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Part I: Helen Rosenthal, New York City Council
Helen Rosenthal is the Councilmember for District 6. Helen’s office helps thousands of residents stay in their homes, providing monthly housing clinics with free legal service. Through her legislation, Helen has almost doubled the income requirement to qualify for rent stabilization for both seniors and people with disabilities. Helen heard from hundreds of parents, teachers, and residents, about school rezoning and supported the parents who voted to approve new zone lines to alleviate overcrowding and concentrated poverty. She has empowered workers, giving them a fair share of their work, through her worker cooperatives initiative. Helen continues to make our streets safer, our schools stronger, and our parks greener.
At City Hall, Helen introduced legislation to recognize Meatless Monday in New York and encourages residents to eat more plant-based meals once a week. Helen has also fought for animal rights and humane treatment throughout her tenure. She was a proud co-sponsor of legislation, which recently passed, to ban the use of wild and exotic animals in public performances. Further, she co-sponsored and passed a series of bills in 2014 that heighten pet shops code and standards throughout the City. You can learn more about Helen at www.helen2017.com.
Part II: Ghanim Al-Sulaiti, Vegan in Qatar & Cambodia
A vegan entrepreneur, Ghanim is the founder and driving force behind Qatar’s first vegan cafe, Evergreen Organics. He’s the Co-Founder in Cambodia of the first vegan cafe VIBE, the Founder of Botany, a vegan ethical skin care line, and founder of the Good Vibe Foundation which aims to feed 10,000 school children healthy vegan food in Cambodia. Ghanim is passionate about raising awareness about conscious living by promoting a plant based lifestyle and is invested in the holistic approach to diet and health. His goal with VIBE is to inspire people from all over the world to live a healthier lifestyle.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn: Hello everybody! Hello. How are you? I’m Caryn Hartglass and it’s time for It’s All About Food. I happen to be in the Manhattan Studio at Progressive Radio Network and we are video streaming, not just audio streaming today. So, if you want to say hi visually, hi! I’m here. You know…you can call in with comments and questions any time during this program today, any other time. The number is 1-888-874-4888. Fantastic! We have a great show today. I’m really looking forward to it. On the way here, walking to the studio, I was so excited because I discovered that there’s a new location of Beyond Sushi and it’s right on 37th Street in Manhattan. Very close to the theater district. There’s never really been for a long time a good place to get vegan food if you’re going to a Broadway show. Although there are plenty of great restaurants in the area, but not completely vegan. Now we have 2 and Beyond Sushi is one of them. If you have a chance, check them out. They are phenomenal. The other one, which maybe I will talk about later today, is P.S. Kitchen. I happened to be there a few days ago. I’m quite excited about that restaurant too. But, lets bring on my guest. We have Helen Rosenthal. She is the Council Member for District 6 here in New York City. Helen’s office helps thousands of residents stay in their homes, providing monthly housing clinics with free legal service. Through her legislation, Helen has almost doubled the income requirement to qualify for rent stabilization for both seniors and people with disabilities. Helen heard from hundreds of parents, teachers, residents about school re-zoning and supported the parents who voted to approve new zone lines to alleviate over crowding and concentrated poverty. She’s empowered workers, giving them a fair share of their work through her worker cooperative initiative. Helen continues to make our streets safer, our schools stronger, and our parks greener. At City Hall, she introduced legislation to recognize “Meatless Monday” in New York and encourages residents to eat more plant-based meals once a week. Helen has also fought for animal rights and humane treatment through her tenure. She was a proud co-sponsor of legislation, which recently passed which we talked about on this program, to ban the use of wild and exotic animals in public performances. You can learn more about Helen at helen2017.com. Helen, welcome to It’s All About Food!
Helen: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to be on your show.
Caryn: Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time. I can imagine being part of the NYC Council that you are very busy.
Helen: A little bit. But this is important. What we put in our bodies. How we keep ourselves healthy is critical so I love talking about this.
Caryn: Well it’s my favorite subject, food. Now I had the opportunity to meet you, maybe a month ago or so and there was a nice gathering in Manhattan. We spoke briefly. But it was exciting for a lot of us because you made an announcement about your particular eating habits and I just wanted to talk about that a little bit. Why you made those decisions and how you came to it?
