A Jordanian holistic snacks range sweetens a healthy lifestyle

A Jordanian holistic snacks range sweetens a healthy lifestyle
Karma Bdeir, a Jordanian-Syrian who grew up in Saudi Arabia launched The MedShed five years ago with the aim of reintroducing healthy eating to the region under the theme “mind, body and soul.” (Supplied)
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Updated 30 October 2020

A Jordanian holistic snacks range sweetens a healthy lifestyle

A Jordanian holistic snacks range sweetens a healthy lifestyle
  • Karma Bdeir’s snacks company sprang from her desire to satisfy her own sweet tooth in a healthier way
  • The MedShed provides holistic alternatives in a region where obesity and diabetes have become prevalent

AMMAN: When discussing healthy eating patterns and holistic wellbeing, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is not the first region that comes to mind. Now young Arab entrepreneurs are starting to change that. Karma Bdeir, a Jordanian-Syrian who grew up in Saudi Arabia, is one of them.

Bdeir launched The MedShed five years ago with the aim of reintroducing healthy eating to the region under the theme “mind, body and soul.”

“There has been some major development over the past three years in the MENA region in consumer habits and there is still room to grow,” said Bdeir. “It’s so refreshing to see so many new healthy brands arising in the region and more awareness around healthier alternatives.”

Based in Amman, Bdeir’s healthy snacks company sprang from her own desire to satisfy her sweet tooth in a healthier way, at a time when there were few healthy options available.

Initially it started off as a hobby while she worked in interior architecture. Shortly after, she created a food and health blog, and received a certification in Holistic Nutrition from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York.

“I have always loved health and nutrition, and found myself immersed in learning about the holistic wellness industry,” she said. “The MedShed was born out of my own relationship with food and body because I had a lot of misconceptions — I focused way too much on being too strict with eating healthy and being perfect about it.”

One of her courses highlighted the differences between primary and secondary food, and what she calls a “game changer” for her. “Secondary food is the food that you eat that pertains to you as an individual and to your lifestyle,” she said. “Whereas primary food has nothing to do with food — it’s about relationships, productivity, physical activity and spirituality. When I started looking at it through that lens, I saw the missing link. Health goes way beyond food.”

She started focusing more on internal healing, feeding herself through primary food and balancing the scales.




Based in Amman, Bdeir’s healthy snacks company sprang from her own desire to satisfy her sweet tooth in a healthier way, at a time when there were few healthy options available. (Supplied)

“My mother inspired me to look at things through a holistic lens.” Bdeir said. “Pills are not the answer. You need to heal from within, find out what is unbalanced in yourself and let the symptoms be your guide. It’s all about healing yourself from the inside out.”

When she launched her snack line from home in May 2015, she was the first to successfully introduce healthy sweets and snacks to Jordan. And when Amman opened its first juice shop, Seed, at around the same time, she was able to start selling her products, which also began appearing at local shops and gyms, before moving into supermarkets. “I was simultaneously doing health coaching and testing out my product range,” Bdeir said. “It took two years to develop the recipe for my cookies. I did a lot of trial and error, market research and feedback.”

After refining her products, she went on to launch her bakery line, followed by ice cream last year. Now she plans to expand into the Gulf, starting with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. “The pandemic delayed my plans to launch, but I’m pushing it to May 2021 for Dubai and 2022 for Saudi Arabia and the rest of the region,” she said. “I think the brand has the opportunity to flourish in the Gulf, because I’ve done pop-ups in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the response was great.”

She describes her products as the perfect healthy yet indulgent snacks — made from dates, nuts, coconuts and oats, as well as date molasses, almond flour and coconut sugar, the snacks contain a good balance of healthy fats, fiber and protein, which provide long-term sustained energy release.

“I want to help promote the idea that if you have a sweet tooth, it’s a pleasure and it’s okay,” Bdeir said. “It’s in our culture to eat dates as well, so it’s local goodness. I’ve always loved an almond-stuffed date and I wanted to create something more exciting from the same ingredients.”

Now Bdeir is increasing her range from 16 to 20 snack products in two different serving sizes, adding to her 15 baked goods, which include cakes, donuts and ice cream sandwiches. She hopes this will provide another stepping stone to change in a region where obesity and diabetes have become prevalent.

“You still have people going on unhealthy diets,” she said. “I’m really against the diet culture and pre-calculated meal plans. It can be a starting point for newbies, but you have to reach that place of intuitive eating, where it’s 80 percent healthy and 20 percent indulgence. After that, you just live your life.”

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This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Palestinian singer Rasha Nahas discusses her long-delayed debut album

Updated 04 December 2020

Palestinian singer Rasha Nahas discusses her long-delayed debut album

Palestinian singer Rasha Nahas discusses her long-delayed debut album

AMSTERDAM: In May 2019, life was looking good for Palestinian singer-songwriter Rasha Nahas. She had begun to establish herself in Berlin — having moved there from her hometown of Haifa in 2017; her debut album — wrapped in 2018 — was just weeks away from being released; and she had a prospective tour of the Middle East and Europe lined up. 

“I feel like a lot of exciting things are happening and hopefully the album will bring more,” she told me then. “I’m not in a hurry, but I’m going full-power with all of my will and passion.”

Fast-forward to today and that debut album is still just weeks away from release. Not long after we spoke last year, Nahas began to experience pain in her wrists and hands. It quickly became serious enough that she went to see a doctor who diagnosed her with repetitive strain injury. 

