According to Google Trends, interest in veganism has increased seven-fold between 2014 and 2019—almost four times the interest in vegetarianism. It appears that the idea of following a plant-based diet is also on the up here in Doha, with more and more vegan products landing on the shelves of local supermarkets. To learn more, Laura Powell-Corbett caught up with Superheroes Eat Plants founder, Rebekah Gomez, to speak with about her journey into a plant-based lifestyle. Rebekah shares with Laura how veganism has made her more mindful about what she eats and how it affects the environment.
It’s often said that there are three main reasons why people choose to adopt a vegan diet: animal welfare, environmental impact, or health.
Rebekah was no different. Her turning point came four years ago when she stood in the kitchen chopping up chicken for dinner, and a small, malnourished kitten appeared that at her window. An animal lover heavily involved in the animal rescue world, she experienced her vegan “eureka” moment when she decided to take the kitten in and save it from imminent death.
Rebekah looked down at the chicken on her counter and felt hypocritical. She asked herself what the difference was between a chicken, and this kitten she was determined to save. She wondered how she could rescue one group of animals but support and pay for the slaughter and abuse of another.
Thus the start of her (and her family’s) veganism journey that would later lead to her founding Superheroes Eat Plants. Superheroes Eat Plants is now one of the biggest support networks here in Qatar for vegan families, as well as those looking to learn more about the lifestyle.
The early days of being vegan
The day after the kitten incident began the foray into a plant-based lifestyle. In a bid to navigate what food was vegan and what food needed to be consigned to a previous life, the first five days of Rebekah’s new journey were filled with carbs and salads.
But with more research—and later, a certification in plant-based nutrition—Rebekah soon concluded that it didn’t have to be that way. She found that it was easy enough to have a whole-foods, plant-based diet while keeping the nutritional benefits that many assume are only attainable with an omnivorous one. More than that, she also realised that the vegan meals she was now serving her family were much more nutritionally balanced than the previous ones. Additionally, the battles she was having with her son, who was strongly against eating the animals he loved, had also disappeared overnight. Gone were the days of mealtime-disrupting bribes and treats!
Yet, it didn’t stop others questioning her decision to change the way she and her family were eating. The questions and statements that had been constantly thrown her way were:
– Where do you get your protein if you don’t eat meat?
– How do you have enough calcium in your diet without consuming any dairy products?
– You can’t be getting enough iron if you aren’t eating red meat!
According to Rebekah, these questions were more easily deflected the longer she and her family continued on their plant-based path. And the responses are simple: Protein can be easily obtained through legumes, beans, and pulses. Similarly, plant-based sources of calcium and iron include leafy greens and tofu.
The only supplement the family takes is vitamin B12, as it is the only vitamin that can be obtained through animal products or supplements. And if you’re still worried about protein, look at the size of a hippo—not too shabby for only eating plants!
Moving forward with a vegan lifestyle
While Rebekah and her family immediately cut out all animal products from their diet, most people start by becoming “flexitarians”. Flexitarians eat a mainly plant-based diet but still consume some animal products. With the worldwide phenomenon of #meatfreemondays trending across social media platforms, there is an increase in people embracing a more flexitarian style of cooking.
These gradual changes, for many, can lead to the realisation that they no longer want to eat as many animal products, resulting in reducing or cutting them out altogether.
Based on the knowledge she gained while studying for her plant-based nutrition certification in 2019, Rebekah agrees that the path she finds most people following is one of reduction.
According to her, people tend to first cut out red meat; followed by chicken; and then dairy, fish, and eggs, with the final hurdle being giving up cheese.
So, if you’re struggling to become a whole-foods vegan (especially because of cheese!), Rebekah’s top tip is simple: “Keep trying!”
Even Rebekah’s complete diet overhaul didn’t happen all at once. “I have to be honest and say we didn’t become whole-food plant-based overnight. We first became comfortable with being vegan and ate like-for-like processed products such as mock meats, cheeses and ice creams,” she says.
Rebekah’s journey was made easier by keeping familiar food items on the menu. N ow readily available in Qatar’s supermarkets, the range of vegan meats, sausages, and even cheeses make it easier to stay on track. So if something doesn’t taste good right now, you can go back to it as your taste buds change. And, let’s not forget, even Oreos are vegan!
After gaining her nutrition certification, more changes were afoot in the Gomez household. “Again, as a family, we made some changes such as cooking without oils and eliminating added salt,” says Rebekah.
Becoming more mindful
Although Rebekah and her son initially became vegan due to animal welfare concerns, the Gomez family became even more aware of the cost of their old lifestyle. They learnt more about the treatment of cows that were being separated from their young for the dairy industry. Their worries also grew about the hens being bred to lay eggs multiple times a day. And none of this took away from their heartbreak towards the animals being slaughtered for consumption.
The family had also become more mindful of their carbon footprint. By eliminating meat, they felt that they were no longer adding to the issue. They were no longer supporting an industry that had been deemed the third-largest cause of global warming, due to the emission of greenhouse gases from cows and sheep. And as a result, Rebekah now feels that a weight has been lifted off her back.
Delving deeper, Rebekah also discovered that meat consumption is responsible for the rapid loss of species we see today. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) organisation, this is happening at a pace somewhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. For example, in South America, mass areas of rainforest are cleared to enable the harvest of feed for animals destined to be exported to North America.
With the additional knowledge of the impact of what they were consuming, Rebekah and her family’s decision was cemented.
Going forward as a Superhero
Rebekah is passionate about changing the world we live in by helping whoever she can to become more mindful of each mouthful they take. Alongside creating delicious, whole-food, plant-based recipes, and supporting others on their journey into veganism, she spends her time educating, for free, in schools across Doha.
In fact, Rebekah is credited with being the first person to make vegan cookies, doughnuts, celebration cakes, pizza, and assembled Beyond Meat burgers commercially available in Qatar. She also pioneered the first three plant-based school cafes in Qatar at Doha College, International School of London, and the Swiss International School in Qatar.
There is no stopping this double award-winning Superhero who also has some big plans for this autumn up her sleeve—so watch this space! After all, the Superheroes motto is “changing the way we eat, think, and live in one generation”.
Are you ready to become a mindful, vegan Superhero?