Nicole Nasson sat down with Mandi Zara Venter and Emmanuel Jamas, managers of Roots Vegan Bar to discuss what living vegan entails.
You’ve probably noticed the food offering at the entrance of Spar in the Neelsie. It is cool; it is fresh; and it is vegan. Occupying the smallest space, but tackling the big challenges like reducing our carbon footprint and healthy eating, Roots Vegan Bar is a charming little food stall.
Managed by Mandi Zara Venter and Emmanuel Jamas, a former Stellenbosch jazz student and a retired actor, Roots has become quite popular amongst students. When asked how it all started, Venter went right to the beginning and talked about her switch to veganism two years ago.
“It started with my roommate [who had] IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome) and her doctor suggested that she should go on a vegan diet to see if that helps her. She didn’t cook at all so I always had to cook,” Venter explained.
Venter has loved cooking since she was little. She attributes her love for food to her father, Jasper Maarten Snr., the owner of the Neelsie Spar, whose Mediterranean-like diet had a big influence on her cooking.
Once Venter got the hang of vegan cooking, she liked it. So much in fact, that she became vegan herself. Venter is the creator of each dish on the Roots menu.
However, Jamas didn’t have as a graceful transition into veganism. Introduced to the lifestyle by Venter, Jamas tried the meat-free lifestyle, but kept going back to meat and cheese. It wasn’t until being exposed to the ethical reasons behind veganism that Jamas decided to let go of animal products and become a committed vegan.
“I was one of those people who would ignore the vegan movement, but then I looked into it. What did it for me was the animal cruelty,” Jamas said.
Even though veganism is famous for being a way of eating, it is not limited to a diet. Veganism is also a way of living.
Veganism is a lifestyle that tries to cause as little harm as possible to people, animals and the planet by choosing not to consume animal products or animal by-products. According to PETA, an animal rights organisation, animal agriculture is a major contributing factor to climate change, water waste and deforestation.
Therefore, consumption is not restricted to one’s diet, but all things people buy, like clothes and cleaning materials.
Roots not only tries to introduce students to vegan eating, but also vegan living, by using bio-degradable packaging.
Venter said that the small things such as what your food comes packaged in also makes an impact on the collective carbon footprint. Roots also has metal and bamboo straws for sale in an effort to lessen the use of single-use plastic straws.
Last year, the Neelsie Spar underwent renovations and wanted to include a new healthy food offering for students. Jasper Maarten Venter Jnr., manager of the Neelsie Spar and Venter’s brother, suggested she take the space and open a vegan bar.
With her passion for cooking and her new love for vegan food, Venter jumped at the opportunity.
Thus, Roots was born!
Initially, Venter managed the bar by herself while Jamas was occupied with another endeavour. However, due to his flexible hours, and Venter needing help, Jamas joined Venter in managing the bar, eventually deciding to permanently work at Roots.
Venter and Jamas wanted to emphasise that their objective is not to convert students to veganism, but rather introduce them to vegan eating and raise awareness of how delicious and affordable vegan food can be, especially on a sttudent budget.
“[We want to] show that vegan food isn’t weird food,” Jamas said. Before opening the bar, Venter and Jamas calculated the costs of how much goes into a dish and then visited many vegan restaurants to see how vegan food was priced, but soon realised that vegan food is heavily exploited.
Jamas recalls paying R79 for avocado toast, whereas nothing at Roots is over R50.
“It’s actually mind blowing how much they overcharge you,” Jamas continued.
As for the future of Roots, Venter hopes to eventually expand to another location. Both managers agree that Roots would not be profitable if it had not been here in Stellenbosch, accrediting the open-mindedness of students to their success.
“We give them a small spoonful [of food] and they’re sold immediately, then they buy a portion,” Jamas said.
So whether you’re vegan, tranititoning or just curious, Roots welcomes all foodies.