Her debut album (cover pictured) is just weeks away from release. Supplied

“It was really hardcore,” she says. “Both my hands and wrists had very, very bad inflammation. I couldn’t type emails or hold my phone or carry groceries and stuff. It was basically from overplaying. It had been a very busy time with shows and traveling, and a lot of stress. That was good, in some ways, because it meant things were happening for me, but the mental stress also wasn’t good for my body. I just had to stop everything, take a break and focus on getting better.”

Having psyched herself up for the release of her album, the necessary postponement — and cancellation of her tour plans — was something of a comedown. 

“Everything was a big frustration,” she says. “And I couldn’t really let that energy out in music, because I wasn’t able to (play).”

That last part, especially, was a huge blow to someone for whom music has been “a place of escape and expression and dealing with things and understanding myself” since her early teens and has become the thing from which she makes her living — an impressive feat for any artist, but particularly an independent musician from the Middle East. 

Nahas first picked up a guitar – which actually belonged to her sister – when she was a kid. Supplied

Nahas first picked up a guitar when she was a kid. It actually belonged to her sister, who “took a few lessons then stopped.” 

“I would tune it in very weird ways and strum it and sing out of tune,” she says. “Then I decided to study guitar. The only available option that my parents liked was classical music. So for nine years I did classical guitar and theory. I wanted to drop it (often), but I’m glad I didn’t.”

Music was popular in the Nahas household — from classic Arab artists including Fayrouz (“My mother’s a big fan”) to Western artists. Nahas chose to listen mostly to the latter. “We had a massive collection of CDs in the car and every Saturday we’d drive to the Galilee with the windows open and very fresh air and listen to John Lennon. That’s my main memory of music from my childhood,” she says. As a teenager she branched out into hard rock, pop, jazz and more. Oh, and Avril Lavigne (“That’s a bit embarrassing now,” she admits). 

Music was popular in the Nahas household — from classic Arab artists to Western artists. Supplied

She estimates she wrote her first original song around the age of 15. “It probably sounded like a normal indie-rock song, but I think the (lyrical) content was quite different,” she says. “It was about life as a Palestinian girl understanding her identity, and asking questions — about the political situation too. Looking at it now, I think, ‘Woah! That’s what I was dealing with at the age of 15?’”

It took a few years before she felt she was developing her own identity as an artist, though. She played her first gig as she finished high school, aged 18, by which time she had about an hour’s worth of original material. 

It makes sense that Nahas had classical training and listened to a wide variety of genres growing up — and that she composes music for the theater professionally. Her songs, and particularly her vocal delivery, have a definite theatrical vibe, and there are hints of several influences — pop, indie rock, jazz, rockabilly, surrealism, punk, spoken-word, and more. The result is something that seems entirely organic and entirely honest. It’s not necessarily easily accessible, but it’s certainly some of the most interesting work you’ll hear from a contemporary Middle Eastern artist, at least in the English language. 

A still from the “Desert” music video. Supplied

The two singles released from the album so far — “The Clown” and title track “Desert” — are good examples; both showcasing her distinctive style. The former was written a month after Nahas moved to Berlin, aged 21 (because “I just needed to be away, make music and take time to just be and understand things”). “It came from a few days of thoughts that were gathering and piling up — about being away from home, about artists getting on stage and getting labeled as Palestinian or as Israeli, about the political situation that never really leaves you.”

The latter, released in November, was written around the same time. “It’s a very personal song talking about searching and the things that are changing around us,” Nahas explains. “In the video (shot in Haifa), we played a lot with metaphors and images — we have kids with guns, we have a dancer crucified on an olive tree to symbolize the ties to the land. We have an old, abandoned building in Haifa contrasted with the big glass buildings to ask ourselves where our identity — as Palestinian 48ers — fits between tradition and modern colonialism.”

“The Clown” is the first single from her debut album. Supplied

The search for identity is a central theme of Nahas’ debut album, which will finally see the light of day on January 29. “It was very influenced by the relocation from Palestine to Germany,” she says. “So it deals with questions of identity and of what our responsibility to our identity is. I come from this place that has a certain political weight, traditionally. So how do I deal with that weight? How do I sing about it? Who am I in it?”

The end to the record’s long delay will doubtless come as a huge relief to Nahas, after what she describes as “one of the heaviest years for me.” Her almost-complete recovery from injury all but coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the year also included the death of a close friend — one of the dancers in the “Desert” video. 

The search for identity is a central theme of Nahas’ debut album, which will finally see the light of day on January 29. Supplied

“That challenged my relationship with the (record). He was part of the creation, in a way. And the release was postponed because of the injury and the pandemic. I wished it had been finished and that he could have seen it, because he really put everything into it. So it just added another layer to everything.”

That heavy year hasn’t been entirely without positives though, she stresses. “Even though it’s been very unsettling, with my injury and the pandemic, it did ground something in me. It forced me to look inward more, but also to look at what’s around me and appreciate it and grow from it.”

She played her first gig as she finished high school, aged 18, by which time she had about an hour’s worth of original material. Supplied

Given the years between the album’s completion and release, I wonder if Nahas still feels as connected to the work. Her answer is a definite yes. 

“It captures a period in my life that I needed to capture and I’m really happy I did that. The songs came from a very honest place. That’s the most important thing — I feel like that doesn’t get old,” she says. “ So, it doesn’t matter when it comes out, because it’s real and it’s truthful — and I’m sure that will be reflected in the interaction with the people who are going to listen to it.”