Appetite for veganism has added bite among Saudi youth

Meatless burgers now available in most Saudi food stores. (Supplied photo)
Updated 28 July 2019

Appetite for veganism has added bite among Saudi youth

  • The number of shops and restaurants offering a wider range of vegan and vegetarian products is increasing

RIYADH: The Saudi appetite for veganism as a lifestyle choice is taking off among the Kingdom’s youth, fed by prominent advocates of the practice.

Concerns for health, animal rights and the environment are all proving to be key factors in motivating Saudis to change their diets and stop using animal products.

Among the most notable influencers is Khaled bin Al-Waleed, son of billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who in January last year pledged to open at least 10 vegan restaurants in the Middle East by 2020.

With increasing numbers of shops and restaurants in the Kingdom now offering a wider range of vegan and vegetarian products, the shift from meat is becoming all the more palatable for many young Saudis.

Health is the first of three main drivers, with publicity about the growing problem of obesity in the country encouraging many people to make better food choices.

Cutting out meat and animal products in protest over unethical practices in the livestock trade is another reason for the rise in veganism, along with fears about damage to the environment, with livestock farming seen as contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, water and land degradation.




Saudi shops and restaurants now offer a wider range of vegan products. (Shutterstock)

However, being vegan, or even vegetarian, can still be a difficult move to make for some.

Banan Al-Sultan, an optometrist and yoga enthusiast, has just got back into veganism after an aborted attempt to switch eight years ago.

“I was vegan for six months back in 2011, but I just couldn’t do it any longer than that. There were no options for me at any restaurant I went to except maybe for French fries or a side salad,” she told Arab News.

“Non-dairy milk was more like non-existent milk in any supermarket, and veggie burgers or vegan sausages were things I’d only heard about but never seen, like unicorns or mermaids.”

As the larger supermarket chains in Saudi started stocking vegan and vegetarian items, Al-Sultan began to muster up her old enthusiasm and has now successfully maintained a vegan diet for three months.

Loulwa Almarshad, a 28-year-old translator in Riyadh, told Arab News that being vegan was nowhere near as difficult as people might think.

“It might have been hard at first, but not so much now. There’s a lot more awareness these days, and the number of vegans worldwide is increasing, which creates more demand for vegan products both in restaurants and supermarkets.”

Most Saudi food stores now stock a wide variety of veggie options, including non-dairy milks such as almond, soy, and coconut, vegan butter and cheese, meatless burgers and sausages, and even treats like cookies, gummy candies, and ice cream.

Restaurants in the Kingdom are getting on board too, with burger outlets such as Johnny Rockets and Burgerfuel offering meatless patties, Jeddah superfood chain Boga introducing vegan salads and tofu sandwiches, and famous vegan-friendly places like Urth Caffe opening up branches throughout the Kingdom.

Yet Almarshad and Al-Sultan still believe that many Saudis remain skeptical about veganism.

“As a society, we Saudis love meat, which is understandable as meat has throughout history been a symbol of wealth and shows that someone can feed themselves and their family,” Al-Sultan said. “But times are changing, and if you can’t adopt our lifestyle, you can at least respect it.”

Almarshad said that the most difficult part of being vegan in Saudi Arabia was the attitude of society toward them. “I don’t mind answering people’s questions if they ask nicely, but at the end of the day, we’re just normal people. When the questions get invasive or offensive, it’s only natural that we won’t want to answer them.”


Startup of the Week: Saudi baker and chef winning hearts of food lovers

Photo supplied
Updated 52 min 35 sec ago

Startup of the Week: Saudi baker and chef winning hearts of food lovers

  • Working over 15 hours a day and being self-taught was just the start; Essam is the interior and graphic designer, the marketer, the CEO and the chef at White Mountain

A Saudi bakery and restaurant business specializing in pastries is finding its way into Saudi hearts with a delectable selection of fine Italian, French, and Swiss foods.
Ahmad Essam, 28, a self-taught baker and chef, left a productive family business to create what is now one of the most prestigious bakeries in Alkhobar.
Essam set up his bakery and restaurant while working as a production engineer, selling tarts and cakes to his friends.
He was overwhelmed by the encouragement he received, and little by little Essam, his dream of running his own company emerged.
Working over 15 hours a day and being self-taught was just the start; Essam is the interior and graphic designer, the marketer, the CEO and the chef at White Mountain.
Baking French pastries such as croissants, macarons, mille-feuille, eclairs and tarts require a true artisan. Essam described the glory he feels when he bakes, saying: “Dealing with precise tips to get the real essence of French pastries and reaching a level to bake without recipes is a matter of experience and good knowledge. Being a real baker requires a lot of learning as it’s not only about mixing water and flour; its trick lies behind the process of fermentation that sometimes lasts for days.’’
Every once in a while, the young man distributes membership books to loyal customers. “On Valentine’s Day, we distributed 3,000 roses,” he added.
Essam is very passionate, and dreams of opening a cooking academy in Saudi Arabia so he can inspire other amateur bakers; he told Arab News about his future 12,000-square-meters cooking village project that he is aiming to create in Riyadh, “including a library that collects all cookbooks, a seasonal spice shop, a great lake garden, a pizzeria, glossary shop and more, all of which falls under one theme: Cooking.”
For him, business is an obsession and profession. “Chefs have their egos. They are dealing with a tricky job and they know what they are doing exactly. They do not accept comments or advice from other chefs,” he explained.
You can follow him for more information on White Mountain on Instagram: @wm.bakery.