Helen: Well, over the past, I think this was over the past 6 months. Truly, over my lifetime I’ve been quasi-vegetarian. But, in December I really started being aware of how food affected my body and how I felt and learned more about a plant-based diet. I also came to realize that I have some major allergies. Which makes it a little easier for me to be vegan. I’m really allergic to milk and also night shade vegetables. So unfortunately potatoes, tomatoes and peppers are out for me. And mushrooms, which I love. But no wonder my face was so blotchy my whole life. Anyway, I’ve cut out everything and am really eating and enjoying a plant-based diet. It wasn’t hard to do because it has made me feel so much better. I don’t have stomachaches anymore, my face isn’t erupting. There are so many things going on in the world that we cannot control. What we put in our mouths is something we can. I have found it, I mean you were just talking about new restaurants in the City; I have found it not to be difficult to eat a vegan diet. I go out to eat. Today I was at a restaurant that’s not vegan but more and more and certainly at this place, the “V” is showing up on the different items so you can rest assured what you are putting in your mouth. I love having that control. I’m a big eater. I really like food. This has been the greatest thing.
Caryn: Really glad to hear about that. I just want to add an aside. There are a gazillion different kinds of plant foods so the world is vast, there’s a lot of variety. If you can’t eat something, that’s OK there’s just so many other things out there. But, as the inflammation from eating the wrong foods gets resolved, and you heal, you may be able to eat some of those foods that caused you a problem. Just something to think about in the future.
Helen: Maybe. I don’t know. I have to say, well I have to go to the Doctor for sure, but little bumps that had been appearing on my body that are natural with aging are actually dissipating and going away.
Caryn: Because they’re not natural with ageing!
Helen: Thank you. The house I grew up in it was natural with aging, but not for me I guess anymore.
Caryn: Great, well this is great news. I want to know, I don’t know how many people are familiar with New York City and our government here, but can you tell me what the Council does and starting with how much you get to spend in the New York City budget?
Helen: The New York City budget is around 85 billion dollars. It’s the fourth largest budget of any municipality, including states, in the United States. The responsibility of a Council Member is threefold- one to hold oversight hearings about how the Mayor is choosing to spend that 85 billion dollars and push back or make changes at the end of the day it’s the Council that passes the budget. We also have the responsibility for land use, where anyone who wants to build something that’s out of what their allowed to do, it’s the City Council that votes on whether or not they can do that. Third, to connect people to city services. As you mentioned in the beginning, I have a storefront office in my district where we see thousands of people and our job is to connect them to city services. Sometimes when that’s not happening enough, we will bring city services to the district. Over the last few weeks, we’ve brought the Department of Finance into my office and offered people the opportunity to come just right around the corner, they don’t have to go Downtown, to sign up to freeze their rent. For example, if they’re seniors and they’re in rent regulated homes. In terms of how much money each Council Member gets, it’s a drop in the bucket in the context of the budget but it can lead to meaningful support in somebody’s district. Roughly every year, the city sets aside 5 million dollars; at least that’s what it’s been during my tenure. 5 million dollars in capital expenditures and I’ve been able to use that money to invest in our local schools and parks and senior centers. If a principal says to me that they need a new science lab or library or computers, I can actually allocate funds that way. Similarly, on the expense side, we’re given funding to support whatever we want but I support art education in school, primarily and also funding for art programs in senior centers and in our public housing. One thing that the City Council, about 20 members of the 51 member body, one thing that we do is turn over 1 million, at least 1 million of that 5 million dollars to the residents who live in the district and they are the ones who both suggest the ideas of what should be funded, and then do the final vote. Whatever the final tally comes up with, that funding goes in as the resident’s of this district has chosen. The process if called participatory budgeting. It’s a mouthful, but basically in the fall we let people know if they want to volunteer to work on this project, come up with ideas, shape them into real projects that the city would fund. Over the last 3 years, we usually go from about 80 ideas, just things people are brainstorming about, down to about 12 or 15 that actually get on the ballot. Then, over the years, we’ve upped our numbers. Our first year roughly 2,000 people voted. This past year it was 3,000. In our district, anyone who is 14 years or older can vote. It has nothing to do with electoral politics, so you don’t have to be registered but it would be helpful if you came with your ConEdison bill or your driver’s license or school ID. Then, people vote! This year we voted online, too. Very exciting.
Caryn: Yes. Very exciting. People need to realize that they do have a say and they can be heard. You just have to get involved.
Helen: Absolutely. By the same token, I want to hear from everyone but there are maybe times when I come to a different conclusion than somebody else comes to. I make it a point to always hear everyone out. That’s very important.
Caryn: My focus is food.
Caryn: I believe that food can solve a lot of problems and cause a lot of problems. We’ve seen in a variety of different places. For example, in schools when a school decides to kind of get old fashioned and have their lunch room serve freshly made meals, not meals that are just add water from a packet and stir it up, but freshly made meals. The behavior of the students improves. The performance of the student improves. Excellent nutrition can only do good things. I also believe that the costs go down because it’s believed that serving fresh, healthy food is expensive and it doesn’t have to be. Beans are the cheapest things that we can eat and they’re so good for us. So, what’s going on with the Council in terms of food and food policy that we can get involved and excited about?
