A Brief Guide to Dining and Shopping Sustainably in Ghent, Belgium

Planning a short trip to Belgium? Forget Brussels. Ghent, a small city in the Flemish part of the country, is where it’s at, especially if you care about sustainability. Home to countless no-nonsense, plant-based restaurants, bustling local markets and chic fair fashion boutiques, it’s a great destination for the sustainability-minded crowd.

Eat

Often named one of the most vegan-friendly cities in Europe, Ghent has quite a few plant-based restaurants to offer. Le Botaniste, a restaurant that serves 100% plant-based dishes made with organic ingredients, is a popular one. But if you’re looking for a vegetarian and relatively healthy fast food option, head to Tasty World. Their specialities, vegetarian and vegan burgers, are homemade and definitely better than the bready, chewy kind from the vegetarian aisle of your nearest grocery store. If you are craving a vegetarian version of the famous Belgian fries, there are plenty of options. Frietcultuur, for example, fries theirs in plant-based oil and use some organic ingredients.

For those not following a plant-based diet, there are also plenty of restaurants that serve healthy, organic produce on your plates. Le Pain Quotidian is a great one. Cozy and family-friendly, they serve homemade bread in a variety of ways. Their specialty, the tartines, or open sandwiches, are served with fresh, organic ingredients. Their hot cocoa, served with a tiny piece of spiced biscuit, is not to be missed. The salmon and dill sandwich, with quality bread and fresh, flavorful smoked salmon, is also delicious.

9twv

Shop

There are many options for lovers of secondhand and upcycled items. The shop De Kringwinkel has a well-stocked branch near the city center. But if it’s nostalgia that you’re after, head to The Fallen Angels, a shop that sells old postcards, posters and enamel items from bygone eras. In summer months, there’s a flea market in Sint-Jacobs square that boasts great collections of antique items. Meanwhile, book lovers can browse through secondhand books at small stalls along the canal at the Ajunlei area on Saturday mornings.

Speaking of markets, Ghent also has a small organic market, hosted at the Groentenmarkt every Friday. You can get different types of local produce such as veggies and cheese. The Sint Michielsplein is also home to a market where you can browse through fresh produce on Sundays. They can be useful if you’re staying in Ghent for a few days and have access to a communal or private kitchen. If you are visiting in winter, do check out the bustling and very cozy Christmas market, where you can get a variety of locally-made food items and other Belgian specialties.

9vv.jpg

Ghent is also home to a great many fair fashion shops offering ethically-made goods. My personal favorite is Supergoods, which stocks a great variety of products from my favorite brands such as Wintervacht and People Tree. If you’re looking for Braintree‘s products, the cozy Fair Eco Fashion, run by a friendly mom and son team, is definitely the place to visit.

Finally, instead of getting uninteresting, mass-produced souvenirs at questionable souvenir shops, why not get unique locally-made stuff to bring home with you? Independent shops such as Nathalie Engels and Elle et Gand, for instance, specialize in one-of-a-kind clothes, accessories and jewelry by up-and-coming independent Belgian designers.

9tvw

Have you ever been to Ghent? Have any nice recommendations? Do let me know and I might put them in the post!

Better, though Not Perfect

As you might remember from a post I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve recently stopped shopping at fast fashion retailers. Now, almost three months into my fair wardrobe journey, I’m taking some time to reflect on my experience and the impacts I’ve felt so far.

Of course, there are the obvious positive impacts like minimizing my contribution to the toxic global fashion chain and such. But not shopping at fast fashion retailers has had a lot of personal impacts on myself too. They’re positive, of course, but to be honest, they’re challenging too. They’ve forced me to see things from a different perspective. They’ve forced me to practice mindfulness in everything that I do. But more importantly, they’ve forced me to admit that the process of cutting ties with fast fashion requires a good look in the mirror.

I know, I know. It’s cheesy. But as cheesy it might sound, its’s the truth. Now, let me elaborate on it.

I see my closet and see old items, which are, whether I like it or not, remnants of my fast fashion habit. They’re constant reminders of the decisions I made. Although I know that I’m no longer engaging in the practice of shopping at fast fashion retailers at the moment, these remnants are still something that I don’t want to see.

For many of us, such remnants make us feel just slightly uncomfortable. But that’s good. Because in many cases, discomfort, when paired with good and sincere changes, has the power to create improvements.

My discomfort and sense of guilt have made me question for whom I’m doing all of this. For myself, or for the environment and the workers who have to deal with the impacts of fast fashion? I believe that living ethically and fairly isn’t supposed to be something that you do just to make you yourself feel better. It’s not a hobby that you pick up for fun. It’s supposed to be a fight towards making the world a fairer place. When I put my feelings above that principle, I risk forgetting it.

No matter how much guilt those old pieces of clothing might create, it shouldn’t matter, because the very best thing that I can do for the environment, makers and other people is to treasure them until they’re worn off. If I decided to throw away perfectly fine items just for the sake of diminishing my guilt, I would betray my own mission.

By keeping this principle in mind, I am able to put aside guilty, selfish feelings and start focusing on making positive impacts. It forces me to realize that my pursuit is all about prioritizing others’ needs over mine, which is one of the reasons that I started with it at the first place. It’s challenging, of course, because nobody likes being told that they’re selfish, but at the end of the day, it is this kind of self-awareness that helps us to improve the world. If you want to play your part in supporting fair fashion, continuous self-awareness is imperative.

The way I see it, it’s a process. I wasn’t very mindful of the impacts of my purchases, but I’m learning to do it, slowly and gradually. If I see it that way, it’s easier to realize that I’m becoming better, though not perfect, in my pursuit of a fairer world, and that’s okay.

What have your learned from your journey? Leave me a comment and let me know what you’ve learned through committing to support sustainability!