Festival season is in full swing! Which means so are yummy festival food trucks, nom nom nom… The Brighter Times chats to Anna Macdonald, founder of vegan sushi company Happy Maki, about sustainability, making decisions with love, and how her business is contributing meals to over a million school children a day!
Firstly, thank you so much for taking time to RISE with The Brighter Times!
In simplest terms, what is Happy Maki?
Happy Maki is a healthy fast food company. We make vegan sushi burritos rolled to order, kind of like an environmentally and socially aware subway! You can find us at 20 music festivals this summer, or at our shop in Brighton.
How many years has it been running?
Happy Maki had its first outing in 2014 so we are coming into our 6th year.
Congratulations! How, and where did it all begin?
It was very much a combination of events, experiences and realisations. I spent time volunteering on a pearl farm in French Polynesia - the pristine ocean environment and the way they worked with nature really inspired me.
However when I arrived home to start a nutrition Masters, I was totally uninspired. After dropping out I thought I'd give being on the front line a go - actually making food for people, rather than telling them what to eat. I had no special cooking experience, and I still wouldn't ever call myself a chef, but I do love creating, and I wanted the freedom of being my own boss.
I can definitely resonate with that… Why fish free sushi though?
I love a documentary, and one evening when planning what kind of food business I wanted to start, I watched a film called "end of the line”. It talks all about the overfishing issues (largely driven by the sushi industry) and what it has, and still does, to our oceans.
I was obsessed with eating sushi, but, I also loved the ocean, free diving, dolphins, and trying to surf. I then had the idea, fish free sushi!! It didn't make sense to many people at the time, but I knew it was an important cause, and one that I cared about - which I'm sure you know Lydia, really is the key ingredient in making your own venture a success.
I'm realising this yes!
I wanted to show people that sushi could be just as tasty without fish, and teach them why it’s important that we stop eating them to save our oceans.
So you haven’t always been vegan then?
No, and neither has the company. For the first year we served real chicken and duck! My logic at the time was, “we're going to run out of fish and ruin the equilibrium in our ocean (at least half of the air we breath comes from the photosynthesis of Marine plants) but we can always farm more chicken and duck.”
I still hadn't quite connected to what I know now; the moral issues of getting someone else to unnecessarily kill an animal, for me, that doesn't want to be killed. I loved all food including rare steak, tuna sashimi, bacon and egg sandwiches etc etc.
(Oh gosh, I’m afraid to say bacon is my kryptonite)
It was a line in the environmental documentary “Cowspiracy" though that struck a chord with me, "you can't be an environmentalist and still eat meat.” I knew it was true, I could feel my hypocrisy. But interestingly, its not helping the environment with my veganism thats given me the most joy, it’s knowing that I no longer contribute to animal cruelty on a large scale. I honestly feel when you make decisions based on love its like your soul becomes lighter and brighter.
…And who doesn’t want a lighter and brighter soul...
So what's the most popular dish?
It would have to be the hoisin duck maki roll. It’s a very good mock meat that we use. Often people try it then come back to order it again, not realising it wasn't meat! I think there’s something nostalgic about the flavours from Chinese duck pancakes, which are really amazing in a sushi wrap.
Sounds delicious! Can you advise any steps for people to take, to help with sustainable eating / living?
For me education is the most important thing, so I would encourage people to watch documentaries. There’s no point going through life using will power to do the things we feel we should, when we don't really want to; like going to the gym, having a ‘good’ job. It’s a change in attitude and emotion that’s required, and once you go through those changes and take off the blinkers, your will changes, and you actually enjoy making the steps, big or small.
Another aspect of Happy Maki is it’s charity collaborations! Tell me more about your contribution to planting more trees and feeding children in need?
It’s something I started two to three years ago. Fifteen pence from the sale of each wrap gets split between two charities, Eden Reforestation, and Marys Meals. I wanted to do more to help and was inspired by a friends street food company Rola Wala who were doing a similar meal scheme. The book "Start something that matters" by the founder of Toms shoes helped inspire me.
Ah yes, I have a pair of black sparkly Toms shoes, I love them! (For anyone that needs to know, TOMS helps provide shoes, sight, water and safer birth services to people in need. “ONE FOR ONE.” Check it out!
I wanted to build on the idea of incorporating giving gifts into the business, regardless of our profit. So its not a percentage of what we make, its engrained in every wrap we roll! I still think that’s so awesome.
It helps a lot on the long hard festivals days too, its great motivation to know that you're helping the issues of starvation and deforestation even if on a small scale. To date we have planted over 130,000 trees and over 200,000 meals!! With festival season happening it’s exciting to watch the numbers go up!
Was there any particular reason you chose these charities?
I needed two charities that could give me a very tangible outcome for a small donation. I found Eden reforestation project through a company called ten trees. I really liked their stuff, and the fact that they plant TEN trees for every purchase you make! I asked how they managed the tree planting and they passed me onto Eden - it costs 8 pence to plant a tree with them.
Through Rola Wala I found Marys Meals, they are hands down the most inspiring and effective charity I have ever come across, I honestly feed honoured to be helping them. They feed over 1,400,000 school kids a day, across 26 countries! Because of how cost efficient they are, a meal is only 7 pence. I highly recommend founder Magnus' book "The Shed that Fed a Million" it's a real faith builder.
Anna, this chat is a real faith builder!
Lastly, any general advice for humanity?
Yes I have lots! (It doesn't mean I’m able to take it and apply it all myself.) I'll try and do a top three.
1. Firstly I'd say analyse what your faith is, we all have beliefs, even if thats in atheism. We make all of our decisions based on what we believe in, so I feel that we all have a large responsibility to question what we have been taught, and figure out for ourselves what is right and wrong, morally and ethically, and listen to our consciousness whilst doing so.
2. What I am trying to work on at the moment is the fact that "Love is a Gift". We all take so much from each other emotionally, and physically from our environment. If we can work out why in certain scenarios we don't want to love, or we expect and need things from other people, it can show us a lot about ourselves and the areas in which we need to work on. I really believe that small changes on an individual level have a huge effect.
3. Be more truthful and experience life emotionally as it is happening, whether thats positively or negatively and whether you're male or female. Suppressing emotions and living in facade sucks, alongside causing disease and unhappiness. Live your truth and watch the positive effects unfold!
Couldn’t agree more! “What I know for sure is that you feel real joy in direct proportion to how connected you are to living your truth” - the oracle that is Oprah Winfrey…
Peace & Love!