Helen: I think one of the most important things is addressing hunger. The issues of poverty. The City Council has pushed very hard to make sure that anyone can have lunch or breakfast at school. So, we’ve done away with charging people. Anyone can get a free lunch. That’s critical. I don’t think we’ve gone far enough though in terms of serving healthy foods. There are non-profit groups that come into some schools if the principal will let them and bring healthier eating habits to the school and healthier eating choices. They’re not; it’s not the Department of Education’s policy yet to do that. I have a school in my district where one of the leaders in wellness in the school sent his child there and their lunch room is not set up for a full kitchen or even a kitchen at all. So, they have not been able to have healthy foods. We have to push harder to fix that problem. I think the schools have to, can’t be stopped by something like that. There has to be work arounds or other solutions. Whenever a principal says to me they want to do it but they can’t, we have to work harder to find solutions. I’m still looking for a non-profit in the area that would lend their kitchen to this school and just transfer the freshly cooked food over from the non-profit to the school. But, bad bad food habits are entrenched in our country because so much of unfortunately so many states count on dairy and corn and soy as agricultural products to sustain the state. That’s really where we need to address the problem. Is to move those states into other industries that can serve the larger population and be just as desired. The way the Federal Government works is they subsidize the farmers who are giving the rest of the country food we shouldn’t be eating in the first place. I’m not a big fan of American cheese. Never was, never will be. That is fundamentally the root of the problem, right? Because schools are, if you want free food from the Federal Government this is the junk you get.
Caryn: Yeah. Lets talk about Meatless Mondays. You are for Meatless Mondays and what is it going to take to get that to be something that’s supported by New York City?
Helen: Fernando Cabrera who’s a Council Member from the Bronx and the other vegan in the City Council and I, have decided that in the next council should we both be re-elected, we’re going to start a vegan caucus. With the determination of this new caucus, we’re going to get it through. I think that as a whole, Council Members don’t respect the importance of resolutions as compared to changing a law. So, people don’t invest as much time and if you look, or as much energy into resolutions. If you look on the City Council website and you pull up the number of resolutions passed versus the number of laws passed, certainly laws by far outweigh the number of resolutions. A resolutions means that we can’t control, we can’t pass a law dictating this, but it is something that we would like people to do. Whether is be the State, the Federal Government, or people in their eating choices. I think that if we could get this resolution through, so many other groups including yourself on radio, or restaurateurs who want to support this, can use the fact that the City has passed this resolution as a call for people eating meatless at least once a week. I come from a public health background so the second someone had suggested this to me it resonated immediately. I’m very proud to be the one carrying this resolution. We just have to get it passed. We have to get our colleagues to take it seriously, which I have every intention of doing in the next council.
Caryn: Excellent. Well resolutions are not binding, but they start to conversation and they put the idea out there and it’s a great opportunity for some free marketing in terms of press releases and different media outlets taking advantage to announce it and then people can get curious and learn more about it.
Caryn: I support it resolutions.
Helen: Exactly. Would you have me on when we pass it? I’d love to have our victory conversation.
Caryn: Yeah! And then we’ll go over to Beyond Sushi or somewhere and celebrate with some healthy food.
Helen: Absolutely. Although I have to say I’d invite you to my district so we might go to Candle Cafe or Blossom…
Caryn: OK, no problem.
Helen: But I hear you!
Caryn: Yes. Well the studio is here on 37th, which is right down the street from Beyond Sushi. But everyone that listens knows how big a fan I am of Candle, all the Candles. And Blossom!
Caryn: I’m so glad that we have them in this city. I’ll have to confess, I’ve eaten vegan all over the world for over 30 years now. New York’s the best place for vegan restaurants.
Helen: Good to know.
Caryn: Yes. I mean there are some fun places definitely. But there’s no place like New York. OK I’m biased.
Helen: There’s so much choice.
Caryn: But, there are.
Helen: And also, I mean I think in a way that’s not surprising, people come to New York to follow their dreams and their passions. Whether it be a vegan restaurant or Broadway, to come into New York.
Caryn: Yes and I want to say if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere. Vegan restaurants are making it here so we can make it anywhere!
Helen: That’s great. I love that attitude. That’s wonderful.
Caryn: So I want to thank you for supporting that into 1233 for the ban of the wild and exotic animals.
Helen: Oh, absolutely.
Caryn: I know it took 11 years to get that through.
Helen: 11 years and a terrifying the day of the vote.
Caryn: I heard about that!
Helen: But we got it through.
Caryn: It’s complicated and it’s difficult. I know a lot of people get frustrated with the Mayor for example because he’s promised things and said that he would push to get things done. But, he’s not the only one making choices. He’s got your 51 members to deal with in the Council.
