Eating options sprout as veganism starts to take root in Lebanon

Organic vegetables displayed at a market in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir/File)

BEIRUT: Patrick Aramouni, also known as “the Shirtless Vegan” on Instagram, came to Lebanon two months ago for the sole purpose of opening a vegan restaurant.

“People are becoming more conscious. They are looking for plant-based food and are looking to reduce their meat intake. I want people in Lebanon to eat fresh food coming from the earth and not from a slaughterhouse,” the 30-year-old said.

Aramouni, who grew up in Lebanon and moved to Montreal when he was 18, said he embraced the vegan lifestyle, which excludes all forms of animal exploitation and animal products, “overnight” four years ago. “People think it’s much harder than it actually is. Most of our food in Lebanon is already vegan without having to substitute anything. Falafel, fattoush, hummus. I can still enjoy my culture while being vegan and being healthy,” Aramouni said.

Aramouni plans to open his vegan restaurant in Beirut by the end of this year.

His won’t be the only one. Vegan options and businesses are growing in Lebanon, with the Vegan Lebanon directory now listing 68 restaurants that offer vegan options in the country.

Lebanon also held the first-ever regional vegan conference in May, organized by Georges Hayek, owner of Hayek Hospital and founder of online community “Lebanese Vegans,” which has around 24,000 followers on Facebook.

Hayek estimated around 300 attendees participated in the conference, which was “more than anyone expected.” He said the growing community showed a demand for more vegan options.

Just six months ago, for example, Roadster Diner created a separate vegan menu, while Crepaway introduced a vegan burger over a year ago.

“A few years back there were almost no vegan options. Restaurants now realize the market is asking for vegan products and the demand is growing, and they want to keep up with that demand. The community is getting bigger and spreading,” Hayek said.

Both Hayek and Aramouni attribute the increasing demand to growing health and environmental consciousness and the accessibility of information through social media.

According to Hayek, one of veganism’s major obstacles is the mainstream media, which perpetuates the idea that meat and dairy are necessary for a healthy diet when, he claimed, it is “in reality bad for our health, and causes devastation to the planet.”

A landmark United Nations report released in October 2018 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said massive reductions in meat consumption were required to curb climate change, with Western countries alone needing to reduce their meat consumption by 90 percent.

Milk and egg consumption would also need to be drastically reduced as the global population grows by an additional 2 billion people by 2050.

“We now have another source of information. ... It’s the internet and social media. This is what will show the terrible realities of the meat and dairy industries,” Hayek added.

Zalfa Naufal said she closed down her successful burger joint Frosty Palace, which operated in Mar Mikhael for six years, after she started binge-watching videos on veganism online.

“I used to eat beef patties three times a week to test the quality of the meat,” Naufal said.

But when she started questioning the ethics of eating meat and the mistreatment of animals, she said she began researching and watching YouTube videos on veganism and animal abuse.

“I had some kind of an epiphany. It was the first time I questioned what I was eating, what I was making money off of,” Naufal said.

Within a month of this realization, Naufal introduced a vegan burger to her business. Four months after that, in 2018, she closed her burger restaurant completely.

Naufal, who is now vegan, will be reopening her restaurant in the same location next week under the name Frosty’s Vegan Kitchen.

The restaurant will serve “vegan comfort food.”

“I owe it to myself to try again,” Naufal said. “I’m not opening it just for vegans.

“There are clearly people who want to reduce their meat consumption and people are concerned for the environment and want these options. I’m opening it for everyone.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 08, 2019, on page 2.




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