Hi everyone! I am very excited to bring you the latest episode of the Everyday Heroes series, where people just like you tell their stories of how they embraced veganism. Today I have a special guest for you: please meet Petr from Russia!
I’ve personally known Petr for years: we went to college together in the Russian city of Tula back in the day before I moved to the US in 2006. A few years ago I found Petr again on Facebook. I was surprised to find out that he and his wife were vegan – at the time, I was far from considering veganism for myself as I thought that vegan lifestyle was too hard to maintain. I suspected that in Russia, vegans must have an even harder time as the winters are very long and cold, and fresh produce tends to cost too much.
Fast forward to this day, I’ve told my story of going vegan many times over. Recently I got in touch with Petr once again and asked him if he would like to share what it’s like to be vegan in Russia with the readers of Vegan Runner Eats. Petr graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions, so today I’m delighted to publish his story!
(A little bonus for me: since both Petr and I majored in foreign languages in college, he was able to write his story in English – there was no need for me to translate it! Get this: Petr majored in German and took English as his minor, whereas I devoted all of my attention to my English major and barely put any effort into my minor in German. I’d be lucky to put two words together in German these days, while Petr is able to write so well in English!)
Enough introductions, here’s what Petr has to say:
My “vegan story” started about 4 years ago when I found out about the existence of vegan people for the first time. I was a hearty meat-eater in those days, and couldn’t imagine living without eating meat for more than 24 hours. In 2010 I met my future business partner and friend from Switzerland Dr. Ernst Walter Henrich. He told me about vegan lifestyle and about his initiative called ProVegan [Note from Alina: the site offers lots of information on vegan diet and lifestyle in 12 languages including Russian, German, English, and other European languages].
I was so fascinated by the idea that one can avoid or even cure so many dangerous diseases only by means of healthy eating that I decided to translate Dr. Henrich’s brochure into Russian. Already while reading it for the first time, I changed my diet greatly. I cannot say that I shifted to being vegan overnight, but I started noticing that there are many possibilities to eat and live in a different, healthier way.
Sometime later, Dr. Henrich gave me a book called The China Study
by T. Colin Campbell. This book was a turning point for me. The book explains in a scientific but a very easy to read manner the real causes of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and so on, and talks about how to avoid them. The most impressive point for me was the statistics about little children and teenagers who already have the primary stages of many “food-caused” diseases, which made me concerned about the health of my own son who was almost 2 years old by that time. I’ve been vegan ever since, for more than 2 years already.
I noticed first health improvements after two or three months of vegan lifestyle. I had more energy and stamina. I started working out again, spending more time outside, and – you may laugh – my sense of smell got much better. The latter improvement is very helpful when I go grocery shopping, as now I can easily tell which fruits or vegetables are fresher.
I was surprised to learn that there are a lot of Russians who are vegan or vegetarian, but I don’t keep in touch with a lot of them.
Being a vegan definitely makes you different. In Russia, we have to deal with various challenges pretty regularly. For example:
1. It is harder to socialize. If you are out with friends, the only topic is why you are eating some nuts or fruit when the others are enjoying roasted chicken or grilled meat. Moreover, if you say you are vegan, next day you will get some posts on Facebook saying that you are a freak in some form. For many people it is a hard point to overcome. People seldom come to your place since they believe that “you’ve got nothing to eat”. They call you a fan of “hungry lifestyle”. The popular belief is that vegetables are something what is eaten with food, but aren’t food itself.
2. It is sometimes difficult to cook at the beginning, as the variety of fresh vegetables in the grocery store is limited. We eat a lot of grains, beans, nuts, and dried fruit. My wife’s parents have a garden, so we get a lot of produce from them – zucchini, turnips, red beets, tomatoes, potatoes. Mushrooms and berries come from the forest in summer and fall, and we often freeze them until the next harvest.
Freshly picked mushrooms straight from the forest. Mushroom foraging is very popular in Russia in early fall.
3. Non-dairy milk is extremely difficult to buy: it is very expensive, and you can find it only in a couple of stores in our city.
4. Eating out is also not easy: usually all you can get is some side dishes. Things change during the Great Lent when many people reduce animal food consumption, and restaurants adjust their menus to meet customers’ needs. [Note from Alina: the Great Lent in Russia usually starts at the end of the winter right after the Russian equivalent of Mardi Gras, and lasts for seven weeks. Historically, the Russian Orthodox Church insisted that everyone give up all animal products and oil for the duration of the lent to match the sufferings of Jesus Christ, but in the 20th century the tradition was lost. In the recent years, the Great Lent has been gaining popularity once again since a lot of Russian people are trying to get in touch with their roots. That’s why, as Petr says here, restaurants offer more veg-friendly foods during the Lent.]
5. Television often says that vegetarians and vegans are insane.
6. Parents and grandparents take the last place in my list of challenges but sometimes have the greatest influence. For the non-Russian readers I must make a remark that in Russia people often live together with the parents for a very long time, even after getting married and starting a family. It is generally typical to listen to the parents’ advice. Thus, it is very difficult for many people to change their diet especially because of the relatives they live with.
For me, none of these points were really relevant, though sometimes they were rather disturbing, especially in the beginning.
Petr’s experience with making baby pinecone preserves – bet you didn’t know baby pinecones were edible!
Since very few pre-made vegan-friendly foods are available in stores and restaurants, you have to learn how to cook yourself. During our first 3-4 weeks of being vegan, my wife and I decided to simply “overcome” it. Some of the meals we made at that time came out less than delicious, as we just needed more practice. Then we learned that using spices can improve the taste of our foods quite a bit. Spices contain a lot of microelements, which makes using them even more appealing. I travel a lot, and the first thing I buy at a new place are spices for my kitchen at home.
Our typical menu for the day:
Breakfast: Tea, juice or water, very rarely coffee; oatmeal with nuts, apples, pears, different berries (or dried fruit in the winter). I cook hot cereal with soybean milk or water with a pinch of salt. The goal is to get quick energy (drinks, wheat) and slow energy (nuts, harder cereals). Sometimes I take Vitamin B12 and Omega 3 supplements.
Lunch: Soup, hot and spicy. For the second course – some cooked grains and/or stewed vegetables, rather often water plants. Fresh vegetables and fruit for dessert.
Dinner: Rice, potatoes, buckwheat, beans, vegetable or fruit salad, sometimes vegan pizza. We rotate lunch and dinner recipes quite a lot.
Snacks: Nuts, pastries (not too much!), chocolate 65%+ (it’s good for our brain).
A piece of advice for those who are new to veganism:
There’s no need to be afraid! Do it for yourself for your own health. Try to be vegan for at least 40-60 days, and you will see and feel great changes in your body and mind. The hardest point is not to jump to your former dietary habits when you are hungry. Keep this in mind and always have a snack available. An apple or a banana will help you overcome temptation.
Vary the food you eat, eat as much as you want, but don’t go overboard with oil, salt, sugar or processed foods. Once you fully embrace eating the vegan way, you will discover the amazing flavors of food that you have never noticed before.
Petr, thank you so much for sharing your story with us! Good luck to you and your family on your vegan journey!
All original photos in this post are courtesy of Petr.
If you’d like to be featured in the Everyday Heroes series, please message me at veganrunnereats(AT)gmail(DOT)com.
To see other episodes of the Everyday Heroes series, click here.
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