Helen: That’s exactly right. Lets talk about the horse ban.
Caryn: Lets talk about it…
Helen: I’m with him 100% on that. The reality is to get a law passed you need enough people in the Council who would support it. We’re not there yet. We’re not there yet. People are opposed to it for all sorts of different reasons. Lets face it; it took 11 years to get the wild animal ban through the Council. When you want something that’s very important and it’s hard to get, it’s hard to get. That’s why it’s hard. But that doesn’t stop you. If it’s important you fight for it.
Caryn: What a lot of people don’t understand, and I got some comments with regard to this bill, 1233 the ban of wild and exotic animals using them in performance here in New York City. They were complaining that activists were wasting their time and not pushing the broader agendas of plant-based diet, not exploiting animals period, and they’re quite frustrated. In my heart, I would love that we didn’t exploit anyone or anything on this planet.
Helen: Of course!
Caryn: But, looking at history and knowing what’s going on day to day. Meeting all the people I do and the people I love and know, we don’t all agree and it’s hard to make a big step. It’s hard to make a little step. But it’s easier to make a little step, then to make a really big step.
Helen: It’s definitely true. You want to keep setting the bar higher and higher and higher. Eventually, you’ll get to where you want to be. There are legislative ideas where I’ve come in and at first wanted something. Wanted to change a certain aspect of how government works. If it’s not going to hold up to a court challenge, or it’s not going to get the support of my colleagues, then I can’t get that passed. I either have to work on the legislation itself, the idea, and get it to a place where it could pass. Or I have to wait for the right moment in time to move it through. One needs for the stuff that’s important and is a really big change, it often takes a variety of things coming together to a sweet spot where it gets through. I don’t know how far off the topic of food you want to get, or the horses, but we’ve had an opportunity to desegregate two schools on the Upper West Side. There was all of the sudden this sweet spot moment of a brand new school opening and parent leaders who would vote to desegregate. That all the sudden, that moment happened and I was so proud to stand up and support these parents who chose to want to go that way and chose to say the reason segregation exists is because people always say let’s study it more or wait until next year. There was no waiting. A brand new school was about to open. You’re either going to set it up for integration success, or not.
Helen: I’m very proud to stand with them. It’s taking a long time to get here. People have tried different things, they didn’t work. This is a plan that I think is going to work. It’s a shame that it would be opposed but sometimes you have to stand up and just do the right thing.
Caryn: Yes, well thank you Helen Rosenthal for standing up and doing the right thing as often as you do. I really appreciate that and I’m glad I got to meet you. I’m excited to see what you’ll be doing with the Council. When are you up for re-election?
Helen: There’s a primary on September 12th and so on the upper left side of Manhattan it’s all about the Democratic primary. I have two people challenging me in the primary who are running on the Democratic line. I hope people will look at my record over the last 4 years and know that I am very serious about continuing to work for them and to pass legislation that I’m still working on, including Meatless Mondays.
Caryn: OK great. Helen, I wish you all the best. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Helen: Thanks for having me on! Keep eating!
Caryn: Keep eating! Thank you. Keep eating delicious plant food, yes thank you. That’s Helen Rosenthal, the Council Member of District 6 here in NYC. Fantastic.
Transcribed by Adella Finnan 8/22/2017
Transcription Part II:
Caryn: Let’s go on to my next guest who is waiting and I’m very excited to bring him on. We have Ghanim Al-Sulaiti, a vegan entrepreneur. The founder and driving force behind Qatar’s first vegan cafe, Evergreen Organic. The co-founder in Cambodia of the first vegan cafe, Vibe. The founder of Botany, a vegan ethical skin care line and founder of The Good Vibe Foundation which aims to feed 10,000 school children healthy, vegan food in Cambodia. Ghanim is passionate about raising awareness, about conscious living by promoting a plant-based lifestyle and he’s invested in the holistic approach to diet and health. His goal with Vibe is to inspire people from all over the world to live a healthier lifestyle. Welcome and thank you for joining me Ghanim!
Ghanim: Hi, how are you how’s it going?
Caryn: Good. Did I pronounce your name correctly?
Ghanim: Yes, yes. You made it right.
Caryn: Thank you. It’s early for you isn’t it?
Ghanim: It’s actually very late for us. It’s 12 midnight.
Caryn: Oh, not so bad. Where are you right now?
Ghanim: I’m in Doha, Qatar. I’m back in Qatar. But, a couple of weeks ago I was in Cambodia. Back and forth all the time.
Caryn: I found out about you because my friend was traveling around Asia and ended up in Cambodia at your vegan cafe there.
Ghanim: That’s amazing. That’s amazing. I think the world is a very small place right now, especially for our vegan society where really coming together and I can see how we’re growing so much but at the same time we are all coming to one place to help each other and support one another, which is awesome.
