As someone who’s plant-based, I didn’t find it that difficult to get nourishing meals in France. The country has a reputation for meat- and dairy-heavy meals, but it’s certainly possible to be vegetarian or vegan.
After studying abroad in Bordeaux and living in Dijon for a year (2018-2019), here are my observations and tips for eating plant-based in France.
The French Perception of Veganism/Vegetarianism
It likely boils down to culture. Food is essential to French culture, and most traditional dishes are centered around meat. In 2021, the mayor of Lyon announced that the school cafeterias would temporarily stop serving meat daily, and there was an uproar. The policy was created to help serve students more quickly during COVID, as one meat-free meal option could work for not only omnivores but also those with dietary restrictions.
In response to the meat-free meals, farmers stormed the streets of Lyon with their tractors. One of the protestors’ signs read: “manger de la viande est la base de l’humanité” (eating meat is the basis of humanity). This just goes to show how important meat is to certain locals.
In parts of France, there is also confusion on what vegetarianism or veganism is. When I studied abroad in Bordeaux, my program visited le Dordogne, a historic and rural part of Southwestern France. At the local restaurants, I was offered fish as a “vegetarian” meal.
La Roque-Gageac in Dordogne. Some of the prettiest parts of France are the more rural parts, which unfortunately don’t have as many vegan options.
All that said, I didn’t actually have a ton of trouble being plant-based in France, and I never felt judged for it. I did have to go to a couple more stores to get certain groceries, but part of that was due to price (I was making 1200 euros/month as an English lectrice). I was also able to eat out occasionally, and I enjoyed the veggie options for the most part.
I think these specific factors made it easier:
- Living in decently-sized cities (Bordeaux and Dijon)
- Cooking most of my meals
- Preferring ethnic cuisines
- Being plant-based/flexitarian instead of vegan (at the time, I avoided animal products ~85% of the time, but did sometimes eat eggs and desserts with dairy products in them)
If you’re planning to live in a small town, don’t want to cook, and don’t like ethnic cuisines, you’re going to have a much harder time being plant-based in France (but you’d probably have a hard time anywhere in the world).
Keep in mind that I’m also going to focus on the dietary aspect of avoiding animal products in this post; since veganism is a lifestyle, there may be more challenges if you’re planning to purchase vegan toiletries, clothing, etc.
Where to Get Plant-Based Groceries in France
Whether you’re visiting France for vacation or planning to live there, knowing where to find groceries as a vegan/vegetarian can make your stay a lot easier.
I was able to find nearly all of my plant-based staples in France, including:
- Peanut butter
- Premade meat substitutes like veggie burgers
- Plant-based milks
- Soy sauce
- Chia seeds
- Vegan yogurt (which was surprisingly way cheaper than options in the US)
The only things that were more difficult to find were hemp seeds and nutritional yeast. I usually brought these over from the US. Spices were also often sold in small quantities, so I brought those as well (I use a lot of turmeric, cumin, curry powder since I do a lot of South Asian + East Asian fusion cooking).
For me, the main difference in American vs. French grocery shopping was the number of shops I had to go to. In the US, I can get basically all my staples at one store. In France, I went to several shops, though not every week.
Most grocery shops in city centers are corner shops, which don’t have a lot of meat substitutes. So, I’d do the bulk of my shopping at a huge supermarket called Carrefour in a mall.
Tofu, lentils, and soy sauce were usually expensive in French stores, so I’d go to an Asian grocery store for those.
Since the peanut butters in most supermarkets are processed, I’d go to a health food shop for natural peanut butter. These small organic shops are quite common in France, and they’re great for vegans and vegetarians. Some popular chains are:
- Bio c’ Bon
- La Vie Saine
Zero waste stores such as the chain Day by Day are also a good option for dried goods; I got my brown rice, pasta, and TVP (textured vegetable protein) there.
While this sounds like a lot of grocery shopping, I didn’t mind it since I enjoyed going to the city center. I also only visited the specialty shops once every couple weeks or every month, at most.
I found the cost of groceries to be pretty similar to that in the US; as a single person I spent around 190 euros per month. On eating out, I spent around 70 euros/month.
Are there Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants?
In traditional French restaurants, you probably won’t find many, if any, plant-based options. And even if they do have some, they’re probably overpriced or not very tasty. I’ve only eaten a few times in traditional restaurants, and each time, I regretted it; I can recall a potato-based veggie burger in Paris and a flavorless vegetable dish in Dijon.
The one exception are crêperies, as there are usually a couple options without meat, but they usually include cream or cheese (the crêpe itself is also traditionally made with egg and milk, so they’re not vegan-friendly).
There is one popular traditional French dish that is accidentally vegan, and you’ve probably heard of it—it’s called ratatouille. This vegetable stew may be an option in French restaurants, but there’s no protein, so it’s not the most satisfying meal, though it is yummy.
To get good plant-based food, you’ll want to go to a restaurant specific to that. In bigger cities like Paris, Bordeaux, and Lyon, there are plenty of plant-based restaurants (see my vegan guide to Bordeaux to see some examples). There are usually also more ethnic restaurants that have veggie-friendly options, such as falafel or tofu dishes.
In smaller cities, it’s a bit more of a challenge. When I was living in Dijon, a smaller town, there was one fully vegetarian Indian restaurant with vegan options, a veggie-friendly Korean restaurant, a veggie-friendly noodle bar, and a small bar that had vegetarian meals on certain days. After a quick Google search though, I can see that there are a few more options four years later.
Some of the amazing vegan food I had in Paris; unfortunately, Hank Pizza is permanently closed, but its sister restaurant Hank Burger is still open, and the loaded falafel pitas at L’As du Fallafel are still going strong!
When I was traveling and visiting small villages, I was usually able to find at least one place with vegan food, but it wasn’t always the tasiest or most filling. I also sometimes had to scrounge together a meal from different sides on the menu. If you’re vegetarian, you should have less of a problem while traveling.
Places Where It’s More Challenging to Eat Plant-Based
There are certain situations where you may want to pack food or eat beforehand if you’re plant-based. These are the two most common that I encountered:
A major airport like CDG will have veggie-friendly options (I had the best vegan lentil salad there once). But, in even major train stations, there may not be great vegan options, though there will usually be vegetarian ones.
It’s a big part of French culture to socialize in bars, and most food offered isn’t plant-based, other than fries. I noticed that English bars usually were more veggie-friendly, however; the English bar in Dijon even had vegan meatballs as a side.
While I did have to go out of my way for certain groceries, I ultimately didn’t find it too challenging to be plant-based in France. Restaurants were trickier, but this is the case even in the US, especially when it comes to finding good vegan dishes.
If you’re vegetarian, you likely won’t have many issues living in France. You’ll be able to have a lot of traditional foods, including pastries, crêpes, and cheeses.
If you’re vegan, you will have more challenges, but I believe it’s still doable as someone who avoided most animal products when I was living there. I would just recommend living in a larger city if you can—I think a city like Dijon might be too small if you’re planning to eat out regularly. You’re also more likely to find a community of plant-based folks in larger cities, which will make it easier to coordinate social events involving food.
If you’ve lived in France or visited, let us know what your experience was as someone who is plant-based!