BIPOC Portraits: demeals (An Interview with Waseem Hijazi)

BIPOC Portraits is a series in which Best of Vegan contributors Val & Mani Latifi of Plant-Based Passport profile one BIPOC vegan creator each week over the course of 16 weeks, to shed light on the unique challenges BIPOCs face in making the decision to embrace veganism. For BIPOCs, the prevailing narrative that veganism is a white-dominated movement can often mean a perceived loss of cultural identity. The hope of this profile series is to make veganism a little less lonely for BIPOCs and to give courage to vegan-curious BIPOCs out there.  In the sixth installment of BIPOC Portraits, Waseem Hijazi of demeals shares his journey to veganism as a Palestinian/Jordanian-Canadian. He also provides a delicious recipe for Vegan Makloubeh.

[The acronym BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color]

BIPOC Portraits: demealsWaseem Hijazi is a Senior Operations Analysis in the finance/accounting field from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Waseem’s journey to veganism began in early 2020 and he went fully vegan at the beginning of 2021. Waseem was inspired to go vegan as part of a monthly health challenge last year. This led him to learn about the importance of plant-based diversity, while also educating himself on the environmental impact we each have through our daily choices. When he’s not working on demeals, Waseem enjoys photography, spending time in nature, playing board games, and creating house designs on his computer.  Waseem is currently working on veganizing more traditional recipes from his culture—including desserts and bakes. He’s also working on his photography skills, launching his first newsletter series, and organizing planners with shopping lists and meal-prep ideas, to help minimize food waste. Follow Waseem: Instagram | Website | TikTok | YouTube 

Vegan Makloubeh
Vegan Makloubeh. Click on the photo for the full recipe.

When you first went vegan, did you see the vegan community as diverse? Did you see yourself as having a place in the vegan community as a BIPOC?

While I always felt welcomed and supported by the vegan community, I don’t see it as quite a diverse community. Coming from an Arabic ethnicity, I noticed that it’s often overlooked (by western society) that most of us grew up eating lots of naturally vegan cultural dishes. Take hummus, falafel, fuul, or baba ghannoush, for example.

I am slowly seeing more vegan Arabic foods highlighted and recognized by the vegan community, even if the creator of the recipe isn’t necessarily vegan.

Although we have many meat-based cultural dishes, the frequency and the way they are served differs significantly from western meat-based eating habits. For one, I grew up on meals that would typically contain meat, but my mom would usually cook/serve it separately. That way everyone had a choice of what to eat, and how much meat to add, if any (without going overboard, of course). So, we often ate lots of vegan meals without being aware that they were “vegan”.

Fortunately, I see this gradually changing. I am slowly seeing more vegan Arabic foods highlighted and recognized by the vegan community, even if the creator of the recipe isn’t necessarily vegan. This is crucial to showcase our traditional vegan dishes as part of our culture, and erase any misconception around the idea that in order to go vegan in the Arab world, we’d have to let go of our cultural identity.

Vegan Makloubeh
Vegan Makloubeh. Click on the photo for the full recipe.

Did you have any fears or reservations about going vegan? Did you feel like you might lose part of your cultural identity in your transition to veganism?

At first, it seemed a little intimidating. Being the only one in my family with an interest towards veganism/plant-based eating, I felt like I might be missing out on the foods we had always enjoyed together, and the family time that took place around the table, as it’s part of our culture to eat certain food with our bare hands, right out of the main giant dish.

As I became more confident in the kitchen, I learned the essence behind what makes our dishes really delicious. I was able to veganize many of our traditionally meat-based meals, and now my family and I enjoy many of the same dishes at the same table.

Being the only one in my family with an interest towards veganism/plant-based eating, I felt like I might be missing out on the foods we had always enjoyed together

I haven’t been back home since going vegan, so I’m not sure what to expect in terms of how I’m going to find alternatives to accommodate. But I’m sure I have the support I need to make it work.

Did you worry about how your friends and family would react to your decision to go vegan? And how did they react?

I wasn’t exactly worried, as much as I was curious to know their thoughts. I knew I had their support.

While there are many reasons behind my decision, it was initially triggered by dietary motives for building healthier eating habits. And being the food enthusiast I’ve always been, my friends (from back home) would occasionally throw in the classic joke about how I went from being a meat-lover to a lettuce-eating rabbit. Though they do admit that sometimes they’re “shook with what vegans can create”. Here, my friends and family are always excited when I create new fun vegan foods for them to try. And they’re full of feedback to help me make them even better.

Overall, thankfully, they’re all very supportive of my decision and are always encouraging me to do better. They’re challenging me to recreate more vegan Arabic food that we can all enjoy together.

Vegan Makloubeh. Click on the photo for the full recipe.

Did you have challenges finding vegan substitutes to make your cultural dishes? What substitutes did you make?

Yes, it can get difficult at times. 

It’s easy to find meat alternatives as a replacement, but not for every dish. Sometimes the texture doesn’t match. There are also a few dishes that typically use egg (or specific dairy products), which I have not been able to find a decent replacement for yet.

However, that hasn’t stopped me from exploring creative ways to replicate the texture, while absorbing the right flavors. Like the “meat mixture” I used in the Vegan Makloubeh recipe —it’s made of a combination of three whole-food, plant-based ingredients: chickpeas, tofu, and walnuts.

Veganizing a cultural dish that traditionally contains meat/dairy is not impossible. It just needs exploring and persistence. And often I find it’s simpler than expected.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

Veganizing a cultural dish that traditionally contains meat/dairy is not impossible. It just needs exploring and persistence. And often I find it’s simpler than expected.

I enjoy food stories. I feel more connected to the meal, and I enjoy it more when I know the story behind how it came about.

I’m a big believer in meal planning. Not only is it helpful to prepare a variety of meals so I don’t get bored during the week, but it also helps me find ways to reduce my food waste.

Vegan Makloubeh. Click on the photo for the full recipe.

Article Val and Mani Latifi. Recipe and photos by Waseem Hijazi of demeals.

Val Latifi is a first generation Filipino-American. She runs Plant-Based Passport—a food and travel blog—with her Persian-American husband Mani. They live in Houston, Texas with their crazy rescue pug Mango. She is an attorney by day. In a former life, she was a music journalist for The Village Voice. She has traveled to thirty-three countries and five continents together with her husband. Travel informs and inspires their cooking. The two of them recreate and veganize dishes they’ve sampled abroad, as well as dishes they grew up eating. Through their food blog, they seek to dispel the notion that you have to give up your cultural heritage in going vegan, while spotlighting underrepresented cuisines. 

If you loved this BIPOC Portrait of demeals, you might also like…

Vegan Yalanji (Stuffed Grape Leaves)

 

BIPOC Portraits: Veganezer

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