Written by: Phindile Le Bris Sithole-Spong
I still remember the first time I heard about veganism. Like anything not designed or made for people of colour like myself. I saw it as yet another western dieting fad that had no place in my life. That is because the veganism I first heard of really WASN’T talked about or marketed for people that looked like me. And didn’t include foods that were readily available in South Africa. And the few that were sold and labelled vegan were out of my budget.
But before I continue, I am sure some of you are wondering, what is veganism exactly? Veganism or vegan-based foods are foods and meals made with no animal products or by-products. Which means eliminating the use of milk, cream, butter, eggs and meat from recipes and meals. And whilst it can and has taken up various meanings. For me, it is about eating less meat and meat products (which we know is better for the environment and our overall health). And as someone who is lactose intolerant like so many black and brown people around the world. Vegan style cooking and eating has allowed me to eat all the things I love without worrying about an upset stomach which usually happens after eating cheese, milk or any kind of dairy.
Through this movement and others that seek out alternatives to animal products and by-products, I have been able to learn about the wonders of almond milk (which I love and have made for years). As well as find alternative ways of thinking about meals without meat being the main focus.
Now many years later as I continue on my quest to be healthier, eat and be more conscious and connected, I have revisited veganism once again. But now, through people and places that look and sound familiar like African American afro-vegan chef Bryant Terry.
It was through him and one of my good friends here in France, that I started to realize that Vegan style eating wasn’t as complicated as I had thought it was. And that if I had in fact eaten and loved vegan meals and dishes before as a child growing up in South Africa. And whilst the start of the vegan movement may have been alienating. Thankfully, with so many afro-vegan chefs and a better understanding of veganism, it is now accessible to everyone who wants to know more, eat healthier and do better for the environment.
But before you argue that veganism is not African, I am here to change your mind. I now realise that vegan meals are a big part of the African identity. We just didn’t have a name for it. Some vegan dishes that you may be familiar with include pap (also known as sadza, Ogi or Akamu, among many other names depending on which African country you come from). Then there is one of my favourite dishes Chakalaka which is a South African vegetable relish made of beans and vegetables with a tomato base. Other African vegan firm favourites include rice and beans, injera and vegetable jollof rice.
Learning that so many African dishes were indeed vegan, helped me realize that not only was veganism attenable, and also translatable to an African context. It can be affordable. What becomes expensive is when one looks at buying vegan alternatives to cow products such as vegan butter, vegan milk (making your own makes it so much cheaper though) and vegan meats. But as someone who still eats meat, although sparingly so. I use vegan principles to guide me in some of my meal choices but also inspire me to try different things.
So whether you are curious or want to give veganism a try. You don’t have to look further than your pantry and fruit and vegetable aisle. And as for the other stuff, it’s up to you how much you want to spend or if you are willing to put in the work to make your vegan versions of animal products.
And as we continue to move towards a more conscious and connected world where meat is not the only currency for good flavorful food. I hope you try it, even if for one meal a week. You may just find you love it more than you thought you would.