Moving house and settling in to a new community can be both exciting and stressful, but one thing it usually involves is a long, 'To Do List.' For vegans, a few things can be added to the schedule, such as finding local health food shops and making contact with animal rights groups. Whilst not all of the following points apply to every situation, or indeed to every person living by a plant-based philosophy, here are a few things I have picked up on when relocating (more than 20 times!)
* Make the place safe for any companion animals; this might mean installing a cat flap, building a garden run, buying ties to raise cables off of the ground, or unpacking fairly quickly to get rid of plastic wrapping and other choking hazards. Ensure that companions are given enough water during the journey to their new home, as well as plenty of care and attention during the confusing adjustment period and, especially for cats, the initial confinement period.
* Check the state of the kitchen. Ideally, the previous inhabitants will have cleaned the place thoroughly, but if you're uneasy about using the same baking trays etc. as meat eaters with unknown hygiene levels, you might want to go over everything once again. If you are renting and there is still visible meat residue or the rubbish has not been disposed of; make a complaint!
* Agree on rules with any new housemates, and try to request the top shelf of the fridge so that dairy milk cannot leak down onto your items; I learned this the hard way!
* If you are going to a dormitory: check out the meal plan options, and if no vegan options are shown, contact the catering manager to see if they can be requested. If meals are included in the fee, yet you are told you'll need to self-cater, apply for a refund for the food portion of the rent, and/or lobby politely for a change in policy. The local media and activist groups may be able to help.
* Should you stay with a host family: try to make contact in advance and discuss the cooking and eating arrangements, especially in areas where veganism is not common, as hosts may see your declining of their dairy cakes as a rejection of their hospitality, or they might misunderstand what you do and do not eat. On programmes such as Erasmus+, where there might be language barriers, ask your contact person to help with translation if required.
* Visit local supermarkets and health food shops read the ingredients of unfamiliar brands, to see which items are vegan suitable. Until you've learned which stores carry which products, (once I found myself going to one supermarket for non-dairy ice-cream, another for fresh vegetables, and another for cereal without honey!), you might want to use a notepad to keep track.
* If the area is completely new to you, use HappyCow to find vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants, shops and catering services. Where choices are scarce, consider lobbying for more options, and/or search for online stores which deliver to your address or workplace.
* Register with health services. Not every area offers a choice of doctors or veterinarians, but if possible, chat to practitioners and choose the ones who take veganism seriously.
* If you are responsible for vegan children: inform their new school and nursery teachers, and ask about the options for school meals. Even if the child will take a packed lunch, some schools allow students to distribute cakes on their birthdays, so it's important that the staff are aware of dietary approaches, (and allergies).
* Look for volunteering opportunities. Perhaps you'd like to help out a shelter by walking dogs at weekends, or take to the town centre to collect petition signatures for a charity? An Internet search will bring up larger organisations and businesses, whilst contact details for smaller groups can often be found linked from the Websites of national or regional vegan organisations.
* Find out what is going on in the community. The same contacts as in the last point can tell you about any groups which host regular vegan dinners, or animal rights-related film screenings and book clubs. If there is a vegan festival in the region, (see links to calendars in my previous post), attending can also be a great place to meet locals and sign up for mailing lists.
* When moving to somewhere with a new language, try and learn a few words in advance, to give you a head start when both reading packages and meeting people. I think I can read, "May contain traces of milk," in more languages than I can say, "My name is...!"
* If an, 'only vegan in the village,' scenario is likely, arm yourself with facts and have a think about your strategy for friendly and not-so-friendly questions.
Some moves will always be easier than others, but with a bit of information and good communication, veganism need not form an extra hurdle.
Photograph: Author's own.