Oktoberfest, the 16-day festival in Munich at which two things — (1) beer and (2) meat — are usually served, has gone vegan. For the first time this year, people can now dine on soy cutlet fricassee, enjoy some Kasespatzle (cheese noodles) that are cheese- and egg-less and forego Schweinebraten (roast pork) for soy medallions.
Some other traditional offerings such as Reiberdatschi (similar to a potato pancake) and Sauerkraut (red cabbage) are vegetarian, though not necessarily vegan. Vegan wine is being offered at some tents alongside steins of beer.
The new offerings are not only meant to make Oktoberfest more welcoming to foreign tourists who forego meat, but also a sign of changing dietary preferences in Germany. The Association of German Vegetarians (VEBU) says that 8 to 9 percent of the population — a total of 7 million people — are vegetarian, the second highest number in the European Union after Italy. Out of those many vegetarians in Germany, 800,000 are vegan.
As VEBU spokeswoman Stephanie Stragies says to ABC News, “Whether it’s environmentalism, climate protection or health concerns, there is a growing awareness among Germans when it comes to the vegetarian agenda.”
In August, the country’s eating habits became a subject of debate during election campaigns when the Green party called for a weekly “Veggie Day” in corporate cafeterias where workers eat a free lunch. The proposal was met with “ire and ridicule,” with some (clearly meat-eating) opponents responding “What’s next? Green-Shirt Day?” and turning “hands off my sausage” into a slogan. Agricultural Minister Ilse Aigner went so far as to say that “we don’t place much stock in paternalism. At the end of the day, we need a balanced diet and meat is part of that.”
The incursion of vegan offerings into Oktoberfest shows that times are changing in a country where average meat consumption is 132 pounds per person annually. The owners of the Herzkasperl tent, which is serving vegan food, decided to do so after their son was an apprentice at a vegan restaurant in Munich. As one worker, Martin Jonas, explains, “vegan food is the best way to ensure that people of all religions, as well as those that don’t eat animal products out of conviction, aren’t excluded from the festivities. Though it’s hard for Bavarians to change their approach, it makes sense.”
Those with other dietary restrictions, such as an intolerance to gluten, would still be advised to skip Oktoberfest. All the beer served at the festival must be made according to the German Brewers Federation’s regulations, meaning that it must contain only malt (i.e., malted barley, which contains gluten), hops, yeast and water.
While so much Kasespatzle has been selling that Herzkasperl‘s cook has been busy filling orders, the vegan offerings haven’t been as popular as the usual servings of sausage, pork, etc. ”After all, meat and beer is what this event is about, and that’s not about to change,” Jonas notes.
He does underscore that change can happen, even at at 200-year-old festival. “Forty years ago, traditional Bavarians would have trembled at the prospect of open homosexuality at Oktoberfest, and now we celebrate ‘Gay Sunday’ here every year. Gluten-free beer could be next,” he says.
It doesn’t hurt to take what Green member Katrin Göring-Eckardt said in the midst of last summer’s spat about the calls for a weekly “Veggie Day.” “One doesn’t need two burgers every day,” she pointed out. Neither do Oktoberfest crowds have to consume half a million chickens, 116 whole oxen and 115,000 pork sausages in just the space of two weeks!
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