‘It’s possible to make vegan versions of many Kuwaiti dishes, like those made with lentils, okra, or spinach for example’
Veganism is both the practice of strictly abstaining from the use of all animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. The vegan movement is flourishing in Kuwait. This five-part series takes a look at the creative Kuwaitis who have adopted the ethical vegan lifestyle and some who have established businesses based on its principles. This is part four.
One year ago, when Dalal Al Mohelhal was a seventeen-year-old high school senior, she decided to combine her love of cooking and baking with her passion for veganism, and established Kuwait’s first vegan bakery, Rustic Garden. “My aim was to provide vegan cakes and confections to people following a plant-based lifestyle; to people with specific allergies, like those who need gluten-free products; and just to those who are looking for authentic, delicious sweets,” says Dalal.
This young vegan’s first sales experience came at the outdoor seasonal markets, Qout and Shakshuka. Her baked goods met with a positive response, and realising there was a gap in the sweets market with no one catering to people following a plant-based diet, she decided she would start taking orders on Instagram. Now this university freshman is managing a thriving business while studying full-time.
Dalal has been following a vegan diet for the last three years, and was a vegetarian for a year before that. “I was in ninth grade when I first heard about vegetarianism, and besides me there was just one other girl in my high school who was a vegetarian,” she says. “After a year I started doing more research. When I learned about veganism and its positive impact on health, the environment, and animal welfare, I didn’t hesitate, I became a vegan right away.
“My number one reason to follow a plant-based diet is my love of animals,” she continues. Besides taking care of her pet parrot, Flicka, Dalal sometimes rescues and fosters lost or stray animals and volunteers for local animal rescue groups. She laments the fact that helpless animals are often abused and all too often, family pets are dumped on the streets. She also deplores the inhumane conditions of the poultry, meat, and dairy industries.
“By being vegan you can enjoy ethical meals that don’t involve cruelty,” she says.
According to Dalal, some people were taken aback when they found out about her self-imposed dietary restrictions. “Our culture revolves around gatherings where lots of food is served, and chicken, meat, and fish dishes are very popular,” she remarks. “At first I only told my parents about my decision, and they were fine with it. When eating at friends’ or relatives’ homes I would just bring along my own vegan food to eat. Then after a couple of weeks I told the rest of the family.”
Dalal was asked lots of questions about whether she was getting enough protein, if she was losing essential nutrients, and if she could be healthy on a plant-based diet. “There were some negative comments, but for the most part, people were just concerned about my well-being, and they respected the fact that I’m doing what I believe in,” she says. “I did research online and read many books on veganism and nutrition, so I was able to answer people’s questions. In the beginning, I was calculating my nutrient intake to be sure I was getting all the nutrients I needed and wasn’t doing myself any harm.”
It wasn’t long before family and friends began preparing special vegan dishes for Dalal and serving them at their gatherings. “It’s possible to make vegan versions of many Kuwaiti dishes, like those made with lentils, okra, or spinach for example,” she says.
According to Dalal, getting enough protein is not a problem as it can be found in many foods including beans, lentils, soy products, broccoli, corn, spinach, and seeds and nuts. The only food supplement she has to take in order to stay healthy as a vegan, she says, is vitamin B12.
“Nowadays, even meat eaters often have to take vitamin B12 because with unhealthy modern methods of farming, the animals raised for meat are lacking in nutrients,” she says. “I eat nutritional yeast, which comes in flakes, and is a good source of vitamin B12. It can be found in many supermarkets and even in the jameeyas. With the local vegan community growing so quickly over the last year, it’s becoming much easier to find these kinds of special products.”
According to Dalal, social media and the Internet are allowing many people to discover the benefits of a vegan lifestyle. “Whether they’re becoming vegans because of health reasons, or for the environment, or for animals, they are realising that they can make a difference by making a change in their life. If you want to see positive change in the world, first you have to change yourself.”
So for this young accounting major, it’s not just about making and selling mouth-watering muffins, cakes, cookies and candy, but about living life according to her ethics, raising awareness, and setting a good example. “Before I became vegan my sister and two brothers didn’t have a good idea of what a vegan eats. Now they understand that vegan food isn’t boring or bland, and they also ask me to make my vegan sweets for special occasions at their school,” Dalal says.
Dalal credits her parents with helping her to be successful in her endeavors. “I could never have achieved what I did at such a young age if it hadn’t been for my parents encouraging and supporting me. They always strive to bring out the best in us,” she says, referring to herself and her siblings.
Dalal has always been industrious and has enjoyed cooking and baking since she was very young. “When I was in seventh grade I started a little bakery business, making and selling cookies and cupcakes,” she says. “And I have always loved looking up cool recipes online and cooking my own food, rather than going out to eat.”
How does she manage running a successful business and studying at university full time? “I’m not going to tell you it’s easy,” she says. “I’m still working on perfecting my time management. But it’s nice to be independent. I always have to be busy and productive, and when I’m doing something that I love, it’s an added bonus.”
A recent post on her Instagram @rusticgardenkwt showed that the bakery was going to be closed for two weeks. “Midterms are coming up so I want to focus on them,” says this sensible young businesswoman.
In the future, Dalal would like to open her own vegan restaurant. “I have a lot of vegan dishes I would love to share with the world.”
By Claudia Farkas Al Rashoud – Special to the Arab Times