet was not comparable but I would like it to have been. However, when people who have almost nothing prepare food for guests that includes the only meat they might have had for many months, then ethics alone demand one is gracious. I began to 'normalise' my diet and as time went on and I got more and more work that often took in 'official' stuff that saw me being invited to lunch or dinner by people giving me jobs, I also had to be gracious. The balance was to eat healthily, perhaps not 'in the field' when working. I have had the great honour (sic) of in two countries being taken to a McDonalds for a 'special' meal. How loathsome that occasion may be I have to keep it to myself. There has been as bad and worse often enough. So, my normal lifestyle is to eat moderately. Even then when I had a period of bad health I put on weight and thus mess my metabolism about a fair bit. So I turned back to periodic fruitarianism. I can eat any amount of fruit as it is, I love it. As a family we also try our hardest to buy and eat ethically, thus from local markets and shops where bio is offered, old style farming and I even help out with the hunt in return for a share of what they get. That latter point will naturally enrage vegetarians and vegans, but then I have been in parts of the world where there are people who need to hunt as part of their survival strategy and also where there are still hunter gatherers, not many of them still survive in this millennium. As far as I understand, in rural France hunting is a well established tradition. The game they shoot is against quotas and whilst accidents happen and animals are wounded rather than killed immediately, they honour the animals rather than gloat most of the time. I also know it is not force farmed meat.

It has been a contradictory life in that respect. I actually enjoyed my 12 meat free years but have also enjoyed the many years since. I have a strong ethical approach to keeping animals and hunting that works for me. Vegetarianism works best when it is personal and whenever come out with my food history to many vegetarians I tend to be chastised. In my turn I always respected choice and did not say whether I agreed with people's eating habits or not and hope that that is what I can enjoy. As said, it is personal and I also endorse what Catherine says below, my egg intolerance means that I have had endless hours of people telling me the cake I cannot eat will not harmed me because the egg in it has been made into something else, then cooked. No, true it does not per se harm me, but a couple of hours vomiting gives no pleasure either. It is choice and what we call ourselves is probably only our business rather than those who tell us what we are or are not. I think Elizabeth is just about as right as anybody can be but then I also think everybody else is right, at least for themselves but not as judges of everybody else.

I'll get Elizabeth to answer you as I can't speak for her, Maureen.

Terry, it's not for ethical reasons then? My stomach would not be able to cope with meat after not eating it for almost 20 years. How can anyone be a part time vegetarian. Unfortunately, in my mind, she is not vegetarian at all.

I think what Elizabeth means, Maureen, is that 95 per cent of the time she eats nothing but fruit and veg and the other five per cent she's eating out and accepts what her hosts offer her.

The comment I appreciate most in this blog is the advice to be a gracious guest. I am so tired of people who accept your hospitality with a dozen caveats. I am respectful of anyone with a legitimate food allergy and try to accommodate vegetarians and vegans but enough is enough. imo, 99% of the people who say they are gluten intolerant have probably had gastric distress from pigging out on highly processed bread or sugary cakes, pastries or cereals, which aren’t good for anyone. These people ought to spend one day with celiac disease–THAT is gluten intolerance.

How can one be 95% vegetarian? I describe myself as a non-meat eater, not a vegetarian, and think this is the best description for my situation.