Meet Carla Danker. The Veg Barbie. She’s a vegan model, business owner and animal rights activist – and she’s set on proving that vegan and cruelty-free living isn’t a sentence to a life of dreadlocks, body hair and playing the ukulele. You can, she says, save the planet and still look fabulous doing it. And she’s the proof in the chia seed pudding.
‘Being vegan doesn’t mean giving up fun stuff like blow waves, make-up and getting a manicure now and then. Being vegan is making lots of conscious tiny choices throughout the day.’
But Carla is the first to admit she isn’t perfect. In fact, after successfully living as a vegetarian for two years, she initially failed at going vegan. ‘I went into it blindly and I got really sick, with my oestrogen going through the roof and testosterone levels barely existing. I wasn’t looking into any supplements, so it really was doomed to fail.’
Now she’s careful to monitor her health … ‘I do blood tests every three months, take vitamins and ensure I’m getting the right amino acids.’
Carla loves being vegan because of her love for our furry animal friends, but also because of the way her body feels. ‘I never feel sick after eating any more and stomach ache is a very distant memory.’
While Carla would love to wave her mascara wand and have thousands of vegan converts at her fingertips, she’s also nothing if not practical. ‘It’s a process. First, try to include cruelty-free products into your toiletries. As each of your products – make-up, shampoo, deodorant – finishes, replace it with a cruelty-free option. Just Google the brand name and search if it’s cruelty-free.
‘Once you’ve converted your bathroom cabinet, the next step is to become flexitarian, then vegetarian, then vegan. There’s no trophy for who goes vegan fastest – it’s an individual process for everyone,’ she says.
Carla’s Instagram page is dedicated to helping people with tips and tricks she’s picked up along the way, proving just how easily it can be done. ‘In South Africa, braai culture is real. We have this reputation of just eating meat, meat, meat, all day, every day but it’s changing so quickly and I want to be a part of that change, collaborating with brands that feel the same way I do.’
The change is easy to see. Just 15 years ago, you’d have been hard pressed to find vegan options on a menu. There are now multiple specialist vegan or flexitarian restaurants, with Lexi’s Eatery being Carla’s favourite.
Even our Springboks are getting on board. Carla was recently appointed the vegan face and ambassador for the vegan protein powder by NutrE4, headed up by the Springboks’ starting lock, Eben Etzebeth.
Carla is firm on leaving judgement at the door when trying out this lifestyle and knowing people who actively engage in it. ‘Some people will get on your case about your car having leather seats, for example. No one is going to trot off and buy a new car. There’s a lack of understanding. A vegan lifestyle means trying your best. So when it’s time to upgrade, look for the most cruelty-free option. That’s good enough. It’s not a cult – although we do worship coconut milk!’
Carla’s love of animals doesn’t stop in the kitchen. She started the well-known dog spa, Pimp My Pup, back in 2011 (and yes, she was inspired by the MTV show – she is a millennial after all). She’s happy to get soapy with the pups, especially those that have special needs or are very old. At its inception, Carla was a one-woman show, but these days she’s willing to leave the grooming to her 16 experts, who can often be seen driving around Joburg in their characteristic pink vans. To top that off, she shares her home with 10 dogs and six cats.
‘Being kinder to animals is a work in progress. Even if you do only one small thing a day, you’re still trying. And anyone who says that’s not good enough should have a lettuce thrown at them.’
Try it yourself …
Carla’s Healthy Vegan Curry
1 Tblsp coconut oil
1 chilli, chopped
1 Tblsp each curry powder and cumin
2 tins diced tomatoes
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
1 tin chickpeas
2 large carrots, grated and chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tin coconut milk
4 cloves garlic
1Tblsp fresh ginger, minced
Heat coconut oil. Sauté onion and chilli until soft. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté for two minutes. Add cumin and curry powder and stir well. Add tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas, carrots, cauliflower and veg stock. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 mins until carrots are soft. Add salt and coconut milk. Cook for five more minutes and it’s ready to eat!