As a young person trying to find his or her way in the world, it can be hard to stick to your values while also making the most of what life has to offer. I think this is something that we can all relate to in one way or another. In my case, my choice to be a vegan for both health and ethical reasons has posed problems (especially in the eyes of others) regarding my “making the most of” certain experiences and aspects of life, such as studying abroad.
Before I went abroad, certain family members or close friends would say to me things like “you’re not going to be vegan in Italy, right?” or “I’m just concerned about how much you’re going to miss out because of your diet”. Although it came from a place of love, it was hard for me to hear those sorts of things. In the end I stood by my choice to lead a vegan lifestyle, and I encourage everyone to stay true the aspects of him or herself that make them a little different as well! Sticking to my vegan morals in Florence has been an absolutely wonderful experience that has taught me more about food and life than I could ever imagine. I can’t wait to share what I have learned thus far and to clear the air about some of the things my fellow vegan travelers may be worried about.
Life as a vegan in Florence is not nearly as difficult as one might think. I have yet to be caught in a situation where I have been faced with absolutely no vegan options, there are even numerous restaurants that cater specifically to vegans! If you’re worried about a language barrier just remember that long as you’re patient and polite when ordering, the waiters will do everything they can to get you the meal you need. Of course some of the does depend on a few things, like how picky you are about your noodle and pizza dough batters, and things that your food comes into contact with.
In the United States I always check to make sure that no eggs were used in the noodles or pizza crust batter. If you choose to stay strict about the egg content in your noodles and crusts while in Italy, be aware that most freshly made noodles will contain eggs while store-bought or pre-made noodles will usually be free of eggs. I have also found that when there is a gluten-free option available it will rarely contain eggs, so I opt for gluten free whenever possible to save myself the worry and hassle of asking my waiter about eggs.
Another thing you might be worried about is cheese. Between pasta and pizza, you can basically consider cheese its own food group here in Italy. What I forgot to recognize in my nervous fromage frenzy before I departed for Italy was that here in Europe they don’t lay on the sauce and over portion everything the way we do in America. This means that cheese is added tastefully, not dumped and slathered on everything in massive quantities – and it’s easy for them to leave it off altogether! A lot of the places I have been to even offer a cheese free pizza which is just crust and tomato sauce (tip: I like to ask for basil on top as well). Keeping this in mind, as long as you’re not ordering something like ravioli where the cheese is innately part of the dish, you can easily veganize most vegetarian dishes just by ordering them “senza fromaggio” or “without cheese”!
Finally, I’ll address the elephant in the room – how to get through studying abroad in Italy without indulging in the famous Italian gelato. This one is actually much simpler than you would think; the vast majority of gelatarias offer sorbet (or “sorbetto”), the same diary free option usually offered in America! In addition to this, however, there are a handful of places that have other dairy free flavors – I’ve had vegan Nutella, chocolate, mocha, vanilla, the list goes on. There are a number of gelatarias around Florence that even have the words “vegan friendly” or a green “V” posted on their signs in plain sight, making it easy to ensure that you’ll have a dairy free gelato option.
Finally, if you’re still worried about staying vegan in Italy, here’s a short list of some of my go-to vegan dishes to order in a pinch in Florence: spaghetti with tomato sauce, minestrone or vegetable soup, grilled vegetables, marinara pizza or vegetable pizza with no cheese, tomato bruschetta, vegetable panino, or any vegan salad. In addition, if you’re looking for any vegan restaurant recommendations or additional information about my vegan Italian experience, check out my personal blog www.keepitsimplesophie.com!
At the end of the day, studying abroad is your experience that’s meant to help you flourish and grow – not to make you give up your ideals or change who you are! Through sticking to my morals abroad, I have learned that maintaining confidence in my ideals and not letting others tell me who to be is the most rewarding way to live. So I’ll leave you with this: Be fearlessly and unapologetically you, no matter what that might mean, and your world will open up to you!
– Anna is a summer 2017 SAI Florence student from the University of San Francisco.