Karma Waters - Vegan Education and Restaurant in Hoi An is a family founded & managed business and charity that was started in 2005. flowful meets... talks with Karma Waters founder Grace about promoting sustainability with organic and healthy vegan food. Read the full interview here.
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- Hoi An
- world hunger
- climate action
- plastic free
- no waste
- environmental education
- Southeast Asia
Information about Karma Waters Hoi An:
Music is by Andrew Healy:
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Read the full interview here:
Today, flowful meets… Grace, the founder and owner of Karma Waters vegan restaurant in Hoi An, Vietnam. When Lars and me first visited Hoi An, Vietnam, a few years ago and discovered the vegan restaurant Karma Waters we right away fell in love with the place, the people and of course the food! Back then, veganism wasn’t a big thing. Nowadays, there are many vegan options in Hoi An but Karma Waters is still our favorite!
For Grace, veganism is more than just a diet. For her, veganism means sustainability and responsibility and can cure world hunger, pollution and reduce climate change.
What started in 2005 with one vegan restaurant in Hoi An is now a business and charity with two restaurants, a homestay and a sustainable tour operator. They also offer regularly vegan cooking classes. What a story!
Grace: When I moved to China to live there for 2 years, I went to the market with my friends to buy fish in the market. I didn't know that the fish was still alive when you decide to buy it. The seller used this big knife to kill the fish in order for us to take it home so we can cook with it. At that moment I could not spare to watch this and it shocked me a lot! The next day, I changed to vegetarian. The first 22 years of my life I was a meat eater and I never cooked for myself. It was my twin sister who was responsible for the family meals. Because I was the one who helped my parents’ business. So I was always outside the house. I did not know how to cook. So when I changed to vegetarian I couldn’t find food in China. There was no vegetarian food in the area where I lived. So I had to learn to cook for myself otherwise I cannot keep my diet. I became vegetarian because of compassion for the animals not because of health.
After living in China, Hong Kong, for two or three years we decided to go to Vietnam to start a business. At that time my ex-husband was a sailor, he is a mechanic. He loves boats very much and he likes traveling on a sailing boat. His dream was to create a water sport business in Vietnam, especially in Hoi An. Hoi An is an ancient town with many tourist and foreigners. So his focus was on Hoi An. So we opened our tourism business in the first place and every day I cooked for him and then suddenly I raised the idea. The place we ran was big and if people come here to wait for the boat to be taken on the tour trips, they should have coffee and snacks and things like that. We can run and prepare meals and give to them, why not a coffee with a tourism business? We decided to open the restaurant without any knowledge about restaurants, both of us. Both of us never had any experience about food, about cuisine, about management of a restaurant. But we just did it.
Why did we start Karma Waters is really to spread veganism to help animals and to bring healthy vegan food to local people.
In the last years in Vietnam there were many vegan places popping up, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City but also in the rest of the country. It never was challenging to be a vegan in Vietnam but it was more a vegan option thing or something that was easily to veganize. Even when you go to a bia hoi, which is a typical thing to do in North Vietnam you can find vegetarian options like fried tofu, banana flower salad or morning glory. Well, fish sauce can be a big deal but with a little vocabulary they are happy to do it without.
One thing you can rely on in the whole country is that there pretty sure is a com chay, a vegetarian restaurant, next to a pagoda as vegetarianism is related to the religion.
But just like there is a trend in Vietnam to eat more meat as a sign for prosperity there are more and more vegetarians and vegans in Vietnam.
Grace: I think last year and this year many Vietnamese turned vegan, many. Every day I have more friends who went vegan. More Vietnamese change to veganism. More and more become aware of what is happening. Even some construction workers are vegan for a long time. They came to Karma Waters to fix our house and I said that I am vegan and this house will going to be a restaurant, a vegan restaurant. They said, yeah, we are vegan too, for 15 years already! I met another cyclo who is vegan. You know I see all this corners of live, not matter where you come from, rich, medium, average or even poor you will meet someone in your live who is vegan but doesn't go around and tell it.
