We stumbled upon Norah Hudson’s vegan restaurant ELL 269 in Hermanus today. ELL stands for Eat Love Life and 269 refers to the 269 Life vegan activist movement. Norah offered me a homemade fruity rooibos iced tea and shared her incredible story.
Every vegan has been (and still is) on a journey from the traditional way we were taught to eat and live to becoming a compassionate eater who understands that animals should not have to suffer so that we can have pleasure – any kind of suffering and any kind of pleasure. For Norah it began when her daughter Kendra was 2 1/2 years old and her husband committed suicide. Suddenly she was a widow with a baby daughter.
Five years ago, Norah’s friends got a piglet for their guesthouse whom they named Ziggy the piggy. But they soon realised it wasn’t that easy to look after a piggy and Ziggy moved in with Norah and Kendra. Once they were sharing their home with this little piglet it forced them to realise that we are all in denial about the cruel realities of the meat industry. For Norah and Kendra they were getting to know – and starting to love – a little animal with the intelligence of a 5-year-old child who had become a member of their family.
Norah decided to start an ethical eatery helping people understand where meat actually comes from and opened ELL at Spookfontein. She was vegetarian at this stage and thought she could convince people to source their meat “ethically”. She tried to justify eating dairy from Camphill Farm and eggs because they came from a farmer whose hens ran free. But then she and Kendra watched a Youtube video by Martin Dingle Wall called Vegan is the New Black. He explains his journey in such a down to earth and unpatronising way and, when they were finished watching, Kendra, then 17 years old, said, “But mom, now we don’t have a choice.” She was even ready and willing to give up sushi, her favourite food. Norah says, “We could no longer eat bacon and eggs and go home and look Ziggy in the eyes. We then realised that lambs were also babies who were taken from their mothers. We were still eating fish but no meat and then we started to study what happens in the fishing industry.” From that point on there was no going back.
The restaurant was very successful but most people ate there for reasons other than the fact that the food was ethically sourced. Norah did a lot of the cooking but wouldn’t taste the food because it wasn’t vegetarian. Then she had a conflict of interest because she realised she was making money from the very thing she abhorred (animal farming and exploitation.) She also experienced some very stern criticism from staunch vegan activists. It was time to move on. So she sold ELL and waited for an opportunity to open a fully vegan eatery.
Eventually, a vacant shop presented itself and she was ready to open the first fully vegan restaurant in Hermanus. Norah brings to ELL 269 many years of experience as a chef and restauranteur, as well as the compassion of an authentic vegan activist. I just know this restaurant is going to be hugely successful and, more importantly, is going to change many human and animal lives for the better. The food is fantastic (try their signature burger) and all the servers are either vegan or vegetarian.
Strangely, ELL’s opening was the same night as Melanie Joy’s talk in Cape Town – she is one of Norah’s main inspirations – a wonderful coincidence. Be sure to go and support this passionate woman and her worthy cause next time you are in Hermanus.