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food / travel

Squash That Vegan Cannelloni! The Politics Of Going Meat-Free Is Hotter Than Ever

A German politician got a taste for the backlash that can come from getting close to the vegetarian movement, especially as environmental factors make the choice even more loaded than at its birth in the animal rights movement.

Image of a person holding a colorful veggie burger.

A veggie burger in all its glory

Yannick Champion-Osselin

PARISEating meat-free can sometimes come with consequences. Just ask German center-right politician Silke Gorissen, who has been in full damage-control mode since participating at a seemingly ordinary vegan-vegetarian awareness event last month at the University of Bonn.

Gorissen, who serves as the Minister of Agriculture for North Rhine-Westphalia state, made the usual rounds at the veggie event, offering typical politician praise for the local fruit and vegetable products. And then she tasted the vegan cannelloni…

Indeed, it was the Minister’s public praise for the meatless take on the classic Italian stuffed pasta recipe (traditionally served with ground beef or pork) that set off an uproar — a reminder that the debate over vegetarian diets can still be explosive.

German daily Die Welt reported that rumors followed the University event that the government was about to declare a meat-free month for the state — rather than just the student dining hall. In the heartland of German pig farming, it makes sense that the local farmers oppose anti-meat initiatives that could affect their livelihoods.

Still, there is something about vegetarianism that goes beyond simple economics.

As a representative of the center-right Christian Democratic Union, Gorissen has a long track record of defending meat farmers. Yet, the worry was such that she felt that she had to clarify that her enjoyment of the plant-based cannelloni was not changing her opinions.

Free Choice

She came out with a written statement to reassure the public with details of her dining habits. “I am a person that regularly eats meat,” she said. She also confirmed that there would be no state wide restriction of meat eating, saying “each person should decide for themselves if they want to be meat-free.”

People also continue to oppose veganism in the name of tradition.

Yes, 60 or so years after vegetarianism first came into vogue, mostly as a way to protect the lives of animals, it still causes a stir. Recent international polls show that around 8% of people are vegetarian, whether that be for their health, for animal or environmental rights, or even just for taste. Veganism — which alongside meat also excludes all animal products including dairy, eggs and honey — is the fastest-growing movement, with a recent estimate of 79 million vegans around the world.

If vegetarianism and veganism have become a part of being environmentally and socially conscious, then "meat is part of my diet" is a political statement that goes far beyond animal rights.

It can even enter into policy making. The German Green Party had previously proposed a meat-free day every week and campaigned for a veggie-day in public canteens. This came after they denounced the environmental damage inflicted by the meat industry, which produces large amounts of greenhouse gasses.

But people also continue to oppose veganism in the name of tradition and culture. Labeling something a burger when it does not contain meat has been hotly debated, and many traditional cuisines cannot exist if meat is removed.

Image of German center-right politician Silke Gorissen (left) having lunch outside.

German center-right politician Silke Gorissen (left) having lunch outside. Where's the beef?

Silke Gorissen/Instagram

Politics of barbecue

In France, Green party politician Sandrine Rousseau made a comment last summer about meat and manhood that ignited weeks of headlines. “We need to change the mindset that eating ribs on a barbecue is no longer a symbol of masculinity” she said.

Her opponents on the political right called Rousseau delusional and accused her of “attacking men.” On the left, as Paris-based Le Figaro reported, Communist party leader Fabien Roussel criticized her for missing the more salient economic point: Eating meat is “about what is in your wallet, not what is in your trousers.”

Image of a chef cutting bread in the veggie caf\u00e9 Opium Paris.

A chef cutting bread in the veggie café Opium Paris.

Otium Paris/Facebook

NYC’s Eric Adams v. Everyone

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has also received his fair share of insults for being vegan. The black, former police officer made the decision to go green in 2015 to help control his diabetes.

In the past few months, he has been accused of being a “food and climate dictator” who is forcing his “deficient diet” on the most vulnerable for his plan to make New Yorkers healthier through food.

In more pointed character assassinations, Twitter users wondered if the “illiterate pos” who “thinks he’s better than you” suffered “massive brain damage” due to his “vegan snowflake” diet.

Even vegans took a swing, accusing Adams of not going far enough in promoting his diet, for being “all flash and no bang.”

The numbers of vegans and vegetarians continues to grow no matter what the motivation: dietary, environmental, political. And even if meat-eaters are still the majority, it seems reasonable that any kind of cannelloni is worth a taste.

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How Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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