Vitamine Vegan [Lekker Gec]

Every day Lekker GEC has a special dish on its menu: a plate full of happiness. The plant-based restaurant opened its doors in 1999, the year in which Prince could be heard everywhere. Since then, they have become an important restaurant near the Gent-Sint-Pieters railway station. For more than ten years, Robrecht Cardyn (55) has been one of the driving forces behind this vegan gem. A conversation about vegetables as the main course, the polluting meat industry and the inspiring, modern Joan of Arcs.

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For Robrecht Cardyn, thinking in a sustainable way has always been an obvious choice. “During primary school, I received the Club of Rome report from 1972, which confronted me with the finiteness of our planet. At a young age, it made me already realize how unsustainable our lifestyle is, and that something must change. Step by step, I adapted my lifestyle. When I was 25 years old, I started eating vegetarian. Later, I found a job that was very much in line with my reasoning. I started my career at 11.11.11, a non-profit organisation that fights for a fair world without poverty, I worked on ecological footprints, and did international voluntary work. A world that is livable, fair and healthy for everyone in all perspectives is a principle that is very important to me.”

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Robrecht started working in the kitchen of Lekker GEC twelve years ago. “Now, we have real chefs”, he laughs. Two years ago, the restaurant switched from 100 to 80 percent organic. “This enables us to integrate the excess harvest from our own vegetable garden in our concept, as well as more local and Fair Trade products. We are extremely lucky that the Oxfam Shop is our neighbour. We started working together, as we find the same values important. Since the renovations, the walls have literally fallen down and now, the restaurant is connected to the Oxfam Shop. Today, most of the tea, orange juice, new beers and some kitchen ingredients that we use come from Oxfam. Next spring, we will also run the outdoor café of the Oxfam Shop together.”

For a restaurant, it is still not an easy task to make an ecological choice. However, the myth of vegans with vitamin deficiencies is slowly clearing up. Robrecht: “When you choose a meal without meat, you still get the same nutritional values. As far as I know, the only thing that you cannot get from vegetarian food is vitamin B12.”

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An undeniable advantage of choosing vegan products is how much you can save in terms of soil, energy, transport etc. Many people start frowning when they hear that the burning fires in the Amazon rainforest and red meat are mentioned in the same breath. However, the fires have indeed been lit for the benefit of the meat industry. It enables farmers to create fertile soil on which they can plant fields full of soya and maize to serve the animal feed companies. They also clear pastures for cattle to graze on.

“Humans are meat-eaters by nature”, realizes Robrecht, who is not a blind advocate of the vegan lifestyle. “I am realistic and particularly in favour of a balanced lifestyle. For example, you need animal fertilizers for your vegetable garden. Also, choosing for a vegan lifestyle is not feasible everywhere. Certain climate zones simply do not allow that choice. You will never be able to convince the Inuit in their igloos to survive on local seasonal vegetables.”

Now and then, there are some people who enter Lekker GEC with their friends. However, at home, they would usually choose for a classic meal with meat, potatoes and vegetables. “We are very pleased when these people are surprised by the atmosphere and the vegan cuisine, and when they leave the restaurant with the feeling of ‘well, that wasn’t so bad’, and that is what we want to achieve. Our regular customers are already convinced, but we secretly hope that, whenever we can charm new people with our cuisine, a seed has been planted in their mind. Maybe some people have been inspired to think about it, or maybe they feel encouraged to serve vegetables as the main course at home once in a while. That way, their interest in the vegan lifestyle can continue to grow further.”

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“Everyone can eat what they want, and I hope that you enjoy your meal. However, if you eat in moderation, the impact will be much less”, claims Robrecht. Everyone knows that you can have too much of a good thing. Yet, we march through the shopping streets in large numbers for Black Friday, and we book that city trip when the summer is coming. “The earth can survive many things. Carbon emissions are acceptable, but it becomes problematic when it occurs in large quantities. Everything can be harmful when there is too much of it. We spend a lot of money on lamentations, but in reality, that glow of pleasure that we feel when buying something new is already worn off after a few days. Which kind of needs do we actually want to fulfil?”

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According to Robrecht, we have to go back to the basics. “To have a roof over your head, healthy food, the love of and for your children, and some peace on earth. That is everything I need. Our children’s future is on this earth, together with those of many others. If we ‘exhaust’ everything now, and leave no room for them in the future, I cannot live peacefully in the present. By the way, do we not find more happiness nowadays in making a long walk with our dog during our free time than a city trip like that?”

Robrecht finds inspiration in modern Joan of Arcs, such as Anuna De Wever and Greta Thunberg. “Last year, I watched the youth climate marches in full admiration. These are glimmers of hope, and they stimulate my sustainable thinking even more. I am most notorious for my pessimism, but I like to be surprised by something positive. Hope gives us a reason to live, and I want to be anything but a self-fulfilling pessimist.”

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Lekker GEC, Koningin Maria Hendrikaplein 6, Gent. Open from Monday to Saturday


Melissa Janssens

Melissa works as a freelance journalist, and prefers to write about psychology, relationships and sustainability. Her heart beats a little faster for bouquets and local flower farmers, or when she finds gorgeous outfits in second-hand gold mines and fair fashion shops. She loves to live a sustainable and conscious life.

Foto's: Sarah Van Looy

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