Guy Greenblat – the falafel Guy – explains how a deep passion for plant-based living and a serious love of falafel – has seen him transform his daily lunches into whole food company making vegan pre-mixes that take the hassle out of delicious, healthy meals.
My plant-based roots were planted in my early teens. I grew up in a household where the ideal – proffered by nutritionist mom – was a raw, plant-based diet. If you think a vegan or plant-based lifestyle is a challenge in 2020, imagine trying to stick to a 100 per cent raw diet in the 1990s. But my mom was inventive and creative and fully aware of what food could do for your body. She was into things like tahini, which was very uncommon back then, and our kitchen was always stocked with vegetables, which my mom would transform into very tasty meals. While other moms were slathering sandwiches with margarine, she was mixing sprouts – lentils and chickpeas – in a special mincing machine and mashing those with greens and carrots and onions. She was making up pure plant protein veggie patties long before vegetarianism started trending.
Fast-forward to seven years ago when, every Sunday, I would be making a batch of falafel or falafel-inspired patties. These would be added to the salads we had for lunch almost every single day. I had recently moved to Nantes in France with my wife Hannah and found that there were very few healthy vegan options available. The DIY approach was born of necessity – and of course it helped us save some money.
A year later we moved to Cape Town and, after doing a six-week permaculture course with a non-profit called Seed, I ended up working in IT again. And the weekly ritual of preparing batches of falafel for lunch continued. Over the next three years people at my office kept asking about my lunches. I would give them recipes and advice but they always came back saying they did not have time or it was too difficult. One day someone asked if I could make them falafel. My kneejerk reaction was ‘No’ as I didn’t have the time. But, obviously, that colleague had planted a suggestion because a few months later, during the holidays while I had time to mull things over, I thought about a commercial falafel mix I’d tried, wondered if I could better what I’d tasted (it wasn’t that great) and maybe create an easy-to-use pre-mix that could be used by people like my colleague who ‘don’t have the time’ to make their own. I’d noticed that a lot of folks want to make the shift to healthier eating, but just seem to assume it’s too difficult. And so I became a bit obsessed with solving that problem: I spent my two-week summer vacation creating multiple batches of my instant falafel mix made of sprouted, activated chickpeas without any added junk or preservatives.
Cooked food is comforting, satisfying and tasty and it has a place in most people’s daily meal choices, but fresh food has unique powers. Raw, plant-based eating – the way my ahead-of-the-times mom liked to do things – still forms the core of my lifestyle and I encourage everyone to include as much fresh food as possible in their daily diet. No need to go extreme – just add fresh, uncooked foods to your cooked meals or eat them between meals. Aim for a ratio of at least 50 per cent fresh food daily. Perhaps breakfast can be a power smoothie (just Google ‘smoothie bowls’ for some inspiration); these are tasty, filling and full of fresh goodness to kick-start your day.
During that time Hannah and I ate nothing but falafel. It was all in the name of research – adjusting measurements, tinkering with ingredients, perfecting flavours, getting it just right so that, by the time I got back to work, I had a pre-mix falafel that I could confidently unleash on my curious, time-strapped colleagues.
First I gave out samples of my mix to people at work. And they were appreciated enough and sufficiently in demand that I soon started selling them, getting feedback and chatting directly with friends and workmates about how to prepare their falafels simply and easily. After a few months I approached Olive Branch Deli in Cape Town’s Lifestyle Centre – maybe there was a wider market, I thought. Helene from the deli gave me solid advice about what I needed to do to comply with food regulations if I wanted to sell my falafel mix commercially and once I’d sorted everything out – and even had a health certificate up in my tiny kitchen at home – Olive Branch started stocking my product, which I’d decided to call Outcast, because plant-based food had always seemed like a bit of an outsider. But it was certainly coming in from the cold. My operation grew out of my kitchen at home and into a properly kitted production-scale space and my tinkering has seen the addition of three more Outcast Foods products – ‘crazy’ falafel, a burger mix and a healthy pancake mix. And they’re all retailing in South Africa’s main cities and a few small towns, too.
I still have a full-time job in IT, so while Outcast has grown pretty quickly into a business, it stretches me from early till late and at weekends I still enjoy the buzz at food markets where I can talk to people directly about my falafel obsession and hopefully introduce my mixes into their lives. Plant-based living, health through good nutrition and eating sustainably are passions of mine and they come together in what I’ve done with Outcast Foods. I put a lot of my energy into spreading my ideas and sharing my love for healthy eating. What we eat has so many points of impact. And while having zero impact on the planet and being ‘perfect’ aren’t necessarily attainable, we have to start somewhere – collectively a small change across a large number of people can and does have an impact. I think we all owe it to ourselves and to one another to have a better understanding of where our food comes from and what channels it passes through on the way to our plates.
If you still eat meat, simply start with meat-free Mondays. It’s just one day a week. My wife Hannah used to believe firmly that she would have deficiencies if she didn’t have chicken or some form of animal protein every day. Today she is very close to eating a purely plant-based diet. I never forced my ideas on her, but it is easier to switch your lifestyle when there’s tasty, nutritious food around. Just saying!
It is always easier if you have friends and family to help guide you as they are usually passionate and can share tips, tricks and advice. If you are the first mover in your family or social circle, 2020 is a great time to test the waters of a plant-based lifestyle. It’s not the 1990s; there are plenty of resources, online recipes and blogs and YouTube videos to use for inspiration, not to mention delicious food products. Make the change one meal at a time, learning what works for you as you go. If cooking with plants seems like a challenge, maybe it’s a challenge worth accepting. The switch will be something you can be proud of.
“Make a difference – join the revolution!”
Guy Greenblat, Food Innovator
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