The Rise of Veganism in the Arab World
The Middle East is famously known for its abundance in natural resources, and more recently the rising obesity epidemic.
With the Americanisation of the Middle Eastern food market, the Arab world has been engulfed by large American food cooperations such as McDonald's, Burger King and KFC just to name a few. In 2016 there were over 950 McDonald's open across the Middle East bringing a profitable revenue for Americas biggest fast-food chain, but a crippling epidemic for Arab health institutions. Meat is found amongst many traditional Arab delicacies and has significant religious and cultural sentiment. However, the over-consumption of red meat is believed to be the leading cause of many health issues relating to heart diseases and diabetes. According to a study by The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) in 2015, over 37 million people were living with diabetes in the Middle East and North Africa.
Amidst raging carnivores, veganism has managed to find its place. A vegan or plant-based diet eliminates all animal-based products, such as dairy and meat. In 2018, the number of vegans skyrocketed as more and more people began to recognise the health benefits associated with the diet.
Within the UK veganism has become more mainstream, with restaurants and major food brands contributing to provide Free From vegan products. The Middle East has also caught up on the vegan trend. The transition to Veganism can be a daunting process when taking into account mainstream diet rules and the importance of having enough protein in your diet. However, social media has given a platform to young vegan and plant-based influencers to transcribe the vegan message to their Middle Eastern followers through YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. Dalal AlDoub is a plant-based fashion and lifestyle blogger from Kuwait with over 1.5Million followers on Instagram (@dalalid). With that sort of following Dalal used her platform to spread the health benefits of a transition to a plant-based diet, by uploading cooking videos on her YouTube channel. Or posting the cheeky food snap and favourite spots for being plant based on the go, as well as sharing her personal favourite recipes in cooking segments on her YouTube channel.
In her most recent video, Dalal collaborated with Ascia (Kuwaiti, fashion and lifestyle blogger) featuring in one of Ascia’s vlogs in a segment called 'Baking with Dalal,' where she shares her favourite plant-based recipes. With the rising popularity of eating vegan many popular restaurants in Kuwait and the rest of the Arab world are becoming better at accommodating to their vegan customers.
Alongside this, Yoga is a rising fitness trend in the Middle East with studios opening across the Arab world. Yoga is not a requirement of veganism, but the message of wellness in veganism goes hand in hand with the sport. Yoga improves flexibility, and some say that it has given them clarity and mindfulness. Sukkari Life aka Raoum is a certified plant-based nutritionist and yoga instructor from Saudi Arabia. Sukkari Life lives a vegan lifestyle, meaning she does not own cosmetics and apparel that contain animal products, or products that contribute to the suffering of animals for leisure and cosmetic purposes. Raoum posts regular content on her YouTube Channel exploring the endless variations to her colourful vegan meals, natural vegan beauty remedies and how she tries to live a minimalist zero waste lifestyle. On Raoum's YouTube channel she has a section of vlogs called, ‘What I Eat in Day.’ These vlogs range from travelling food diaries on how she accommodates to her vegan lifestyle whilst abroad, to seasonal comfort food, and her day to day favourite vegan recipes. Sukkari Life cooks traditional Arab delicacies showing her audience the versatility of veganism, as well as how many of the foods that are eaten by the majority of the Arab population are already vegan-friendly. These include Foul, a dish made from fava beans, or the infamous hummus and falafel.
Veganism may not replace the mainstream Arab diet anytime soon. However, the transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet could help reduce the risk of getting many meat-related diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and so on. A study by the University of Oxford showed that vegans have a lower risk of having heart-related diseases and cancer. As the Arab world has a large number of heart related deaths, a transition to a more humane and animal-free diet could be extremely beneficial.
[Photo Credits: Tony Webster CC BY 2.0]