INTERVIEWS: Being Vegan in Cyprus

We Interviewed Four Vegans Living in Cyprus and Learned what Influenced Them Towards a Vegan Lifestyle

It is becoming easier and easier to be a vegan in Cyprus, even though veganism is not widely understood, and some Cypriots believe the vegan diet should include “vegetarian” chickens.

It’s also becoming ‘cool’ to be a vegan, not only in Cyprus but around the world. A plant-based diet is seen as healthier, better for the environment, kinder to animals, and easier on the pocket.

Dedicated vegans in Cyprus welcome the range of vegan products now available in supermarkets and the opening of vegan-friendly restaurants and cafés in the island’s main cities.

However, they say, Cyprus has some way to go to catch up with the other European countries, citing as an example the high cost of vegan staples such as tofu and nuts.

What does help is that older generations grew up on meals comprising mainly grains, beans, and fresh vegetables—so these products are cheap and plentiful.

And during Lent, Orthodox Christians in Cyprus cut meat and animal products out of their diets for 40 days although, unlike vegans, some do eat fish and/or seafood during the ‘fasting period’.

In other words, the concept of veganism is known to Cypriots even though the term may be new to them.

‘I’m Fasting but I Don’t eat Fish’

Andraz Renko, one of the top ultra-trail runners in Cyprus, has found a simple way to explain his diet to Cypriots who don’t understand what eating vegan means.

“I tell them that I’m fasting, but also don’t eat fish/seafood,” he says.

A vegan for the past 10 years, Andraz in 2022 completed the gruelling 171 km Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) race through the Alps, considered one of the toughest trail-running races in the world.

He puts his extraordinary endurance down to the benefits of switching to a vegan diet.

“Recovery after exercise has been significantly faster. I don’t need to worry about how much I eat as long as I eat enough food to feel satisfied,” he says.

“I’m in the best shape of my life, physically, mentally, and aesthetics-wise.  I feel a happier person following this kind of lifestyle. And I just don’t get sick. I have not missed a day of work in 10 years.”

Andraz says he embraced a plant-based diet for moral and ethical reasons.

“I go by the principle of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, therefore I cannot support the slaughter and exploitation of animals, because I don’t want to be eaten or exploited myself.”

According to him, it is easier now to be a vegan in Cyprus than it ever has been.

“Ten years ago, almost nobody knew what the word vegan even meant. Today, there are many more options at the supermarkets, there are more vegan-friendly restaurants, and in general, there is a greater awareness of this kind of a lifestyle.”

Some Cypriots are still confused, however.

When Andraz once turned down an offer of chicken at a meal, his host was surprised.

“A chicken is a corn-eater and therefore vegetarian,” he was told.


Andraz Renko

‘I Loved Animals but Still Ate Them’

Another ultra-trail runner, Viktor Olov, also ascribes his ability to power his way through endurance events down to the plant-based diet he has followed for the past eight years, five of them as a vegan.

“I feel lighter, but not in the ‘lost weight’ way,” says Viktor, who like Andraz also completed the 2022 UTMB 171 km ultra-trail race. In February 2023, he completed a three-day 300km solo run from Cape Greco in the east of Cyprus to the Akamas peninsula in the west.

“I have more energy, which is needed as an ultra-trail runner. Having talked with non-vegan runners about recovery, I also think my recovery time is much faster.”

Like Andraz, Viktor gave up eating meat and animal products for moral reasons.

“I felt wired. I loved animals but still ate them and supported the torture and slaughter of them.”

Because he prefers to prepare food at home, being a vegan in Cyprus for him is not a big issue.

“Going out to restaurants though, you have very limited choices, and there are still places where they don’t know the difference between being a vegetarian or vegan. “

“Overall, though, it has become easier to follow a vegan diet in Cyprus than it used to be.

“To be fair, there is a variety of vegan products in most supermarkets and people are more aware of what, how, and why, but there is still a long way to go.”


Viktor Olov

‘The Vegan Label Has Been Commercialised’

For another long-time vegan, Nicosia artist Pola Hadjipapa, the term ‘vegan’ has become a marketing tool and has lost some of its meaning.

“I am not very fond of the label ‘vegan’ these days, mainly because it’s being misused and taken advantage of for marketing,” she says.

“It has taken a different course of what healthy/ plant-based eating is or ideally should be … and has been commercialised.”

An ultra-runner (yes, many endurance athletes are vegans), Pola says that reading Scot Jurek’s “Eat and Run” and watching the documentary “Forks over knives” were the key prompts to her decision ten years ago to cut all dairy and eggs out of her then decades-old vegetarian diet.

“As a long-distance runner and an artist, it felt right to eat simply, purely, and with the least footprint on this earth. I never try to convince anyone else but for me, it feels right not to eat any animal products.”

