This interview was done as part of the panel discussions on the Early Birds Club (EBC) platform. EBC, a global initiative founded by Mohanji, aims to create balanced, stable and purposeful people in the world who live their lives based on positive values such as kindness, compassion and unconditional love. EBC is here to inspire and create a whole new generation of stable and purposeful people that can make great contributions to this world.
In this interview we talk with Georges Hayek from Lebanon, Palak Mehta from India and Sameera Khan from South Africa.
Georges Hayek is the force behind Lebanese Vegans on social media. He is a subtle, frank and honest vegan activist. Georges has an MBA from the Lebanese American University. He's also the owner of a hospital with a plant based approach to healing and wellness. They're also the first hospital with a fully vegan menu in the cafeteria.
Palak Mehta founded the online portal veganfirst.com in 2016. This is a cruelty-free and vegan digital platform and print portal. It's the first of its kind in India - an online platform featuring trending recipes, latest news, restaurants and product recommendations, and many other interesting things. Palak is also the representative for India for the World Vegan Organization.
Sameera Khan is the founder of Pure Jovial, a company with the vision of raising frequencies and breaking boundaries. Her journey started with her being diagnosed with stage two cancer in 2015. She said there was another way to healing rather than invasive surgery, which was what was recommended to her. With a vegan diet and alternative therapies and wellness techniques she healed in three months.
How did you all get into veganism?
Georges: First of all, I want to thank you personally for taking the initiative to do this interview. I'm really honoured and I'm extremely happy to meet compassionate people trying to change the world into a better place. So much respect to all of you. My journey to veganism started 10 years ago, when a friend of mine, who I used to consider as an annoying vegan activist, shared footage of a cow being slaughtered in an abattoir. It popped up in my news feed. First of all, I felt really offended and annoyed by this friend! Why would he want to put such horrible footage and images into my news feed? And my whole day was really bad. Then again, the same day I went back to my home. I have four dogs that I love very much, I started cuddling them and kissing them. And suddenly I felt the hypocrisy in my action. I looked at their eyes, I felt that it was someone looking back at me. And actually, there is no justification to differentiate between any species of animals. A dog is a cat, a dog is a cow and a chicken is a sheep.
Having a piece of steak for dinner and cuddling my dog at the same time, remembering what I saw earlier that day, really hit me and I really felt the hypocrisy in my actions. This is when I started doing my own research on the matter. Why exactly do we eat meat? Is it a matter of “We need it to be healthy”, or is it a matter of tradition of culture of taste? Well, after my research, I found out that we only eat meat because it gives us a special pleasure. And it's unjustified. Like any other pleasure that steps into someone else's freedom. This is completely unacceptable. So it's not for health reasons, we really do not need to eat flesh, nor secretions from other animals. And tradition, well, tradition, a lot of behaviours we used to have before, we stopped them because it's not ethical. Tradition and culture doesn't always align with ethics and morals. Just for the sake of pleasure, I didn't find any justification to continue slaughtering animals, when I could have very easily so many delicious plant based meals, which I can very well eat and survive and thrive and sleep at night without knowing that I stopped a heart from beating just for me, for my heart to beat.
Once I gathered this information and did this transition into a healthier and less cruel lifestyle that involves not killing animals and protecting our environment, I felt the urge to become an activist, to forward this information that I received to others. I felt it was selfish for me to keep the mission to myself. I wanted to forward this information to everyone to see and learn. My approach is not the only approach. I know that I can't reach everyone but at least I'd be able to reach people that think like me, that behave like me and that share a lot of my ethics and my morals. This is when I took the decision to open up Lebanese Vegans. It was a spontaneous action and approach and slowly, but surely it grew. My approach at the Lebanese Vegans is the simple approach, it's showing people exactly what those industries, the egg industry, meat industry, or all animal-related industries are trying to hide. Actually this is what it is - their biggest thing is to hide exactly what's happening and the process of the final product. When we just open the TV, we are exposed to all kinds of commercials showing us the final product and some happy cow running on green fields, dancing and singing, whereas the reality is far from what they are showing us. With Lebanese Vegans I expose the lies; I show them to people. Because I truly believe that the majority of meat-eaters are not necessarily violent people, they are not necessarily people who would love to kill and see blood everywhere. I was one of them and I never considered myself as a violent person.
Whereas I used to contribute nothing but violence in a minimum of two days for a few times per day. There was something really not matching between what I believe I am and the actions that I do every day. So I expose the cruelty behind the final product, which is presented in a nice and innocent way. I show exactly how this piece of steak arrived at our dinner tables. And I like the audience and the people, the good people, to gather this information, let it sink in, let them do more research on that. I'm more than sure that those people will take the moral stand in the right position towards all this.
