The rose among the thorns

Knowing how to PLANT

24 January 2020 | Mense
Justicia Shipena

It would be difficult to meet anyone who is as passionate about food and educating people about a vegan diet than 25-year-old Alexa Rack, the owner of PLANT’D restaurant in Windhoek at The Village, which opened mid-July last year.

Passion will only get you so far, and keeping a vegan restaurant afloat with the majority people uneducated about veganism has taken a huge amount of courage, determination and hard graft.

Rack was born in South Africa’s ‘Mother City’, Cape Town. Growing up in Namibia, her diet consisted mostly of biltong, chips and Coke.

“I had a fast metabolism but I was always sick as a dog,” she says.

Rack says the words diet, health and nutrition were something she did not know much about, until 2010 when she caught measles, meningitis and German measles all in the same year. In the same year she was also told that she is wheat and gluten intolerant.

Two years after Rack was diagnosed with gastritis, she moved to Johannesburg to further her equestrian career.

“Unfortunately I did not enjoy my life there. My life revolved only around my horses and my dog, Baloo. Little did I know that my body was not coping either,” she says.

In 2014 she suddenly gained 12 kilograms in five months and started spending her money on protein shakes and other things trying to lose weight. Rack adds that she became extremely insecure, unhappy and couldn’t figure out what was happening.

In the same year she came to Namibia for a horse show to surprise her parents. They saw something was not right and eventually her doctor sent her to an endocrinologist in Sandton, Johannesburg. At that stage her hormones were all over the show, her sugar and cholesterol where sky-high and she now had type two diabetes.

“I was sent to a few dieticians where I spent a lot of money, but nothing helped. I started losing myself in this whole process, my performance in the showjumping arena started to drop and my confidence was nowhere to be found either,” she says.

Rack then decided to do some research and ultimately, after spending many nights on the internet, she decided to go vegan. Within two months of following a vegan diet, she lost weight and her blood glucose levels went down.

“My endocrinologist couldn’t believe it because I should only be eating animal protein and no carbs. It just goes to show how uneducated a lot of us are about a healthy, balanced vegan diet,” she says.

In June 2018 things went downhill for her as a professional horse rider. She needed her health and a fit body to perform but after a hernia operation she was unable to sit on a horse.

When she came home in January she was ready to head back to Cape Town but she slipped and broke her ankle. This once again put her career on hold. Rack knew she had to do something else with her life, seeing she wouldn’t be able to get back on a horse for a long time.

Often when her friends and family would ask her to go out for lunch, the question was where, as she is wheat and gluten intolerant, has type two diabetes and is a vegan.

“I got sick of paying a fortune for lettuce and having to explain myself at restaurants. So I decided to open up PLANT’D. I had to accept that my riding career has to come to a pause and focus on something else,” she says.

Rack then decided to fly to Cape Town wearing a moon boot and using crutches to pack up and get some ideas and inspiration at vegan restaurants. On the third night in Cape Town she ended up in the emergency room because she had developed a blood clot in her lung and in her calf.

She was unable to do everything as planned, so she began writing a menu in her hospital bed.

“When I opened up PLANT’D a lady wrote ‘All roads lead to PLANT’D’. In my situation, all injuries led to PLANT’D”

Rack believes that climate change is something serious and people need to take action. She wants Namibia to grow and have more “healthier” options.

According to her she would like to turn PLANT’D into something special that Namibia is yet to see. She lives by the motto ‘Make Namibia Great’.

She further said Namibia is special, but still has much room for improvement and she wants PLANT’D to be the magical vibe where people can hang out, have her talented friends play some tunes in the back, throw pizzas into the oven and enjoy an ice-cold draught. For now she wants everyone to enjoy the beautiful setting at The Village.

“We have our local birds chirping away the whole morning, fresh, healthy and tasty plant-based food and probably the best coffee in town made by our legendary Simone. I am an absolute control freak and in the kitchen with the chef at all times.”

She emphasises that PLANT’D is her life and she wants people to celebrate alternative healthy food. She points out that one does not need to be vegan to visit PLANT’D.

While establishing the first Namibian vegan restaurant, she trained three staff members to be knowledgeable about venanism.

Her aim is not really to convince people to change their diet but to at least give people an alternative to what they are used to.

“I have witnessed so many people that have changed not only their diet but their way of thinking when it comes to eating vegan. This has given me absolute delight knowing that we as a team at PLANT’D have impacted people’s eating ways.”

Some of Rack’s future plans involve getting her horse back to Namibia, to pay more attention to climate change and create awareness about this serious issue.

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