I Walked the Camino de Santiago as a Vegan and you can too

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This year in May and June, (2012), I walked along with my husband, the Camino de Santiago as a vegan as well as sugar and gluten free. I spent a good amount of time before leaving on the internet looking for information about being vegan on the Camino…but to no avail. So, I decided to keep notes of what I ate during our trip to help others with this challenge. Because I have a minor problem with wheat and other gluten products, I was also very conscious of the details of how I remained this way for 99% of my Camino. I have been a vegan for about 15 years.

The wish to be vegan for me stems from three different “routes”. First is for the benefit to our planet, secondly are the health benefits for me and thirdly for the lives of animals. I practice yoga regularly and believe in “ahimsa” which means “do no harm”. These three reasons fit with my spiritual practice and is important for me and I knew it would be important on the Camino as I was looking at the trip as a spiritual experience. I also believe that I should allow others to live as they wish so my intention here is to provide information to those who are interested in traveling the Camino this way and not to profess that this is the “only” way. One big lesson that we both learned on the Camino was that it represents life itself and that there is no “one” way. Each of us needs to find our own “way”. I found that planning was important but letting go is also important. Trying to control oneself or others at all times is impossible.

Spain, is a meat and fish eating country and we found that this was true in the north. Many people did not understand the words vegetarian or vegan (a bit like 15 years ago in the USA). I realized early on that I needed to ask many questions in restaurants before choosing items. My level of Spanish was sufficient for understanding all food labels and this would have been difficult without the language. One interesting note about buying vegetables in stores…many would not allow us to choose and bag our own vegetables. One has to wait for a store employee to choose them and weigh and bag them. Their reason is that they do not like the food to be handled by many people to prevent bruising of the fruits/vegetables. They also want to reduce the transmission of germs. Many of the stores had beautiful displays.

Here are the basics of our eating on the Camino:

  • Most days I started off eating fruit and/or 1 or 2 rice or corn cakes for breakfast with a cup of tea. The most common activity for most pilgrims was to stop for a “café con leche” after 1-2 hours of walking and I would usually have a cup of tea. For those vegans who eat bread there was usually bread or toast available in most of the “bars” where one eats and or drinks all day. Juice, often fresh, was always available.
  • Lunch would usually include nuts, corncakes and fruit. There were a few times during the early days on the camino when there was no option at all and so my “off vegan” moments included what the Spanish call a Spanish tortilla, torta or omelette which consisted of mostly potato, onion and some egg. For me I felt that the protein was important when I did not have any nuts or beans. After several days on the camino I discovered stores that had both nuts and beans – usually lentils and garbanzos and here and there red or other beans. Some might cringe at the following…I put my beans or lentils in little baggies and ate them cold along the way, with my spork. I actually liked this snack, sometime scooped with some endive or lettuce.
  • Snacks were nuts, fruit, veggies, beans, corn or rice cakes (bread for Richard), potato chips, occasional dark chocolate (sugar free for me).
  • Dinner for most folks was a “Pilgrim’s Meal” – 3 courses including wine or water. These meals always contained fish or meat and for us was not a favorite as we also do not drink alcohol. We did, however, manage and usually had a salad (reminding them to hold the tuna and egg), a vegetable dish (many times was white asparagus or menestre de verduras -vegetable stew). Pasta with tomato sauce or some vegetables was often an option for the pilgrim meals and I did it eat it on a very rare occasion, though it does not sit well in my stomach. In the several cities including Pamplona, Burgos, Leon and Santiago we found vegetarian restaurants and a great vegan restaurant in Burgos. We found vegetarian paella in many places and this was a delicious alternative.

When options were slip, I concocted our own meals in the many albergues that had kitchens. This usually involved going shopping in the little villages for some vegetables and beans. Using either a stove or microwave I was able to cook delicious meals. There were often some spices or condiments in the albergues that could be used by pilgrims. From time to time I found microwaveable rice in small packets that I served with a hot meal and we often had salads to go with the meals. Richard would enjoy the many breads of Spain which were available in every town.

Please contact Susan via email if you want any additional information. She is happy to support anyone who plans to walk the Camino as a vegan. It was one of the best trips of her life. You can find Susan’s blog at this link Susan Neulist and email sneulist {@} gmail.com

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3 comments on “I Walked the Camino de Santiago as a Vegan and you can too
  1. Brigid says:

    My brother and I also walked the camino as vegans, in 2003. We were fine all across the country, even took the via del norte which is quite remote and hilly, as it runs along the picos de europa. It was a wonderful experience. Very difficult to convince the waiters that we really did want to eat “ensalada *sin* atun”! Our most frequent response was a horrified “Sin atun?! No!” Inevitably, the salad would arrive con atun and we resolved to the inevitability of eating around the tuna after some many deliveries of tuna salad.

    I walked the camino a second time with my sister in 2005, no longer a vegan and to be perfectly honest, found the journey to be much easier physically, emotionally and gastronomically. While on the 2002 trek I felt fine, I had much more sustained energy on the 2005 trip. I became fatigued less frequently and grumpy less often because of it. I also felt I had a more authentic experience of Spanish life and culture because I could enjoy all of wonderful foods that were offered at the many local festivals we participated in as we passed through town after town.

    Either way, the camino is a journey one never will forget and whatever the culinary leanings, can be accomplished.

  2. I admire your fortitude. I walked the Camino in 2013 as a vegetarian and I found it very challenging. By the end of the Camino I thought “If I ever see another tortilla…”

  3. stefanie says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your vegan/gf/sugar free experience walking the Camino. I’ve been dreaming of one day also completing the trek to Santiago, but as a gluten free vegan, I wasn’t sure how I would manage the eating aspect. Hearing how you managed on your journey is definitely encouraging and inspiring.

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