Founder of the Dubai Vegan Community, Assile Beydoun talks about why she chose to become vegan and the positive impact her diet has made on her health, her mindset, her overall lifestyle and the planet.
This Ramadan, we shine the spotlight on real people who are tackling food waste in their personal and professional lives. We’ve spoken to the deputy GM of an organic farm, five inspirational mums and now, a sustainability professional and vegan who is helping transform the way we live by inspiring and supporting people to Eat Smarter.
We hope these stories inspire you to Shop Smarter, Cook Smarter and Eat Smarter so that you too can #SaveOneThird of food from going waste.
Emirates Nature-WWF: Tell us about your journey. What led you to choosing a plant-based diet?
Assile Beydoun: If we start at the veganing, I mean beginning J, it boils down to an old journal entry I found, in which sixteen year-old me had detailed a naïve but honest ambition – to ‘Create World Peace.” Over a decade later, after years of living an unhealthy lifestyle, receiving a medical diagnosis I wasn’t happy with and retreating from the world to go on an 8 day fast, I finally found a way to that.
I had just returned from my fast and was attempting to ‘integrate’ back into society. I was invited to a barbecue where I sat right in front of a giant grill crammed with hot dogs, beef ribs, chicken thighs, lamb shanks, and, of course, as I was in the Middle East, shish taouk. The different smells made me think about the different animals on there. Wait…were we about to eat chicken with a side of cow?
Having just experienced the healing power of nature, I began to question everything about our food choices. These choices have been normalized for so long that they have become our culture—a culture that has been accepted for so long that it is now a tradition.
This whole experience led to me becoming vegan and achieving so much more.
Emirates Nature-WWF: How has your vegan diet impacted your life?
Once I figured out how to eat smarter, I started to feel my body change. I had more energy, I lost a lot of weight, and I was glowing. My body was transforming before my eyes.
I got a certification in plant-based nutrition. I was moderating juice fasts and reading about mindfulness. I had the energy to work out every day.
Suddenly, I was on a mission where everything, from the clothes I bought to the career I led, had to be in alignment with a greater purpose…where just “existing” in society was no longer enough. Instead, I had to be a force of positive energy; I had to make a difference; I had to change the world.
A pressing voice in my head kept telling me to take the intensity of my emotions and do something with it.
I started the Dubai Vegan Community to spread awareness but also to meet like-minded people.
It wasn’t only other people’s health on the line here. Eating a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to reduce a single individual’s environmental impact and help combat climate change.
Emirates Nature-WWF: Your Instagram community @DubaiVeganCommunity has over 6,000 members! Has your impact increased as your community has grown?
Assile: I would like to believe that brining the community together has played a significant role in our collective impact as a group. Individually, we all play a big part.
On average, every person going vegan for one year saves as much water as 23,617 quick showers, as much forest land as two football fields, as much CO2 emissions as using a car for more than a year, and an average of three hundred animal lives.
But more importantly, when a group comes together to find like-minded people, their voice (and purchasing power) becomes much louder.
Through our community gatherings we have encouraged restaurants to evolve their menus and offer more plant-based options, seen plant-based businesses start up, and inspired a ripple effect of knowledge, ideas and compassion spread throughout the city.
Emirates Nature-WWF: What are your top tips for our readers who are interested in becoming Vegan. How can they stay committed to these new food habits?
Assile: The idea of avoiding all the above animal products may sound overwhelming. A reaction I commonly get is, “But if you don’t eat meat and cheese, then there is nothing you can eat!”
I can think of five to six “meats” but hundreds of fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. The combinations of tasty, healthy plant-based foods are endless, and your diet can be rich with variety and choices.
Many people start out feeling confused and worried, and in just a few weeks, they realize that there are plenty of delicious and nutritious foods and plant-based alternatives to all of their favourite meals. Then, this new lifestyle just becomes their natural new way of eating, and they love it.
In my upcoming book, Lettuce Live Better, I share my experience on becoming vegan, why it matters so much and practical tips on how to eat better.
What is most important is to approach this new chapter in your life with an open mind and a positive attitude. Try to always remember all the things you are gaining from taking this step instead of what you are missing out on.
There are plenty of good reasons to eat a plant-based diet and even more good reasons beyond your dinner plate to be vegan. Which one speaks to you? Keep that reason front and centre to help you stay focused.
Emirates Nature-WWF: What does a vegan iftar look like?
Assile: A classic start to an iftar is a warm soup like lentil or minestrone followed by a rich salad of leafy greens and quinoa or freekeh. For the main course you can consider so many great dishes hearty stews like bean and vegetable stew, or okra, spinach, or peas with rice. As a side dish, chickpeas with cumin and soy yogurt, or oven-baked lemon soaked potatoes, and of course there is always room for hummus.
You can easily turn your favourite classic dish into a plant-based one by getting creative. Nutritional yeast has the same “cheesy” flavour of parmesan cheese. Jackfruit has the same texture as shredded cooked chicken. Lentils make for a great mincemeat substitute in a bolognese recipe.
Emirates Nature-WWF: How have your friends and family reacted to plant-based iftars?
Assile: At first it was very hard for my family and friends to understand the idea of not having a meat-based dish at the centre of the table.
With time as we started experimenting together with delicious food, they realized it was never the meat itself that they craved by the spices and the textures.
Since then, we have enjoyed many meals together over Beyond Burgers (that taste just like meat), plant-based pizza, pumpkin kibbeh (made with the same spices as meat kibbeh), and delicious vegetable curries. I always say, as long as you keep an open mind and try something new, you would be surprised at what great options are out there.
Emirates Nature-WWF: We think Ramadan is a great time to #EatSmarter for our health and the health of our planet. Would you agree?
Assile: Definitely. Ramadan teaches us about humility and humbleness which is the perfect time to stop and think about our impact on the universe. Whether it is managing quantities to minimize food wastage, or thinking twice about where our food comes from and what resources were needed to get it to our table, this is the best time of the year to really sit and question whether we are truly living and acting in alignment with our values.
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