Amber Johansen writes for The Odessa Journal a charming column, a blog about the city and people. She is passionate about vintage fashion, vegan food and wine.
She has lived in Odessa since autumn 2019
Veganism is a philosophy and way of life which excludes, as far as possible, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purposeVegan Society
The concept of plant-based living is in-vogue, quite literally, as at the dawn of the past year Vogue Ukraine announced that the “year of the vegan” had arrived. Anything that is pretty zeitgeisty is seldom ignored by trend-following Ukrainians. Presumptively, the main drivers of this shift away from consuming animal products are Millennials and Gen-Zers, taking heed of the increasingly plant-based lifestyles of their European counterparts. Take my homeland for example – it is thought that veganism is now a lifestyle choice for up to 3.5 million people living in the U.K. Whether it’s for animal welfare, environmental concerns or for personal health, there are many reasons people are changing their habits. Over the past 2 years in Odessa I’ve observed vegan eateries beginning to delicately pepper the city and the plant-based selection in supermarkets has seemingly doubled. Even the more carnivorous businesses have laced their menus with vegan-friendly options. No longer is veganism marginalised – it’s blending into the local culture.
I am often asked if it is difficult to be vegan in Odessa – the short answer is no. I hold on to my ethics and values like a koala grasping to the branches of a eucalyptus tree, so I can effortlessly resist temptations, though admittedly perhaps I’ve fallen from my tree a couple of times. In actuality, a surprising amount of traditional Ukrainian foods are either compatible with veganism or can be veganized. Take for example how many varieties of vereniky or borscht are veggie-friendly, of course providing you hold back on the dollop of smetana.The concept of a veganism isn’t actually a new idea in this part of the world either, as Ukrainians who follow Christianity participate every year in the Great Lent, which requires a mostly plant-based diet. This 40-day holy period traditionally includes weekday fasting until noon, as well as meat and dairy abstinence.
If your curiosity is piqued, you may wish to know exactly where the vegan-friendly hotspots are in Odessa.
For those who fancy a dine-in experience, eateries in central Odessa that offer entirely, or almost entirely, vegan menus include (non-exhaustively) Vegano Hooligano, True Restaurant, Alive Cafe, Gaia, Vitary and Zelen Cafe. Each location also offers a take-away service. Wild Sandwich is another notable eatery, offering a completely plant-based menu set in the beautiful outdoors of Green Theatre in Park Shevchenko.
Anyone who wishes to stay cosy at home can order delicious pizzas, burgers and sushi rolls with Chill Out Vegan – a small business I happened upon thanks to the omnipotence of Instagram’s algorithm. For dessert, The Rawlands Odessa has heavenly melt-in-your-mouth cakes, tarts and chocolates that are also suitable for those following a raw diet. I ordered a selection box for my last birthday and they went down an absolute treat.
Not forgetting self-catering households or those on a strict budget, there are plenty of supplies in any local grocery store or market. Fresh produce, pulses, grains and the local favourite – buckwheat – are all readily available and affordable. Speciality stores such as Vegetus, which has recently opened a new branch on Hrets’ka Street, offer an even wider selection, with vegan cheeses, faux meats and dairy-free sweet treats on offer.
I have touched upon only the crumbs of the feast available in Odessa, so with all these wonderful choices on the doorstep, I hope this trend will be here to stay. After all, a lifestyle choice should be exactly that – a choice made to last a lifetime.
To be continued…