Anabel’s Mission

Anabel Reyes en el Mercado del Arenal / KARLI VANCLEAVE

In recent years, new vegan restaurants have opened in Spain with the objective of offering a sustainable and respectful food without animals. Managed since 2011, by Anabel Reyes in the Market of Arenal in Seville, Veganitessen has also the particularity of being the first vegan pastry shop in Spain.

Today, the sun shines through the windows of the Arenal Market in Seville. People wander through its corridors without stress, as if nothing in the world bothers them. Among the stalls selling food and tapas, you can see a place that stands out because of its vibrant pink sign. In it, the clients not only look for a good gastronomic experience, but that it is, in addition, sustainable, ethical, and respectful of the lives of the animals. It’s Veganitessen, one of the eight vegan restaurants that exist at the moment in Seville and, since 2009, the first vegan pastry shop in Spain.   

“What would you like today?”

On the other side of the counter, a redhead, with intense red lips, leans in confidently and speaks to her clients, gesturing spiritedly with her arms, which are adorned with butterflies and flower tattooes. On one of the walls of the room, there is a small blackboard she points to that reads: ‘Vegan Chicken yellow curry with salad and dessert.’ “It’s the menu of the day, but there’s also a menu with other dishes. All vegan food.” The woman’s name is Anabel Reyes, she is the owner of the restaurant and she treats her employees as if they were family members and her visitors as if she had known them all their lives.

“Whose burrito is this?”

Today, Veganitessen is full. A man raises his hand and Anabel brings him the food. It’s a big plate with vegetables in sauce, white rice, and what seems to be –but is not– pork. There are no products of animal origin in that dish, just as there aren’t any in the hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, and steaks that are also on the menu, or in the cakes that shine like edible jewels in the window. Anabel returns to the counter and grabs another plate. Although now there are many people and the the restaurant owner’s energy and restaurant is frantic, her facial expression reflects she’s overwhelmed.  Her way of moving among customers is determined, the look of someone who knows that what she is doing is truly worthwhile, who has discovered her mission in life.

Anabel’s mission began about twelve years ago in Spain, the country where, in 2018, the pig industry killed more animals than residents living there: 50 million pigs compared to Spain’s 46.5 million inhabitants. At the beginning of her adventure, she worked in a restaurant that offered customers all food options; she, who was already a vegan, told herself that she needed to protect animals from violence. One day, she left this restaurant and became employed at another that was vegetarian; but her next step was to also leave this one and create her own restaurant. This one, however would be completely vegan.

“And it was not just for me, but also so that people became aware of this option, because many people do not understand or know what it’s all about…”

The truth is that there is a tendency in much of the world to reduce the exploitation of animals for human benefit and that vegetarian and vegan movements are growing faster and faster. In Spain in 2017, 6.3% of people were vegan, vegetarian, or were limiting their meat intake. Of these, 1.3% were vegetarians –they do not consume meat or fish– and 0.2%, vegans, who in this more rigorous version exclude the consumption of any product of animal origin, and not only when it comes to food; vegans do not eat meat, fish, honey, eggs, dairy products, or gelatin, and they don’t buy clothing made of animal skin. 

 “Veganism is not just a way of eating; it is a way of life.” Talking about the subject, between the dishes she serves her customers with a smile, Anabel’s passion is such that she seems like an activist marching at the head of a protest. “Not many people know that the animal exploitation industry is the most polluting in the world, nor that the consumption of meat is really harmful to your health.” According to the UN, 14.5% of CO2 emissions in Spain come from this industry, which is also responsible for the pollution of 41% of the country’s water system. The World Health Organization, for its part, warns that there is a clear link between the consumption of red meat and cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

The customers continue arriving; the activity of Anabel increases. For the first time, she looks nervous, but maintains control. She and her employees move around the kitchen in an organized fashion, like a choreographed routine, rehearsed every day. Anabel finds time, however, to continue talking about what matters most to her. “When you’re vegan, you’re helping the environment, but also the animals. It is not necessary to kill animals for people to live; it is unnecessary suffering. Therefore, it is essential that we protect them. Respect for animals is the vegans’ core value.”

Spain is not at the head of the countries with the greatest trend towards veganism, as is in the case of Germany (15% of the products launched on the market in 2017 and 2018 were vegan) or the United Kingdom (14% of their products). But, initiatives like Anabel’s are increasingly frequent in the restaurant industry and in other sectors, such as politics. Perhaps the most well-known example of animal rights activism is the Party Against Animal Mistreatment (PACMA), whose objectives are the prohibition of zoos, bullfights, circuses, fishing, and hunting. Its presence, although still small, has grown significantly since its founding in 2003: from 44,795 votes in the 2008 elections to 286,702 in 2016. Anabel supports PACMA and is pleased with its evolution, but she is also aware that real change must occur at an individual level. “It is necessary for each person to realize that veganism helps improve our health and our environment.” Anabel recognizes that it is not easy, since it means a complete change of diet.

“But you can try it and see how it is. Little by little, it is possible. There are people who have come here because of an allergy to milk or eggs and who have become vegan after dining with us. It is also true that there is a little of everything; people also come, see what we offer them, and leave disappointed. That’s the way it is…”

After an exhausting day for Anabel and her employees, Veganitessen’s kitchen closes until tomorrow. The last clients pay and leave their tables. On the tables, there are dishes with leftovers of the food with which Anabel does her part to better the world. She picks them up and smiles.

“Mission accomplished. For today.”