I think many of us who have taken to veganism, have first found vegan activism actually annoying and in your face, and once you see the whole truth for yourself, you end up being the exact same person. Palak and I have discussed how we should have compassion in the activism area also. Palak, how did you get into veganism? And how did it all start for you?
Palak: My Guru Mohanji is promoting veganism and it's very rare to find spiritual masters who are very transparent and talk about it openly. And he's almost like an activist. At that time, he used to be on social media online and every day he would share the pictures of animals being slaughtered, of milking cows, of chickens, and he was not stopping. Initially I started looking at it and then he just intensified the sharing. And in the beginning, I just wanted to share, share it again. I was shocked, I was truly shocked. I would just look at it and cry and I didn't know what to do. I was living on my own at that time, so I would just cry for the whole night. I was really in a state of shock because I was already a vegetarian, but I did not know about the dairy and even about meat. I did not know how it was processed. I just intuitively decided, Hey, I don't want to eat meat anymore. But when I saw it, it's something you can't un-see and after that, you know you will change. So when I started seeing that, my first instinct was to share it, I wanted the whole world to know. Then I started feeling like a hypocrite because I was not able to do it myself, so the first step was to become a vegan first myself. I had to disconnect from social media for some time, disconnect from everything and really change my lifestyle and my habits.
At that time I saw that in India it was very hard to go vegan. My first instinct was to find products and find out about the community and find like-minded people. At that time I was in an empty space, where I was rediscovering myself after college. And I got an idea: why not start a community of like-minded people who are looking for products, services, more knowledge on veganism in India. And that's how it began with Vegan First. Personally, I feel that it's for a higher purpose, I feel that my guru’s blessings and the animals’ blessings are actually moving this forward. Because it's tough to commercialize veganism. And the intention was not at all to commercialize it, the intention was to make it mainstream. Today we often get a lot of mainstream folks, a lot of celebrities, a lot of mainstream brands come to us, and we get an opportunity to talk about the ethical aspects of veganism with them. And that is something which I feel very grateful for. I think that veganism in the last few years in India has grown a lot and it is mostly in the last two years that we've seen the shift. In the first few years, it was even tough to get like-minded employees, it was very tough. But now we've seen a big push, and now we see that the movement here in India is getting way more mainstream. That's why I think our focus now is more to speak about ethics.
From Lebanon to India, let's move to South Africa. How is your journey been Samira, how did you get into veganism?
Sameera: My journey actually started quite a while ago. I was working a normal nine to five job and on my mom's push, I went to the doctor for a regular check-up and I was diagnosed with Stage 2 cervical cancer. My doctor gave me three options, it was small, medium or intense operation, and he suggested the most invasive operation for me. It was a bit traumatic because I didn't know where to go and I didn't know which direction to take. But there was something in me, my instinct and my gut that just said, there is another way, there has to be another way. Why would I want my part of my body to be cut out, and from then on I decided to research deep into nutrition to create awareness about what we think is actually healthy. It was a do or die situation for me.
Basically overnight I became vegan, I cut out all the GMOs and chemicals and I literally revolutionized my entire lifestyle. I started with yoga. I just visualized a lot of white light in that area where I needed healing. And I had to maintain a really positive outlook in life. Positivity, love to oneself, healing, and just playing the natural way, following the laws of the universe, which is love and compassion. Within three months, I went to another doctor for a check-up. And it was clear.
It was quite a journey, but I really had to stick to my gut and have faith in myself. I researched exactly how plant based foods can heal and how each element in the food actually reacts with the cancer cells. I had an Excel spreadsheet and my big guns, I had my small shotguns to clean out everything. Now we are focusing on frequency and making this available to people and creating the awareness that they don't have to suffer energetically nor physically.
What exactly are the challenges that you have each faced in your country when you are spreading awareness about veganism? So let me try to start with George. What has been one of the difficult challenges that you face in Lebanon when you spread, you know, when you do your work?
Georges: I'm sure Sameera can inspire a lot of people that are suffering from cancer to adopt a healthier lifestyle in order to try to avoid being sick or having cancer or anything else. Palak - I wanted to second on what you said that veganism is predominantly about ethics and morals, about animals. Of course, once we adopt a vegan lifestyle, our health will improve, and the environment will improve as well. This is the advantage of going vegan. But mainly, veganism is about ethics.
As you might know, Lebanon is a country where they love meat, and they even eat meat raw. So it was quite challenging for us as Lebanese Vegans and activists to introduce this new way of life into Lebanon. But thankfully, more than 70 to 80% of our natural food is by default vegan. So in this aspect, it wasn't really difficult to try to convince people that don't worry if you ever stop eating flesh and secretions, there's other stuff that you can eat, so you will not die from starvation. This is one challenge that we had, the other challenge that we had was trying to debunk this idea that eating meat is manly and that we should eat meat and all the meat of protein and omega three and all the deficiencies that people throw up to vegans. We try in our activism to provide sufficient facts and information about this aspect as well.
