At Sol Semilla in Paris, Vegan Food Is A Way of Life
The cheery turquoise storefront offers a visual jolt of energy on a narrow Parisian street near the Canal Saint-Martin. Here is Sol Semilla, one of the city’s forerunners of organic vegan cuisine, and if the façade makes passers-by stop in their tracks, it’s just as well that it should: the café is on a culinary mission, after all.
The café-canteen, whose interests extend beyond vegan cooking to nutrient-dense superfood supplements, was opened a decade ago, as interest in quality organic products bloomed across Paris. The seeds of its creation were planted well before then, when co-founder Jean François Hämmerle began researching and importing ancient grains, spices, fruits, and plant derivatives from South America into France. Today, Sol Semilla’s superfood raw ingredients are ecologically grown by independent producers and transported in an environmentally savvy manner– dehydrated at source, they then make their way, unhurriedly, across the Atlantic Ocean.
People’s growing interest in a vegan lifestyle – or at least one that focuses more on vegetables than on meat – is directly linked to burgeoning societal, economic, and environmental concerns, says Charles Bradier, Sol Semilla’s managing director. “Veganism offers obvious, and delicious, solutions to critical issues facing our society today – ecology, nutrition and animal welfare among them.”
It’s part of a trend towards conscious eating, affirms general manager Andrea Marcelli. “People today have more of an awareness of seasonality and provenance when it comes to the food they eat. Widely-reported scandals in modern food production have ushered in an active reflection on animal suffering, and the questionable economic system supporting it.”
Sol Semilla’s offer, then, is a tempting mouthful of socio-environmental consciousness on a plate.
A cozy spot with a jumble of tables, chairs, and stools, the space is half-canteen, half–market stand. On one side of the room, a blackboard lists the day’s specials in colored chalk – fat red beans cooked with prickly pear; brown rice simmered in Brazilian annatto; a side of Peruvian cape gooseberry chutney. Menus on each table list the nutritional benefits of each superfood supplement – prickly pear is packed with calcium and vitamin C; annatto is a powerhouse of beta carotene; little cape gooseberries are big on essential vitamins and minerals.
The opposite side of the room is lined with cardboard barrels containing packets of superfood supplements and pre-mixed food preparations for sale, each in a smart, unbleached-paper bag. There are maca root pills, powdered carob, crushed açai and dried Peruvian purple corn. Cacao-tinged buckwheat breakfast mixes sit next to maca-dusted kale chips and ready-to-use cooking additions such as an “energy mix” of ginger and spirulina.
It’s an effective melange, bringing together education and experimentation, lunch, and a little something more. And judging by attendance, it works: midweek, the place is packed.
New products are in the works – a sort of raw-superfood-boosted Nutella-esque spread among them – and the founders are looking to relocate their production and distribution operations, currently in the Parisian suburbs, elsewhere in France. (“We want to be somewhere greener, in more natural surroundings,” Marcelli says.) Another project: a new Parisian café – delectable news to the customers clamoring for a seat at lunchtime. Where does all the energy and motivation come from? It’s deeply personal.
“We’re the primary consumers of our products,” Marcelli says. “We take pleasure in selecting them, cooking with them, and sharing them. And if, in doing so, we help educate people about their well-being, so much the better!”