Caryn: When I hear about people like yourself, things happening in places that are far away from where I live, doing the wonderful things that you are, it gives me a lot of hope. We live in a very crazy world. I think it’s been crazy for a very long time. It seems especially heightened crazy here in the United States these days with our Federal Government and our leader. I don’t even want to mention his name. It’s giving us a lot of challenges and giving us a bad reputation. It’s important for us to focus on our individual lives and what we can do and what we can control. I’m always saying that food is something that really can make a difference on so many levels. Just tell me how did you get started wanting to promote a plant-based lifestyle?
Ghanim: It all started 4 years ago. I’ve been vegan for 4 years.
Ghanim: I’ve lived in the US for 4 years. I graduated from University in Philly. I got my inspiration while being in Philly back in 2013. I was watching Good Morning America one day and then Kimberly Snyder, a very famous author, came on the show and she was promoting her book. I remember she was talking about food actually changed her life and how it changed her look, changed her health. From that point I went to Barnes and Noble which was a couple of blocks away and I got the book and started my journey from there. I started experimenting on my body and I felt better every time I started to substitute vegan alternative I was always feeling better and better. Then when I started reading a lot and meeting a lot of people who live this lifestyle and traveling across the globe, meeting people and seeing cultures that have been surviving on a vegan diet, mainly plant-based diet for years. They’re doing amazing and the people are living to reach 100 and 105 and people are so healthy. That actually made me question a lot of the stuff we have in our culture and a lot of the stuff that we have in our lifestyle that we just don’t. We think that it’s right for us but once you start questioning it just becomes a reality kind of like a quick reality check that it’s actually not good for us. From that point I became fully vegan and I didn’t want to at that point to say to anybody or to tell people I was vegan. Especially being from Doha, Qatar I’m sure all the cultures around the world are meat oriented but I think a culture is a bit more intense.
Caryn: Yeah I was going to ask you what is the meat culture there where you are?
Ghanim: Exactly. The meat culture is quite intense. I think I found it a bit challenging in the beginning. But once I believed in what I was doing and when I made sure that what I was doing was right. You know, you wake up every morning thinking that, oh my god am I doing the right thing or not? For me, reading books and meeting people and talking about a bit loudly, I think that’s what makes me believe more in what I am doing. I think that just gave me the confidence to move forward. Then one day I realized which I was in Paris actually, how people are feeling amazing coming to these vegan places and how it’s not just cafes but the whole community that comes with the space that you’re trying to create. I was like, oh my god, this is like what my country needs where I live and I can’t survive without that community. So I had to create something like that. Once I was done, when I was traveling to Asia, because I was always around Asia, the idea came when I was in Cambodia because there was nothing vegan 100%. That idea came again. Then that’s when I had my vision to also share and make vegan food accessible to cities and countries that don’t have it. My vision is to give at least one option in every city. At least one good option. I guess that’s where it all started and it just brought me to a place where I thought this is my message and this is my goal. I’ve seen the faces of the people. People come to us and say, oh my God you saved our lives. Sometimes it gets actually that far. I’ve been traveling a lot. I’ve been to Nepal; I’ve been to a lot of Asian countries where it was so difficult to find clean food and healthy plant-based food. Even though they have access to farm and the agriculture is amazing. I think lack of education is where the gap is. I felt that was the intention for me to be here on Earth, at least that’s what I felt.
Caryn: You are saving lives. You’re saving non-human animal lives by not eating and encouraging other to not eat them, as well as improving the health of humans who decide to eat more plants and less animals. You have two vegan cafes. One is in Qatar, Evergreen and the other is Vibe in Cambodia. Can you talk about what’s on the menus of these two? I imagine they’re different.
Ghanim: Sure. The one in Qatar is a bit more. Qatar is a bit more difficult in getting the produce and getting the freshest produce. Yes, we live in a desert country where to grow some of your vegetables it’s quite hard. You are limited with your options. Most of the stuff is imported. Recently we’ve seen so much huge impact in terms of the organic farms and the grow aspect of that. The menu is really international. The chef that we have at Evergreen is actually from New York. He used to work in Boston and New York for almost 20 years as a vegan chef. He’s amazing. He created an international menu with vegan burgers and raw pizzas and raw ravioli and tacos and cheesecake with no cheese, chocolate tart and chocolate Nutella but it’s not Nutella. You know what I mean?
Caryn: I do, yum.