And since I am running the hospital, Al Hayek Hospital in Beirut, I'm transitioning the hospital into a plant-based hospital trying to tackle the source of our chronic and deadly diseases, not just by treating symptoms. We already have a vegan dietician in the hospital. And what she does is that she conducts her best every day to the patient, try to talk to them, try to educate them on why they are here in the first place, what is sick, and what caused the sickness. It's not just treating the symptoms of what they have, but trying to know the root cause why they are sick in the first place. As you all know, all major deadly chronic diseases, they all come from eating flesh secretions from animals and their products. Eating hummus or eating lentils would never plug any artery. The number one killer today is heart disease caused by having clogged arteries and clogged arteries is a result of food that your body didn't accept, mainly food that is concentrated by cholesterol, saturated fat and trans-fatty acid. Keep in mind that cholesterol is only exclusively found in animal products. Saturated fat is quite high compared to plant-based products. So what really clogs arteries, what really causes heart disease, what really causes people to die is nothing but animal protein.
At the hospital we have a moral obligation. And since I turned vegan, I felt that I should implement the plant-based method approach into the hospital and try to educate patients as well. Our dietician educates our patients and every day she proposes a vegan meal alongside the animal meal, so we're in a transition period today. Hopefully soon we'll be able to remove and replace all animal products in the hospital. But today we're into the educational process, trying to educate people on why they shouldn't eat meat. Then later on eventually I'll achieve a point where I'll be able to remove all animal products.
Since our determination is quite strong, since the truth is on our side, since the mainstream media is no longer alone the source of information that we have, we have another source of information. Every one of us is a journalist who can document what's happening and share, so the truth is out there for everyone to see. We have the moral responsibility to look into this information, gather new information, and to have a moral position towards the information that we just received.
It's really interesting that you said about animal protein and plant protein and the difference between the two. What's interesting is animal protein doesn't have any fibres. Eating plant protein, you also eat fiber. So, for that amount of protein, you need that much fiber to actually digest something.
Georges: Animal protein is nothing but recycled plant protein. The cow gets her protein from grass, same goes to chicken, pork, and then all the animals that we eat. Why go to the middleman, when we can go directly to the source.
What are the challenges that you face in India, when you are spreading veganism or awareness within your community, within friends, and even when you have to explain and hold the fort for the company that you are from?
Palak: Unlike what most people believe, India is actually predominantly non-vegetarian. As the GDP of the country grows, when a country is in this developing stage, then purchasing power increases, and people spend way more on meat. The same thing has happened in India. Cheese in India did not exist, it was introduced as a foreign product. And right now, it is almost everywhere. India was predominantly vegetarian back in the day, but now 70% of Indians are actually non-vegetarian and only a small group of 30% is vegetarian.
The bigger challenge is that the cow is a sacred animal in India, it's worshipped; we call the cow the mother. Most Indians, most Hindus don't actually eat cows, because it’s considered sacred and they also consider the milk sacred. The problem is that we can't explain the ethical or insist on the ethical aspect of veganism, which is that animals should not be commodified. That becomes a challenge here in India. Apart from that people are quite receptive when you talk about Ahimsa. When you talk about cruelty-free, I think they're receptive when you talk about a healthy perspective.
I think the bigger problem is that we need to research more. I was interviewing somebody on biohacking and he said that it's not that plant-based substitutes don't exist, or they can’t match the same vibration, they just haven't done enough research in that space.
We just saw the news of a famous celebrity Miley Cyrus, she was vegan, and suddenly now she's not. The problem was, as she said that she has brain fog and that's where she started taking fish for omegas. Interestingly enough, after that we interviewed almost 20 doctors, 20 vegan doctors and nutritionists and we found out and it's a very well-known fact that you can get enough omega three and omega six from plant-based sources. But that's not so widely spoken about.
If you present that right, then people are very receptive. We are trying our best right now to spread the information and activists are doing a great job as well. I remember during the Vegan India Conference last year, we spoke to the head dietician of a very famous hospital, and she said that almost 250 patients are lactose intolerant, but she has no option but to give them yogurt. And we said: Hey, why don't we get you a vendor for plant-based yogurt? Would you be receptive to that? And she said, ‘Yeah, I'm very open to exploring’. So I think that it's the awareness and products, they have to go hand in hand.
The larger problem is that they see the cow is the mother; at the same time, it is so hypocritical. And we are sorry to say this, but we are the world's second largest producer and exporter of beef. We don't want to slaughter the cow for us, we don't want to consume it, but we don't mind exporting it. That needs to be spoken.
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Interview by Preethi Gopalarathnam