Vegans in the Kebab Belt

Vegans in the Kebab Belt

Turkish kebab and Turkish delight are probably the duo that comes to one’s mind when one thinks of Turkish cuisine. Well, yes, Turks eat kebab and nearly every city has a kebab cooking method of its own. But for some, it is all about maça, spirulina, chia and almond milk these days. 

Probably vegan is the new black or with all the terror and wars surrounding us, people are more into their conscience, who knows… But there is the growing vegan community in Turkey. Some are having their difficulties, while others think it is not big of a deal existing in the “Kebab Belt” as a vegan.

I just used the definition “Kebab Belt” but one thing Turkish vegans do not like is associating Turkish cuisine only with kebab, köfte and etc. One Turkish vegan, Gürkan Yılmaz, thinks this is pure orientalism. Some vegans think it is no different than being vegan in any European country. Aybuke Durmuş outlines grains and seeds are commonly used in Turkish cuisine, so vegans can find vegan food in traditional Turkish restaurants. Durmuş also says fruits and vegetables are much cheaper than northern European countries, so being vegan does not cost a fortune in Turkey. And she has point, according to Hurriyet’s survey: the most adored Turkish food in Turkey is stuffed grape leaves, cooked with olive oil. That is actually a vegan dish and it apparently beats all the kebab and köfte when it comes to Turkish taste.

But of course there is the tradition factor from time to time. A vegan university student, Yunus Şendağ, explains how his parents reacted at first. But as they saw he had already made up his mind, his mother now willingly cooks him Turkish vegan dishes herself. Şendağ gets a lot of questions from his friends like “This is the rule of the nature, won’t you feel sick after some time?” Şendağ once had the argument about Eid al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice). This was a dead end apparently but he did try to tell others how animals suffer just because of human pleasure. 

Yunus Bayramoğlu is a vegan student currently studying psychology. Bayramoğlu has his complaints. He says when he goes to a regular restaurant and asks if there are vegan options, waiters look at him as if “he is from outer space.” Even at his school’s restaurant, he cannot get a clear answer whether one dish is vegan or not. He thinks being vegan is perceived as spoiled rich kids’ thing. Bayramoğlu says if there is a vegan dish on any menu, then the price is tripled, which he thinks is absurd.

The first and probably only vegan from Kahramanmaraş, Onur Ova, says he is fed up with the neighborhood pressure. People constantly tell him veganism is unhealthy and he is going to get sick. He always tries to inform people about animal rights but usually he gets laughed at. He does not give up though, Ova thinks people should be more informed about veganism. Ova’s family is quite supportive his mother cooks some traditional Turkish dishes with soy for Ova. Sometimes he grills mushrooms at family BBQ gatherings. It seems he copes within his family but he thinks he would be happier with a vegan girlfriend. 

Italian vegan Virginia Patrone, gives clues about how to survive as a vegan in Turkey in her blog

The Istanbul vegan community often organizes gatherings through Facebook. Vegans get together to share food they have cooked and to keep each other informed about vegan tips and tricks. And obviously to socialize with people who are like them.