Ghanim: It’s actually very healthy because we only use whole food plant-based ingredients. We don’t use any packaged or processed food. No white sugar, no white flour. Nothing from a can. We’re trying our best to hold soy with the GMO that comes with it. We’ve put a lot of consciousness in it. Doha is more, even though it’s a cafe, at the end of the day when you actually come there and experience the food it’s more of a restaurant kind of standard. Vibe is a bit more simple in terms of the food. Still vegan. All of these amazing quesadillas, bowls. At Vibe we focus an abundance on fruits and vegetables and that’s why with every dish it’s more of an abundance feeling you get because you get a lot of colors and ingredients in a bowl. It’s kind of of more of a simple cafe. You can easily see the ingredients and you can easily point out what is on the dish rather than being like, oh my god what’s in the dish? At the same time we have cold pressed juices, raw vegan desserts. That’s at both places.
Caryn: I want to go! I want to try it out, sounds so good!
Ghanim: Breakfast, lunch and dinner in both places. I think trying to kind of cover up all the things. We have whole foods section where you can come and grab almond butter and cashew butter because we make it all in-house. Home made pesto, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha. All of these amazing things. We’re trying to have this one-stop shop experience for the customers. You want to find that one space where you can just go in and have your food, trust them, get everything you want while traveling. I guess that’s…I mean it’s a very, very interesting menu. It’s huge actually. People can look online before coming to the restaurant and I think it’s really very interesting. Definitely, both places have it’s own environment. In Vibe we have the farms that are a couple of miles away from the cafe so we get it so fresh in the morning. We get the freshest ingredients. In Doha it’s a bit more of a challenge in terms of getting the freshest ingredients even though we still get it but I think it takes a bit more of a challenge to get it.
Caryn: Fantastic. I’m just curious. We have a caller and I want to bring her on, OK? Hello!
Caryn: Hi there!
Robin: Hey Caryn how are you?
Caryn: Hi, Robin!
Robin: Hi. Yeah, hi how are you?
Caryn: Good. So Robin is here and she’s the one who let me know about you Ghanim and you’re cafe Vibe.
Ghanim: Oh my God.
Robin: Hi Ghanim, how are you?
Robin: I’m good, I’m good.
Ghanim: Oh my God, the world is literally a small place.
Robin: So Caryn, I love the interview it’s great.
Caryn: Thank you. I want to know what you ate while you were at the Vibe Cafe.
Robin: I ate, I had a couple juices. I remember one was passion fruit, I don’t remember the other. I had the bean burger and I had, I bought those mini donuts to take back to my hotel, almond and chocolate and dates. I bought a couple of them. The burger was interesting because it was bean and it had bread and I probably had not had bread in almost a month so I was so happy to have a piece of bread. I don’t eat that much bread but it was just so comforting to be there, from the time I walked in. Phnom Penh is not exactly an easy city. It’s busy it’s hectic it’s just so intense. Eating as you were talking about in South East Asia can be a bit of a challenge. The night before my group, we got to the hotel late and we had an arranged dinner across the street and I’m not going to rain on anyone’s parade but people in my group were eating fried scorpions and friend ants in their pasta. If they want to that’s fine. But, I was so desperate to eat at a place that I felt home, a place with home. I walked into your beautiful restaurant and I just took a deep breath and I was so happy, I was so relived.
Ghanim: Oh my God I’m so happy to hear that actually.
Robin: Thank you and is Tanya is she listening? Will she get to hear this?
Ghanim: Tanya you mean the manager?
Robin: Yeah, yeah.
Ghanim: I’m sure she. I don’t know, they’re sleeping now in Cambodia so I’m not sure if she’s up now.
Caryn: She can listen later.
Robin: She’s amazing as well. Beautiful, smart…She said to me I love meeting vegans from all over the world.
Caryn: Yes, I love meeting vegans from all over the world. Robin how did you find out about Vibe?
Robin: I do a lot of research as you know. I probably did some Googling of just vegan Cambodia, vegan Phnom Penh but then of course I went to happycow.net
Caryn: Yes. Everything’s there.
Robin: Yeah. I read the menu’s of a number of…there were some other vegan restaurants listed. I read it and then I re-read it maybe a few hours later. I said to my tour leader, this is a good place, this is a good place. I really wanted to understand where I was going. At that point I was just so hungry. I planned to e-mail him in the future. Well I told him it was great but I’ll continue. It was wonderful.
Caryn: That’s something we can all do when we go on tours and we discover something to let our tour guide know of places for vegans or anyone who’s looking for healthy food, where they can feel at home.
Robin: I felt at home. It’s so beautiful. Upstairs, there’s three levels right Ghanim?
Robin: So beautiful. There’s a garden room. So tranquil. The streets are so busy and so difficult for me at least and just walking in there was amazing. So clean. I tried to go to the one in Siem Reap a few days later but unfortunately I became ill and I just stayed at my hotel. I couldn’t go anywhere but I knew it was there. I felt so bad. But, I was so happy that I had this experience in Cambodia.
