By Amma Aburam
Sometimes I wish I could go vegan. But then, I think of the main obstacle in my path – not that it would stop me, but I do consider it.
In short, it’s the cultural aspect: I picture myself back home in Ghana, preparing to go for a meal and telling my family that I’m sorry, I can’t have the food they are offering me because most of it has meat in it. That would be seen as beyond rude and I have no idea how I would fix the puzzlement, maybe even disappointment, that would cross their faces. They would surely think that I’ve lived in Europe for too long, that I lost my way, my roots and culture abroad. Ouch.
A friend of mine turned cold turkey vegan some months back and I recall her listing some of the reactions she had received from people, mainly black people like herself. One that really stuck with her was: “But you are African, how are you going to be a vegan?”
The more we talked about it, the more we both realised how absurd that statement was. Our culinary cultures as black people is steeped in meat consumption, and that makes for some delicious dishes that some wouldn’t trade for the world. However, it’s important to know there are some clear advantages to turning vegan as a black person.
Here are five reasons we need more black vegans.
1. Our cuisine causes major health problems in our communities
This is hard to hear, but genetically black people are more prone to certain diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure and stroke. Of course, there are many environmental and socio-cultural reasons for this as well, but facts show that improving our diet in general can lessen chances of getting these diseases. Yet with a typical diet that is often high in animal fat and oil, black people tend to increase their risks of getting these diseases.
Let’s take palm oil for example, an oil ingredient used in many West African dishes and in processed foods. Palm oil has been linked to poor digestion, is high in saturated fats and can cause toxicity, even cancer. Three Nigerian biochemistry researchers proved this last point in a published 1999 issue of “Plant Foods for Human Nutrition”, stating that palm oil threatened physiological and biochemical functions of the body. On top of this, it is proven to raise cholesterol – and of course, it’s a major contributor to deforestation and animal extinction.
You may be thinking: well I don’t eat much palm oil. Ok, fine. But consider the other popular foods in black people’s diet like fried chicken, ribs, chicken fried steak, etc – a.k.a. “soul food”. Sadly, they may be good for the soul but terrible for the body, and because we eat them so often, they increase heart disease rates, cause strokes, obesity and diabetes in black communities. Black celebrities like Oprah, Beyonce and Jay-Z have gone vegan after health scares related to all this.
2. Most African food can easily go vegan
Would you be surprised if I said African food is almost already vegan? Throughout Africa, the main meals consist of a mixture of vegetables, legumes and meat. Dairy products are very rare, almost non- existent in most African dishes. Remove the meat element and an African dish usually becomes vegetarian or vegan. It’s that simple.
But let’s admit it, meat gives the food some major flavouring, so I got curious as to how to re-work an African dish to make it deliciously vegan. I was so excited to discover some established and up and coming Afro-Veganism pioneers. My absolute favourite The African Canadian is a Ghanaian called Afia Amoako, blending beautiful Ghanaian dishes with veganism. Sweet Potato Soul also rocked my world with her African American approach to veganism and finally Bryant Terry, proves that black men can also be vegan. His fusion of Afro-Caribbean dishes and veganism is divine.
So yes, friends, it is indeed possible to be of African heritage and be a vegan. Not to mention that it will drastically improve your health. These guys will inspire and motivate you. Check out more Afro-Vegan influencers here.
3. Veganism is a new way to re-discover our culinary culture
Growing up in a Ghanaian home, I absolutely love our food, but I often caught myself thinking: this is a bit repetitive, isn’t it? As much as I enjoyed the Jollofs and Kenkeys – and still do – I did eventually crave something different, and slowly branched out to other cuisines when I lived on my own.
I think what excites me most about the idea of being an African vegan is the chance to re-invent and play with our culinary traditions. African food is delicious, but it’s often heavy and we tend to stick to what we know – the same surely goes for African-American cuisine, too. From what I’ve seen, black vegan recipes make our foods lighter, easier to digest and faster to cook!
4. Studies show Africans were never meant to eat meat, anyway
Many anthropologists believe that human civilisation sprang from the African continent, and they’ve studied where we lived, what we wore, and how we ate. Although meat is now ubiquitous in Africa, it was discovered that over the course of human evolution, the majority of food eaten was vegetable, not animal. Plants are what our earliest ancestors ate; this had an evolutionary effect on how our guts and bodies developed. In other words, there is very little evidence that our guts and teeth were made to digest meat, and it’s much healthier for all humans to stick to a plant based diet. Full stop.
5. In America, the typical African diet is really a remnant of slavery
According to the Black Foodie, in the time of slavery in the United States, African slaves were fed animal remnants, flour, cornmeal, molasses, and peas. He goes on to say that ‘before slavery, in West Africa, our diet consisted heavily of plant-based foods such as ground provisions, fruits and greens. Meat was either not on the menu or eaten occasionally in smaller portions as a stew. We also consumed no dairy products. Having access, knowledge and the freedom to grow wholesome foods allowed us not only to live longer but to thrive while doing so. Scientific studies have also proven that following a plant-based diet has proven beneficial in lowering your risk of multiple ailments.’
In short, the reason African-Americans geneally eat so poorly is a hangover from the days of slavery. It seems ironic that we’ve freed ourselves politically, but not dietarily. Isn’t it time for a major change? Especially when you consider that white men in the United States tend to live on average five whole years more than black men, mainly due to the latter’s tendency to have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
After learning all this for this article, I’ve decided to take on the challenge – I’ve decided to try going vegan, for real. Wish me luck – and why not join me, too?