Appetite for veganism has added bite among Saudi youth

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

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.”


The Saudi startup that's taking a creative approach to humanitarian work

Updated 02 December 2020

The Saudi startup that's taking a creative approach to humanitarian work

The Saudi startup that's taking a creative approach to humanitarian work
  • Bab Boutique is helping refugees one stitch at a time

JEDDAH: Women refugees and others facing hardship on the margins are developing their creative talents with the help of a Saudi fashion startup.

Bab Boutique was established in 2016 to give marginalized communities the space and resources to invest in their creativity, and to encourage female refugees and others to celebrate their identity and culture.

The boutique describes itself as a “platform to celebrate stories of survival, striving and invisible success through handcrafted pieces created with care and love.”

Bab Boutique was initially set up by Rafah Sahab, Asma Aljifri, Hessa Alrubian, Mariam Alrubian and Fajer Burhamah as a therapeutic activity to support and help Syrian women who had fled their war-torn homeland.

Sahab, a psychotherapist, said that the boutique’s founders were driven by the belief that mental health is just as important as physical well-being.

“The plan was to provide traditional one-to-one therapy sessions during my visits to refugee camps or by securing funds for local therapists in hosting communities like Lebanon and Jordan,” said Sahab.

However, after a few visits, Sahab realized that many refugees were looking for a job, not mental health support.

“I was humbled by their grit and determination to find ways to provide for their children,” she said. “So we joined with local partners to give them a chance to express their creativity.”

Sahab decided to replace the therapy sessions with handicraft work since it was clear that lack of employment was affecting the refugees’ sense of dignity and self-respect.

In collaboration with the Thekra Organization in Jordan, Bab launched its first collection, “Stories of Syria,” which featured hand-embroidered bags in different sizes that celebrated aspects of Syrian culture, including weddings, and the wheat and olive harvests.

“We asked the refugees what we could learn from Syrian culture, and the women began sharing stories that they loved, and these were converted into drawings which the women then embroidered,” said Sahab.

“We took care of selling the collection in the GCC market.”

The market for Bab Boutique’s hand-embroidered products is bigger than many might think, and includes devotees of slow fashion, sustainability, handicraft and environmentally friendly products.

As their efforts began to bear fruit, the boutique’s co-founders discovered that far from being helpers and the refugees victims, the relationship was more cooperative, educational and insightful for both parties.

“We learned that these people have a lot that they can teach us; they have culture, art and creativity that we can benefit from,” said Sahab.

“They are not just refugees, they are people with dreams, potential, capacity, ideas and skills, as well as pain and disappointments. They’re just normal human beings.”

Sahab said that her work with refugees has taught her that “inside every one of us there is a divine power; there is flexibility, and the ability to be creative and overcome hardship.”

In collaboration with Jeddah-based artist Doa Bugis, Bab Boutique recently introduced “Migrating Birds,” a new collection of finely embroidered bags by Syrian refugees in Lebanon based on art pieces created by Bugis, whose works focus on exploring grief, loss, migration and hybrid identities.

“I have been an admirer of Bab for years. The Stories of Syria collection caught my eye and have drawn me into Bab’s own narrative, values and ethics,” said Bugis. “Knowing what they stand for, I said yes without giving it a second thought.

“Migrating Birds has been brewing in my head for years. I’ve always been interested in hybrid identities and spent about six years researching the subject,” Doa Bugis told Arab News.

“One of the main factors behind mixed identities is migration. It has been a phenomenon rooted in history. People have always relocated for better jobs, opportunities and living conditions. Whether the reasons were religious, economical or educational, uprooting yourself and your family is not an easy journey.”

Bugis sketched this narrative with words and then translated it visually. After many attempts she finally created an eye-catching miniature painting that combined Islamic art and calligraphy.

The finely embroidered bags feature images of birds, and phrases such as “In migration, there is loss and existence.”

Bab now hopes refugees can be valued for the cultural richness they bring with them.

“We want to change the fact that money and property is the judge for someone’s richness. You can be financially poor, but rich in culture and art; we want to make this shift,” Sahab said.

She said that the startup hopes to foster a new approach to humanitarian work that will give people the capacity to build for themselves and sustain their lives.

Bab plans to continue working with refugees on special lines and collections, but is also working on building communities both inside and outside the Kingdom.

“We believe that Bab is an imperfect project, an ever-evolving process of trial and error,” said Sahab.

“We have a growth mindset. We try to have patience and work slowly against societal and business industry expectations.”
 
Although social entrepreneurship is a new concept in the Saudi market, Sahab is optimistic about the future.

“Social businesses were not popular in the past. However, recently new regulations were set to support them. I expect a better future for social startups and social entrepreneurship.”  

Bab Boutique products are available online and at concept stores in Saudi Arabia. They can be found at https://babboutique.store and Instagram account @babboutique.me.