Vegetarianism in Norway: Trending or Tiresome?


GREEN. Vegan student Mathis Elias shops for food. PHOTO: BEATE FELDE

An insight into vegetarian culture in Norway, from the perspective of UiB's vegetarians.

Coming to Norway as a vegetarian is like entering the boss level of a video game. British Erasmus student Eilidh MacKenzie found this out in the worst way possible.

– I went to a barbecue organised by the Erasmus Student Network, as a kind of introductory event for exchange students to meet. I explained that I don’t eat meat, and was told, ‘we have garlic bread over there’ – and was directed to a pile of raw garlic cloves and dry slices of bread.

Vegetarian MacKenzie was shocked.

– No one in their right mind would want that for lunch, she says.

Although this is most likely an exceptional case, many exchange students have had difficulties in finding vegetarian options after arriving in Bergen.

Anti-vegetarian culture in Norway

According to Vegan Norway, only 2% of Norwegians follow a vegetarian diet, compared to the corresponding 5.7% of British people who do.

Despite its proven environmental and nutritional benefits, vegetarianism here can be a chore. Even large restaurants like TGIF only have one vegetarian option on their menus, and while supermarkets’ ‘free-from’ sections are growing, supermarkets like Kiwi and Meny still don’t have veggie burgers on their shelves.

LONE WOLF. Only 2 percent of Norwegians are vegetarian. Mathis Elias is one of the few lucky ones. PHOTO: BEATE FELDE

– Eating meat-free is easy as long as I cook for myself. It’s difficult to find vegetarian options outside of big cities, and eating out for me requires a lot more planning than for a meat-eater, confirms Norwegian vegetarian student Martine Aase Vaage.

Despite this apparent aversion to vegetarianism, Norwegians are the European population most likely to reduce their meat consumption for environmental reasons. In fact, the one camp of the Norwegian army tested «meat free Mondays»  three years ago to reduce their contribution to global warming. The project was stopped, however, partly due too scepticism from the soldiers.

It seems that reducing meat consumption is acceptable, but cutting it out entirely is too huge a leap. For those who are vegetarian for moral reasons, it can be disheartening to see how little the lifestyle is normalised in Norway.

– The biggest challenge for me is that I am a farmer’s daughter. The bulk of the diet at home is pork and lamb, and that’s not going to change anytime soon, says Charlotte Wiken, a Norwegian student who has been vegetarian since February.

A trend on the rise?

Yet vegetarianism seems to be gaining steam, both in social and commercial settings.

– I can really see a change in attitude. More and more people in Norway are becoming aware of the benefits of cutting out animal products, and supermarkets and restaurants are reacting to this in kind, says German student Mathis Elias.

There are many resources online to help new and seasoned vegetarians in Norway. From apps like Vegan Norway, which maps vegan-friendly eateries in Norwegian cities, to online blogs full of recipes, to HelseNorge’s sections dedicated to nutritional advice for vegetarians, there is a wealth of online help to make the diet change that much easier.

– It’s important to keep in mind that there’s absolutely no trick to becoming vegetarian. Take it at your own pace, do what feels right for you. Do your research, and don’t expect it to happen overnight, says Vaage.

So – it’s possible to be vegetarian in Norway. It may be more expensive, people might think you’re weird, and it may force you to spend more time in the supermarket than you might like, but it can be done.

This article originally said that the Norwegian army has meat free Mondays. This is incorrect. It was tested as a pilot project, but never was done for the whole army. The error has been corrected.