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Thursday, December 3, 2020

World Vegan Month: Being plant-based in Russia

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For World Vegan Month, The Vegan Review is sharing the stories of vegans from 30 countries around the world. Here’s one from Russia.

Ekaterina Bondarenko, 24, is a designer and co-founder of Veggie People from Russia.

She went vegan in August 2011. “‘Vegan’ in my language is ‘веган’,” she says.

Why did you go vegan?

I became a vegan mainly for animal ethical reasons. I read philosophical books and was attracted to certain concepts, such as the concept of non-causing suffering from Buddhism. Later, I also learned about environmental issues. I wanted to reduce the amount of suffering in this world practically and stop being part of toxic industries in every sense. So being a vegan is the least I can do.

What was the biggest challenge when you transitioned?

The biggest challenge for me was the lack of understanding and support from my family and friends. But soon, I stopped being upset about it and the people around me started taking me seriously. It was also great difficulties with food, or rather, to diversify it. Nine years ago, we didn’t have a single well-known vegan store in Russia, especially outside of the capital (I live in Yekaterinburg). Vegan products were considered underground: tofu, soy meat, vegan sausages — all this appeared much later.

What was the reaction of your loved ones when you went plant-based? How did they adapt?

I was living with my parents when I became vegan. Of course, they took it negatively and were worried about my health. They were sure that my veganism was not serious but soon they became convinced of the opposite. They learned more about veganism and started supporting me.

Who are your influences?

I have a long list of influencers, some of them include Melanie Joy, Ed Winters, Katrina Fox, Joseph Poore, Paul Watson, Tobias Leenaert, Yuval Noah Harari. And of course, my boyfriend, who always supports me. Together, we’ve made an online project, Veggie People, where we talk about many vegan influencers.

What’s your favourite thing to cook now? Have you tried to veganise a local traditional dish?

I like to cook a lot of different dishes, from Italian pizza to Japanese rolls. Most often we just invent recipes on our own or adjust it to our taste.

We veganise our local traditional dishes such as borscht, dumplings, okroshka, pies and pancakes with different fillings.

What vegan product do you wish your country had available?

In fact, I’m quite happy with the variety of vegan products that are available to me now. The only negative is that all of this located in specialised vegan stores in the city centre. I don’t use cosmetics, so I almost didn’t face difficulties with their availability.

How accessible and affordable are vegan products in your country?

The market in Russia for vegan products is actively developing and we have almost the same products as in Europe. But unfortunately, this only applies to major cities at the moment. I’m lucky: my city, with over a million people, already has several vegetarian cafes and shops, and also one vegan bakery. I would like to see vegan products on the shelves of regular supermarkets, not only in highly specialised places.

What’s your favourite spot for vegan food in your city?

I usually don’t eat out. But if I were to eat out, I would choose GoBakery — the only fully vegan place in my city at the moment.

What is the one city you’d like to visit as a vegan?

My boyfriend and I are vegans on a motorcycle. We travel a lot and find vegan discoveries in almost every city. In our project, Veggie Rider, we talk about vegan travel. However, I have never thought about any specific cities that I want to visit as a vegan. I think that list would include Singapore.

I’ve also heard that Berlin is really good for vegan food and has many vegan restaurants. I’ve actually been there once before, but back then I wasn’t vegan.

What’s the biggest roadblock to veganism in your country?

Many people in Russia still don’t know what the word ‘vegan’ means in general, many people mistake it for vegetarianism. But despite this, the number of vegans in my country is growing. I think we lack effective cause-based marketing campaigns aimed at raising awareness. And of course, we want to see more local companies that change meat, not people — I’m talking about local producers of quality vegan products.

Read our in-depth story about veganism in Russia.

Olivia
Olivia Rafferty
Olivia is the Assistant Editor of The Vegan Review. An aspiring Middle Eastern correspondent currently studying journalism at City, University of London, she is passionate about the planet, she believes veganism is the first step to solving the complexities of climate change.