I also experienced that people in Vietnam are super interested when you tell them that you’re vegan. They ask a lot of questions and sometimes it even seems that they admire you for your diet. Which, to be honest, is quite the opposite thing back home in Europe…
Grace: With Vietnamese, with our culture it is very easy to convert them or to change them for example. They do listen but they don't defend you. They listen and if it is not their thing they just say it is your thing but it is not my time yet to go vegan, I hope one day I will. Because in Vietnam, we respect Buddhism and veganism. Because this two are tied together. Even though they are not vegan, they don't despise or look down on people who are vegan, no. They respect if you are vegan because they consider you to be a nun or a monk. It is very easy to talk to Vietnamese people and to tell them to go vegan. They never say I am superior to you and I know what I am doing and I know the facts out there, you don't need to tell me what I should do. Things like that, no never.
After I went vegan, my twin sister became vegan too. She immediately turned her son to vegan and now my mother is vegan for one year already. She is doing her part now. Everyone who is old like her, 50 or 60, and comes here and tell about their illness and this stuff, she’d say go vegan you will cure this illnesses. Based on my experience, I have high blood pressure; I have arthritis, I went vegan for one year, my blood pressure reduced and I don't have any arthritis anymore. Things like that; she starts her role to advice people to go vegan. We are doing our impact on people.
Grace’s whole family is vegan and she even was vegan while being pregnant. She has two daughters who she raised vegan. And of course they couldn’t be healthier.
Grace: My first daughter was born in 2005 and my second daughter in 2008. They were very healthy. At the time I was pregnant I didn’t have any books or any advice on a vegan diet for a pregnant women to raise their child inside their womb to go vegan. How to get enough nutrients; for me as a mother and for the child. But I just went with it, because I had the strong belief that I am healthy, I ate all the plants and I learned the nutrients of all the plants by myself or from the old people in Vietnam. That is why I was so confident to raise my children vegan. Without any books and without any internet... They were born big. The first one was 3.5 kg and the second one was 3.6 kg. They know about veganism and you cannot change them or tease them to eat meat or anything. Now they already start to read the ingredients on the products before they eat or buy. I explain everything to them, I educate them, I give them all the footage, all the videos and all the photos and the problems around the world. They know about world hunger, they know what causes our planet warming, with disasters like hurricanes, tsunamis and things like that, they know. I hope that they can become good people and try to change the new generation.
Last year Grace and her twin sister started to operate a homestay above the restaurant in Da Nang and they offer tours, for example to nearby Cam Le Organic Village, where you can experience how local residents grow their organic fruit and vegetables. But the best thing is that you can choose your favorite veggies and have a vegan cooking class later at Karma Waters.
Grace: My dream is to have a hostel above Karma Waters restaurant. For both places, we only have that in Da Nang for now. We’ll try very hard within the next three years to have the same thing in Hoi An. Maybe after 3 years I will return to Vietnam to work for Karma Waters, to serve people and to enjoy life. Yeah, that’s it. My dream is on the way to fulfil. I just need to work hard in the next 3 to 5 years so that my children can grow a little bit, so they can go to university and they can be on their own. And then I can really put all my effort in Karma Waters and in helping more people.
I think that we need to start the environmental education earlier and start with the kindergarten. That is the most effective way: to change the mindset. At the same time the voice and also the opinion of the citizens needs to be listened by the decision makers. Just looking at the citizen side and see if everyone improves understanding and action will lead to a movement. And then again it will affect the whole society but I see that it needs the coordination and effort from several focal points or champions to connect the different dots and help to facilitate the movement in the right way.
And with their charity program, Grace and her sister are indeed helping a lot of people. Karma Waters runs 5 charitable programs that are dedicated to help children and ethnic minority families. All of their programs are either free or low-cost supplemental programs and financed by donations and the income of the restaurant, homestay, tours and cooking classes.
Their Nutritional Lunch Program serves daily vegan lunches at a reduced rate to people in need, whereas Vegan Food Program feeds sick, disabled and needy people in Central Vietnam Hospitals who don't have access to healthy food. They also help poor families to pay their medical bills and treatments.
Karma Waters also supports ethnic families and children in need in the Quang Nam Province with clothing and daily necessities.