Caryn: Well Robin, thank you for letting me know about Ghanim. I’m excited to be able to talk to him and learn about his projects and thanks for calling in.
Robin: Thank you. Bye Ghanim!
Ghanim: Bye, bye. It was great hearing you.
Caryn: Oh I love how small the world is sometimes.
Ghanim: It is. It is. It is. Really actually. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming to know how easy and simple, you can easily connect now a days and it’s kind of so simple to keep in touch with people and it’s just fascinating.
Caryn: So tell me how do your family and friends respond to your work and your projects and your plant-based lifestyle?
Ghanim: I think, I mean from day one I made the decision by myself without sharing it with anyone even my family. I think that I kept it to myself for a few months and then once, after a few months I’m sure they noticed. Everybody was telling me, you’re avoiding meat and you’re avoiding chicken and fish and all the dairy products. I was like, yes. That’s when I had to kind of tell them. They all thought I was crazy at that point. I would say 4 years ago this was, I mean vegan is not even a word to be used. Vegetarian wasn’t even a word to be used in Doha let’s say. Even telling them that I’m not eating meat or chicken it didn’t make any sense. But I was always trying to convince them, always trying to kind of talk to them about it and explain and trying to get them to the same experience. But I never was successful to do that so at some point I just said, you know what? If I feel great, if I feel amazing, if I feel different, if I feel the purpose and I feel the reason, then why should I even put the energy out on trying to kind of prove to people that what I was doing was right so let me just do whatever I think is right and put the energy back in and that’s what I did. I remember the first day when I opened Evergreen. Even though my family knew that I was opening the restaurant, they didn’t buy into the idea until the day of the opening. Once they came into the opening, what shocked them was it was full. Seriously from the first 5 minutes that we opened, it was packed. Not vegan people for sure it wasn’t like vegan people who came in. It was just like the community.
Ghanim: But my Dad was like, oh my God now I get it. Now I get it. And at that moment I was so proud and was like oh my God, finally. But I don’t know what happened at that time like I don’t know if it’s the people, I don’t know if it’s just the culture. If people can see it, that it’s actually happening and it’s actually working, and there’s demand for it. I think that’s why people click it in their mind. So I guess from that point my family started accepting the idea. Now my Mom is semi-vegan I would say she’s vegan until 5pm in the afternoon. My Dad he at least drinks a green smoothie every morning with me and have fruit platters and he at least has these green juices that I do all the time. My brother is vegetarian, which he just, turned a couple of years ago. My friends, I switched all my friend group that I travel with are now vegetarian/vegan. They bought into it. I’m happy because I get to travel and I get to choose the restaurants that I want and everybody would come with me. So I don’t have to go to restaurants that I don’t want to go to.
Caryn: Well I want to congratulate and commend you for number one, discovering what it is that you were put on the planet to do. And then having the courage to do it because a lot of people look for approval from their friends and family and when they don’t get it right away, or ever, it makes it extra challenging. So good for you.
Ghanim: True, thank you so much! I think it’s quite a journey and everyday I’m still learning. Yes, I’m vegan today and I’ve been vegan for 4 years and I have these vegan businesses and I always tell people around me. They always say, are you doing this forever, are you doing this for? I always tell people, today like now I can talk about what I know today and what I know now in this moment. I don’t want to talk about 10 years from today but I know what’s going to happen. 5 years ago I didn’t know that I’m going to be vegan and I’m going to have 3 businesses across the globe. I never thought that. I think you never know what’s going to happen, what’s going to be the next thing. It can be like a different diet, a different thing, I don’t know. But, I know that today vegan is the answer and vegan is the future that I think would be. It makes me feel amazing and I think that’s the most important thing.
Caryn: Beautiful. Well I’ve been doing it for almost 30 years and I think vegan is the answer.
Ghanim: Yes, that’s amazing. I love to hear that.
Caryn: Can we talk about the Good Vibe Foundation? Where you’re aiming to feed 10,000 school children. What is that about?
