Inspiring Better Health

Turning to Veganism: An Interview with the Owner of Qatar’s First Vegan Café

Turning to Veganism: An Interview with the Owner of Qatar’s First Vegan Café
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By: Amna Elsaka

The benefits of cutting back on processed meat and refined sugar are well documented, and many are now turning to veganism and raw food to stay lean and healthy, and to help the planet. We spoke with the owner of Qatar’s first vegan café, Ghanim Al Sulaiti, about what inspired him to go vegan.

What got you started on your vegan journey?

I’d say it was consciousness, a desire to understand my diet and its effect on me. My journey began with questions. I wanted to know why food can have such an effect on us. I started to read books on nutrition, educating myself, and experimenting with a plant-based diet. So I felt better than when I ate a “normal” diet, which made me want to explore this lifestyle further.

How did you come up with the concept of Evergreen Organics?

When I became vegan four years ago, I became aware of how much healthier I felt, and I wanted to share that with others – Evergreen Organics seemed the perfect platform from which to share my love of vegan food, my experiences and my travels. The café is like a collection of all the bits and pieces that inspire me and I hope that it can inspire others to enjoy vegan food and think about adapting their diet to be more plant-based.

In your opinion, why is eating vegetables more healing for our bodies and the planet?

Eating vegetables is mentioned in the Holy Quran. People have been eating vegetables since the beginning of time. Ancient medicine was always based around plants. Let’s face it, fruits, vegetables, herbs and plants contain a whole range of healing and rejuvenating compounds—they are the source of life. Unfortunately there’s been a huge increase in demand for meat and junk foods in general; which goes hand in hand with the use of growth hormones and chemicals. That’s one reason why going vegan or plant-based is healthier for the environment; because you’re no longer investing in an industry that creates such damage on an individual and ecological scale.

Plants have always been known to heal.

You never hear anyone say “Eat your meat, it’s your medicine”. It’s always “Eat your vegetables.” And many scientific studies have proven the healing properties of plants. For example they all contain chlorophyll, which is the source of life—plants use chlorophyll to convert the energy from the sun into energy they use to grow. I think that’s where their healing power comes from.

I also think the more you believe in the healing nature of plants and vegetables, the more this healing can act on you. It’s all about your mindset. You can eat healthily for the rest of your life and still get sick, if your mindset is stuck in negative patterns. But if you focus on a plant based diet, with the full conscious belief that it will help you heal, you will eventually get better.

A pill will make you feel better quickly, but plants will make you healthier in the long term. I’ve witnessed this in my own life. Since I added more vegetables, vitamins and minerals, I simply don’t get sick any more. I haven’t been ill in years so I know I’m doing something right. I eat foods that are natural, real, and from the Earth—the foods God intended us to eat. That’s why when you hear people talking about Janna (paradise) in Quran, they always mention the fruits and vegetables; it is not mentioned that you’re going to eat meat and chicken. Plants are always linked to heaven, and in a way this means that you can live in heaven on earth by eating fruits and vegetables.

Veganism back in time:

If you go back 100 years, Qataris didn’t eat that much meat because it was expensive and there wasn’t much money. So while some say a lot of meat is part of our culture, it is not our tradition—let’s realize this: it is not a tradition, it is just a habit. Our culture is about being respectful of food, appreciating food, sharing it with others. The culture is about being peaceful towards our environment and being conscious.

Our culture is about the principles we live our lives by—anything that is not peaceful, that does not bring life to this world, that doesn’t improve human way of life, should be left to one side. For me Islam is about peace, about doing something good. I’m not saying let’s make meat a taboo—you can still eat it as long as you are respectful of it, and are conscious of where it came from and the process it went through to end up on your plate.

Food and Energy

I always like to tell people that it’s about energy and what you can accept. For example most people could not kill an animal themselves. I couldn’t do it myself, even if I wanted to eat an animal I wouldn’t be able to kill it. The energy in my body doesn’t let me. But my energy allows me to pick a vegetable out of the ground and eat it. This is right for me. Many people can’t watch an animal being slaughtered—they don’t want to see the blood, the pain and the fear.

And in fact a lot of people go vegetarian after watching documentaries or becoming informed about the practices in slaughterhouses or the dairy industry. But it is easy for people to detach from this reality when they are presented with a piece of meat or processed product that looks nothing like the slaughtered animal. I think it is so important to be informed—educate yourself, find out how chickens are being raised, or what dairy cows have to go through to produce milk.

It is possible to obtain meat and dairy in a peaceful way. People used to raise their own animals, for years and years. They were part of the family, and when the time came for the animal to be killed, it was a celebration and a feast, something that was done occasionally. They appreciated the animal’s life. Not like killing killing killing without knowing, as we see in industrial farming, so that we can have meat every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

You mention energy; do plants have a specific energy other than their known health benefits?

Definitely. I eat plants and I surround myself with plants. Plants are always growing, always giving us oxygen, helping us to survive and making our life better. They’re like friends. One of the rooms in my house is completely surrounded by plants, it brings me so much joy and relaxation. They have an aura—fresh, hydrating, soothing. They’re like pets in a way, keeping you young.

I read studies that show plants help you age less, that keeping plants is like having companions. So for me, plants definitely have a healing energy. I feel it when I go to Bali or a jungle, when I’m around plants I can feel the energy is different, more powerful. Like standing near one of those trees that have been alive for hundreds of years—you’re connecting with hundreds of years through them. We should imitate plants: you grow in different ways and you stand tall and strong and build your roots. The more connected you are to plants, the more grounded, connected and stable you become. I feel that we can better understand life simply by being around plants.

What’s the difference between veganism and vegetarianism?

I like to say that vegan is eating everything except animal products, which means no dairy, meat, chicken, fish, or honey. You can take it further by not wearing leather, and not using any animal products anywhere possible, for example making sure the cosmetics you buy are vegan. If you’re vegetarian, you can still consume dairy, and honey. I think being vegetarian is a beautiful thing, but the dairy industry is cruel and really hurts the environment. I’m not saying everyone should go vegan, I always think it’s about being conscious. It’s a journey, a long-term lifestyle. Experiment with it, see how your body feels, understand your motivations for going plant-based. For me, the motivation is that there’s another being suffering, that this earth will not last for future generations because of the choices we make about what we put on our plates. It’s like a ripple effect.

Do you have any quotes or tips to inspire our readers?

I have a beautiful quote on the wall of the café: “If you want to be happy, plant a garden, if you want to be healthy, eat a garden.” This resonates with me because I believe being surrounded by plants and connecting with nature can make a huge difference. We go to grocery stores and it’s convenient but it’s good to balance this out by going to farms, visiting the source of your food, going to the tree, seeing where the apples come from. I always tell people “Don’t go vegan—go and connect with nature and then you will understand how a plant-based lifestyle makes more sense.”

The Evergreen Organics cafe offers a 100% vegan menu, with refreshing cold-pressed juices, and delicious appetizers, main meals and desserts. Juice Cleanse programs are also available.