Her diet comprises mainly local and in-season fresh products and as few processed foods as possible.

“Thankfully I grew up in a household – like most Mediterranean families — where beans, grains, and fresh vegetables were part of the daily meals—along with meat or chicken.”

For Pola, whose Facebook page is named ‘Artist on the Run’, the greatest challenge of being a vegan comes when she attends family or social gatherings.

“Most of the traditional dishes have dairy and eggs in them and are staples at many gatherings.”

She is wary of meat substitutes and other products bearing the label ‘vegan’ in supermarkets.

“A lot of it is highly processed. It is best to go for fresh, local, and traditional products. There is plenty out there.”


Pola Hadjipapa

‘Cyprus is Decades Behind’

Laura Lawes, who moved to Cyprus with her family last July, has the benefit of being able to compare the island’s vegan movement to that of the UK. And sadly, she says, it comes up woefully short.

“When comparing Cyprus to the UK, which is spearheading the vegan movement and industry, it feels like Cyprus is decades behind,” says Laura, a keen marathon runner.

“The vegan supplement food in supermarkets is overpriced and products which are usually incredibly cheap to buy worldwide, such as tofu, are expensive here.

“There is usually only one choice (or two if I’m lucky) on a restaurant menu to pick from and the majority of those choices are usually the same uncreative and disappointing dish,” says Laura.

However, the pure vegan food outlets in Nicosia, when they are open, are “absolutely incredible”.

“They are very welcoming, and it is such a relief to be able to order anything on a menu. I have been overwhelmed at how delicious and pioneering the food is in each of them.”

Laura, who had for many years cut back on eating meat – “I never enjoyed eating animals” – became a vegan three years ago.

The turning point came when she watched the film “Running for Good” by Fiona Oakes on Netflix.

“This was closely followed by watching Seaspiracy. I turned vegan almost immediately after that.  My husband switched quite shortly afterwards after being inspired and educated by Rich Roll, a vegan ultra-endurance athlete.”

Laura’s biggest disappointment is that in Cyprus there is “almost zero catering for vegan children” such as her own, whether it be at fast food outlets, in school canteens, or on children’s menus in restaurants.

On the positive side, she says, there is an abundance of pulses, nuts, seeds, fruit, and vegetables in Cyprus.

“The real key is learning what to do with them and cooking them from scratch to make something delicious!”


Laura Lawes

The Health and Economic Benefits of Eating a Vegan Diet

Studies have shown that a vegan diet can have the following health and economic benefits:

  • Lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and hypertension.
  • Improved gut health due to the high amount of fiber consumed.
  • Lower cholesterol levels.
  • Lower grocery bills due to grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables generally being cheaper than animal products.
  • Reduced healthcare costs due to a lowering of the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Reduced environmental costs since animal agriculture is a significant contributor to deforestation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s important to note that while a vegan diet can provide numerous health and economic benefits, it’s essential to ensure that the diet is well-planned and provides all the necessary nutrients.

The Difference Between a Vegan and a Vegetarian

Put simply, vegetarians typically do not eat meat, poultry, or fish, but may consume animal products such as dairy, eggs, and honey. Vegans avoid all animal products, including meat, dairy, eggs, and honey. Some even avoid eating figs since hornets and wasps are known to lay their eggs in the fruit.

Is Eating Meat and Dairy Products Harmful to us and the environment?

Vegans typically cite health, ethical, and environmental reasons for their decision to switch to a plant-based diet, as can be noted from the interviews above.

1. Health Concerns

Meat and dairy products are often high in saturated fat, which can increase blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic diseases such as colorectal and prostate cancer. These products are also low in fibre, which can cause digestive problems.

2. Ethical Concerns

Vegans and vegetarians believe that animals have the right to live without unnecessary suffering and that the consumption of animal products involves the exploitation and mistreatment of animals raised for food.

3. Environmental Concerns

The production of animal products has a significant environmental impact and is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.

It should be noted that some meat and dairy products can be part of a healthy and balanced diet when consumed in moderation. A balanced diet that includes a variety of plant-based foods can provide numerous health benefits and help reduce the environmental impact of food production.

Where to go for Your Vegan Fix in Cyprus 

Most eateries in Cyprus these days offer vegan dishes on their menus but there are a limited number of vegan-specific restaurants.

They include the following (the list is not exhaustive):

  • Elysian Plant-Based Kitchen – Nicosia
  • Evergreen – Nicosia
  • Gron Vegan Yard – Nicosia
  • Enso Vegan Lifestyle Bar – Limassol
  • Fed By Nature – Limassol
  • Meraki Market Café – Paphos
  • O Linos – Paphos
  • The Forest Breakfast Brunch Lunch – Larnaca

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