Ghanim: So, the idea came in the beginning, before we did Vibe. I always wanted to create a space where, like a restaurant or cafe where you go in, I wanted to change how people perceive cafes. You always go to a cafe and you think you’re just going to eat, give the money to somebody, then leave. You think the money goes in to buy stocks and food and for the company to get profits or whatever. I wanted to kind of include the customers to a bit of a journey and a bit of an experience and give them a bit of a different view on when you actually come to a restaurant and eating you’re not just making your body healthy. You’re not just saving the environment you’re not just saving the animals, but you’re actually giving back to the community by every time eating. We’ve connected and created this foundation so that every time you eat at Vibe lets say, Vibe donates 10% of your profit of whatever you’ve eaten to the foundation. Every time you eat anything at Vibe it automatically goes to the foundation. Then I’ve connected all my businesses that I have. I have Botany which is an ethical product brand of candles and skin care line and every time you buy a product it goes directly also to the foundation. I wanted to kind of connect every single business that I have and other people’s businesses so whenever you go to that business it automatically feeds someone else out there healthy vegan food. Going back to the foundation, I think we all, a lot of people think that vegan food is expensive and vegan food is only for the rich people and all other people just link that to you can’t afford vegan food. I hate to hear that because vegan food is so simple and so easy to have your hands on. I wanted to also show that even in rural communities it’s always the solution. I always see charities and other organizations when they go to give back to the community they also give the cheapest kind of food, the cheapest kind of ingredients to the kids or to whoever needs and I think every body deserves great food and healthy food no matter what. I think healthy food is satisfying and filling and nutritious. The start in Cambodia because Cambodia has a big number in terms of children that have lack of nutrition. They don’t go to school because they get sick. I guess it’s just because we have this business in Cambodia and I wanted to connect the communities in Cambodia with that and make sure that…I always love the idea of giving back and I think it’s an important thing for the Earth to keep giving us I think we always have to give back. I think it just makes it a great experience for whomever. I just love the idea of if you’re eating vegan then you’re also giving a chance for another kid out there to eat vegan. I want to kind of share that with a lot of people. 10,000 children, this is our aim this year. We’re moving forward and we’re moving very ambitious. We did some projects a couple of weeks ago when I was there and it was amazing to meet the kids. Actually, not just to give the meals. We teach them, we talk to them. We teach them about vegetables and eating fresh food and trying to kind of raise their awareness in the community. I think it’s a small thing that we are doing at the moment but I think it’s going to get bigger and bigger eventually. All the businesses I do make sense at the end of the day and it gives that peace of mind when you think of the option and the opportunity that other people don’t have and you’re being part of it.
Caryn: I love it. Ghanim, such a great story and I love hearing about everything that you’re doing. It just inspires me. I’m so glad to know you’re out there. I wish you all the success and people that are traveling to these places- Qatar and Cambodia- should find out about these wonderful places to eat. Thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food.
Ghanim: Thank you so much. Appreciate it. I hope to see you one day in real life.
Caryn: Yes, have a bite.
Ghanim: Talk more and maybe at Evergreen one day.
Caryn: Sounds good! I want to go. OK thank you so much.
Ghanim: Awesome. Thank you. Appreciate it. Thank you. Have a good one.
Caryn: You too. OK that was Ghanim Al-Sulaiti. You can find out more about him by going to responsibleeatingandliving.com and clicking on this interview. There are a bunch of links there where you can find out about his projects. So we just have a minute and a half left. I just wanted to quickly mention the great food that I’ve had in the last few days because I was so excited to discover them. Of course, if you visit my blog at responsibleeatingandliving.com my What Vegans Eat daily blog you can see and read about all of these foods. We went to P.S. Kitchen a few days ago. It’s a brand new restaurant It is in the Broadway district at 48th street. It’s founded by a couple of guys that have a chain called Terry in New York- Craig and Jeff. We met them and we met the chef and we ate this wonderful food. It’s really beautiful restaurant and the food is very creative and unique. You will not find any green salads or green smoothies and it’s funny because I was just interviewing Ann Hodgman about her book last week, Vegan Food for the Rest of Us and there are no salads and green smoothies in her book either. I don’t know if this is a trend, but for those of you that just want some really good eating, this is a place for that. You can see their menu online at ps-kitchen.com. Yesterday I was out with my niece and nephew, they are 10 and 12 and I had about 3 hours to take them around and entertain them. I had this whole itinerary planned. Of course everything took a lot longer than I expected to. Of course they were hungry when I wasn’t planning on feeding them. We got to our one destination and they wanted something to eat and it’s a little challenging because one of them has celiac and we have to be really careful about gluten. We stumbled upon Press Juicery and I know about them from California. I’ve been there a number of times. They have green juices. They recently introduced a new product called Freeze. It looks like soft serve ice cream. It tastes fabulous and it’s made from fruits like berries, almonds and dates. Some of the flavors have extra ingredients but they’re made from whole foods! There’s no sugar, certainly no gluten and they’re delicious! To give some children a treat like that when they haven’t had breakfast, you can feel really good about it. It was really fun; I was so excited to find it- Press Juicery. Another place that we stopped at was Friedman’s, oh am I out of time? I’m out of time so I’ll have to talk about that next week. Or you can go to my blog, What Vegans Eat. In the mean time, have a very delicious week. I’m Caryn Hartglass you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food.
Transcribed by Adella Finnan 8/16/2017
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