Grace: I remember when we started Karma Waters in Da Nang, my twin sister said that she knows a hospital that needs healthy food and we should supply this hospital. This is how we started our charity. Slowly we expanded our idea by saying that we invite low income people or poor people who have very little money. For example lottery ticket seller or motorbike drivers who take people around the streets to earn money, like a taxi but with the motor cycle. Or the rubbish collectors and all these low income careers. Now the level of living in Da Nang is slowly increasing and this people do not earn much money so we invite them to have a healthy and delicious vegan meal and pay a low price. So they can save money for their family.
Everyday 20 people or sometimes 25 sometimes 30 people come to eat in Da Nang. This is how we start our charity too. For example we are distributing food to the hospital and sometimes the parents or the patient asks if we could help them with medical bills. For example when they cannot afford to pay for their medical bill and when some patients are in a very bad situation. They need our help or the support of other organizations to give them funds for their emergency surgery. So they came to us and asked us to help. That is how we raise funds even though it is not much. But when combined with other organizations, when pooled together we can help them. If we see people in need and they come to us and ask for help we do as best as we can to help them.
For ethnic minority children and families, you know Vietnam has 64 ethnic minorities in central highland or even in the North or in the South. These people have very little in their life; all they do is living in the mountains working in rice paddy fields. They don't earn money but you know they have no cloths and the conditions are very bad. We collect all the second hand clothes or toys and twice a year we bring it to the central highland, to Quang Nam province and give it to the children.
The founder of this charity organization is my twin sister and me but we work without taking any salaries. We even put our money in this charity and our volunteers are her university students and other friends. We never take any money from this charity. We do it with our heart. And because my twin sister and I are Buddhists, our concept is that we don't take what is not ours. If you don't give, don't take. If it is not yours, don't take. So we work very hard we put our effort in without taking salaries for our benefit. We do this for the people in need, their benefit.
But it wasn’t always easy to keep up the good work… But even though Karma Waters had to face challenges and hard times they managed to go ahead.
Grace: I remember Karma Waters started on the river front. We’ve rented a very big space, 500 sqm on the river front to have our own pier to anchor our boat. My ex husband owns 3 boats but we closed the business after the world economy crises in 2008. The only business we kept was Karma Waters Vegan Restaurant. Of course we lost money. I remember the time we’ve opened. It was very quiet and nobody knew about veganism. I enjoyed my time with my children, with my staff at the river front very much. And slowly we grew up. We grew together, we have bonding between the owner and the staff and we see them as a family. Not like I am the boss, you are my staff, no. I don't work like that, I treat them as a family.
We don't have enough customers. Veganism wasn’t so popular in the last two years. Only in the recent two years it is growing. Karma Waters Hoi An is making money now but not much because it is a small place. Maybe we serve maximum 10 to 12 tables a day, but we focus on the quality and on serving the customers with care. We cannot expect to have so many customers in one day. It is making money and we use that money to help Karma Waters in Da Nang to stay alive and do our charity work.
But with their very strong will and a powerful vision they were able to keep going.
Grace: But we keep going and going because we believe that veganism is the only way. Because if you do with good core, you do with good heart; you want people to understand why they should go vegan and things like that. It is like a mission in live. I am a very spiritual person, I am a Buddhist and very spiritual. I practice mediation and all this good deeds. Once I even ask myself what is my mission on this earth? Why did I come here? Once I answered to myself saying: veganism, doing a vegan restaurant is my mission. I can feel that the energy, the sugary feeling came to my body and I found that this is my mission I have to do. We were so struggling but we never wanted to close Karma waters.
My way of doing business is very very different from many other people. Other people when they do business they put one dollar they must have 10 dollar out of this one dollar. For me it is just different. I do this for people. I just want to help people to give them knowledge and education so if they turn vegan the happiness you find is so beautiful.
I don't do this for money. I don't do Karma Vegan Restaurants for money. That’s what keeps me going. If I do this for money I’d shut the business down after one year.
I am very thankful for all of my staff. One staff have been working for me since Karma Waters open in Hoi An. She worked for 13 years already. My most memorable moment is that all of my staff, most of them are vegan. So if I have 6 staff, 5 of them are vegan. That is what I appreciate a lot. I find other restaurants that I worked for in Hong Kong; they are all meat eaters working for that. But Karma Waters has a soul. They pick the right staff to go there to work for them and most of them turned vegan.
