Conscious choices: an ethical trip to Ghent, Belgium

A young and principled population supporting socially aware businesses from food to fashion mean Belgium’s third-largest city is perfect for an eco-friendly break

When Lokaal, a cooperatively run vegan cafe specialising in locally sourced produce, opened in 2014 in Ghent’s town centre, it charged just €8 for a main course. To keep prices low, Arno de Mol, the cafe’s owner, ditched costly vegan staples like avocados in favour of doing creative things with local produce such as celeriac, and served the dishes on mismatched crockery from charity shops. Eventually, however, living for his principles took its toll, and with the support of a commercial partner, de Mol increased his prices – although he was disappointed to see that even a €2 rise has made it harder to reach people on lower incomes.

De Mol typifies the local, grassroots economy that is expanding in Belgium’s third-largest city. Ghent has long been known for its student population and left-wing politics, but increasingly it is developing a reputation for socially conscious, eco-friendly food and shopping. Part of this is down to the town’s youthful demographic.

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