Owner of the only vegan eatery in Gibraltar – no animal produce, honey included, goes beyond the atmospheric, penny-tiled steps of The Kasbar – entrepreneuse Lisanka Trinidad, who ‘converted’ to veganism in October 2015, gives us a few tips on how to embark on a plant-based diet whether for a month, just to stick to Veganuary, the trendy January detox, or for a lifetime of empathy to our fellow animals.

“The key is cooking for yourself whenever possible, and trying to ‘veganise’ your favourite dishes, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out. Look for inspiration online: the rise of veganism in the past ten years has sparked a wealth of vegan blogs to explore,” Lisanka says.

She warns that your body will have to cope with the increased fibre intake, which for you’ll have to gradually train it. She also warns prospective vegans to make sure they don’t suffer from alimentary intolerances or allergies to nuts, pulses or mushrooms. Once you get the green light from your digestive system, your imagination is the only limit to your menu: you can draw inspiration from ethnic cuisines like Mexican, big on beans, or Indian and middle-eastern, big on pulses and chickpeas, or you can try and veganise your classics, like lasagne, shepherd’s pie and even meatballs!

Your imagination is the only limit to your menu.

“Gibraltar’s national dish, calentita, is indeed vegan, so you can start from there; although as a Gibraltarian, the hardest part for me was giving up pescaito for ever. Yet I didn’t have to give up albondigas en salsa: I can still make them with mashed lentils, and the secret of their flavour lies in the sauce and the seasoning.”

Don’t be disheartened if you relapse: “Adapting to any change of lifestyle and diet can be difficult. If you give in and have a bit of cheese and wine with friends, don’t give up! Just continue with your next meal.”

The good news, she says, is that you can find locally a selection of vegan alternatives to your favourite foods. She recommends The Nutty Artisan Food Co. for your cheese-fix: “It’s an artisan range of plant-based cheeses. One of my favourites is their camembree, mimicking camembert without using one drop of animal milk.”

The Muscle Bakery are ‘wizards in the kitchen’, she says, for low-sugar, gluten-free and vegan chocolate bars and donuts. And to appease your sweet tooth, a visit to Mrs Wheelmaker Bakes is a must to stock on cupcakes, cakes, cookies and brownies.

“And the Health Store just down the road stocks edible and non-edible vegan products, like soap and other toiletries,” adds Lisanka, who sources from them the exotic jackfruit she employs in her pulled pork-inspired recipes. 

Lisanka first switched to a plant-based diet after a few members of her family were diagnosed with breast cancer: “Researching medical studies, I learnt how breast cancer is linked to the consumption of dairy products. Doctors treating my family members for the disease recommended limiting or avoiding altogether their dairy intake, and that stuck with me.”

At first, she decided to steer clear from dairy only, but she went all the way: “I set myself a target of getting to the end of that month without touching animal products or by-products. I really enjoy cooking, and found the challenge of making something completely vegan that all my family could enjoy really fun. After six months of following this new lifestyle, I decided not to go back to the old diet I was brought up on. I had already been toying with the idea of opening my own café in Gibraltar, so I opened it with my friend and co-founder Ronnie Alecio, with the wish for everyone in Gibraltar, vegan or otherwise, to enjoy an exclusively plant-based meal that is delicious as well as wholesome.”

The Kasbar is now a Trip Advisor hotspot.

Lisanka tries and tests all dishes she serves in her restaurant, now a TripAdvisor hotspot for its food, its heritage, and its cultural initiatives, like live music and poetry nights. She has introduced to Gibraltar ‘buffalo’ cauliflower and ‘smocked’ salmon, made with carrots marinated in nori seaweed, smoked paprika and other ingredients, served in a New York style bagel with cashew cheese. “Obviously it is not exactly the same, but pretty close. And vegan dishes provide alternative nutrients to omnivorous diets.”

The main reason for Lisanka to stick to veganism isn’t just her personal health, but the health of the planet and all its living creatures: humans, as rational beings, should not be the direct cause for animal suffering. She envisaged a greener habitat where pastures are replaced by organic crops, and cattle, nowadays exploited by farmers into reproducing at ‘an alarming rate’, will roam free in the wilderness, their population balanced within their ecosystem. Humans should not be speciesist: they cannot claim they love cats and dogs and then happily go eat calves, piglets and lambs, as Lisanka points out. 

In her opinion, vegans are sneered at by those uncomfortable with confronting reality: the non-sustainability of current food consumption and waste in western society, which is spiralling the planet’s resources potentially into extinction. 

Veganism equals pacifism for Lisanka, as it plays its part in saving our environment; everyone should work towards this goal together, whether for one month or for a lifetime.

So, why not giving Veganuary a go? And whilst you’re at it, why not rounding it up with Drynuary, alcohol-free for the whole month too?

Visit The Kasbar on 5 Castle Street, or find them on Facebook, Instagram. Telephone them on: +350 200 70114.