When you are at Karma Waters you really feel that the staff stands behind veganism, that they fully committed to this lifestyle. This is also what makes Karma Waters so unique for us.
Grace: I think what makes Karma Waters unique is that we know veganism is the only way and we don't do the vegan restaurant just for our profit. We try to educate people and help people at the same time and show our compassion for all the people, the animals and the planet. Because our Earth is where we live. And for vegan restaurants, I see Karma Waters is unique in Vietnam...
For our charity I find it is unique because nobody else would do the same as we do. Other organizations provide meals for the people in need. For the needy poor people, but Karma waters provides vegan meals and we tell them why you should have vegan meals, because you are a patient, you are ill. You need healthy food to make you feel better, not to eat meat not to make you worse. That is unique.
It is difficult to go around and say here is a document, please study for yourself. You provide vegan meals as healthy and delicious meals compared to meat dishes. People feel, oh veganism is not that boring as we thought. If I can eat healthy like this, I can go vegan. We don’t say you should go vegan or if you don't listen to me, go and help yourself. We educate them very gently, slowly and one day they will think about it and will naturally go vegan. You don't force people, you do it by action. That is the uniqueness of Karma waters.
Karma Waters approach is a pretty holistic and honest one. I remember how happy and impressed we were to see that they stated very clearly that they don’t use any plastic and don’t even sell water bottles.
Plastic is a huge problem everywhere in the world and so it is in Vietnam. But the good thing is that the environmental movement in Vietnam is growing, there are beach clean-ups and no plastic campaigns like at Karma Waters.
Grace: We try to reduce the plastic intake on this planet. It is still not good though. We don't have any solution in Vietnam yet. We just try our best.
We try to explain to people. It is especially very hard to explain to Vietnamese people because their knowledge is not high like westerners. It is very difficult for them to accept it, or to get used to the new idea. For example we don't use plastic straws in our restaurant. We just say plastic is not good for the ocean and the land; it takes maybe 100 years to dispose all this plastic. Animals are dying because of that. I just use facebook as an educational channel to lead or to guide people who are interested.
We do not sell water bottles. But you know in Vietnam, we have recycling. For example plastic bottles collectors, they collect all these plastic bottles and they recycle it. They sell to the businesses and shops and wash it or something like that and then they refill. They can use it for juices, for soy milk that they sell in the shop. Homemade soy milk, or any kind of milk.
As vegans we should live in a compassionate way. We cause all this pollution to the environment. We should educate people to do the same, to live a more sustainable life. To do that we should set the example, to show people that we could do it, we can do it so they can follow. We should go plastic bag free, you should recycle and stop buying and buying so we don't use too many resources of this world. That is what Karma Waters is doing. More sustainable means, no hunger, no world hunger! No pollution; than we can live longer more happily. Sharing is good too! Veganism is the number one. For sustainability, responsibility and yeah for everything, for the world, for the planet. To stop all the disasters, all the storms like that. To stop the pollution and world hunger!
But the world is going vegan fast, so wonderful! I hope our great grandchildren will have a vegan world...
Thank you so much Grace and the whole team of Karma Waters to spread this message and make the world a better place! I love your energy! And full of personal energy is Karma Waters’ theory of change:
What started as a personal choice of compassion and a need for more sustainability is now a holistic concept. Besides providing healthy and plant-based food, Karma Water raises awareness on veganism, supports people in need and promotes green solutions and sustainable tourism.
With their full commitment, Grace and her sister want to see a sustainable and compassionate world without the suffering of animals, the planet and people.
You beautiful people out there, make sure to visit Karma Waters when travelling in Vietnam! You can also check what they do on facebook and have a look at their amazing work! Your support is also very much appreciated: you can support their work financially via their website karmawaters.org or just spread the word by sharing their story!
You can find all links in the show notes below and on our website www.flowful.org. If you like what we do please share this episode, our website or whatever! Oh, and we’re also on Instagram and twitter!
Music is by beautiful soul Andrew Healy.
Thanks for listening! Be flowful!