One African who’s made the transition to a plant-based diet talks about her experience
When I made the transition to vegan eight years ago the transition was smooth, but not as seamless as veg-curious masses have it now. Veganism wasn’t a far stretch for me since I had been on and off vegetarian for a year. During my vegetarian days, I lived at home, where my mother or grandmother cooked most of our meals. I believe African food is what gave me committal issues; grandma’s peanut butter soup was just too good to pass up.
After I moved out and started doing my own cooking, committing to healthier eating became easier. I transitioned in phases. First, the red meat, then chicken and poultry went out the window, fish and seafood took the longest to let go of, then finally dairy. There are tons of milk substitutes these days, from soy to nut milk of any kind. Rice milk used to be my favorite, now it’s creamy, delicious flax seed milk. Vegan cheeses are still hit or miss. Back when I started out there were more misses than hits so I seldom used cheese substitutes. Removing cheese from my diet was easy for me, but others have a hard time because of the naturally occurring chemical in cheese that makes it slightly addictive.
Meat and dairy substitutes make transitioning to a vegan diet easier for some people. But I never got into the habit of using them because I was suspicious of the processing it took to achieve these meat-like beef crumbles, shredded cheeses and the like stocked in the vegan aisles of the grocery store. Wasn’t the point of going vegan to enjoy and crave whole plant foods? What was the point of eating meat lookalikes then? Though I didn’t use substitutes, I understand why others do. Some people just need the familiarity while others lack the necessary kitchen skills—or creativity—needed to make delicious vegan dishes so having these substitutes are good temporary replacements until you figure out how to recreate your favorite dishes.
I became vegan because looking and feeling my best are important to me. Experience with the plant-based diet helped me realize how much my body thrived meat-free. I lost unwanted weight, had more energy and enjoyed overall optimal health but I desperately missed African soul food. Recreating my grandmother’s peanut butter soup recipe and veganizing some of my favorite Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean dishes became my obsession. Through trial and error, I learned that African food is just as flavorful veganized. Staples, like jollof rice, are vegan, and eggplant and beans make excellent meat substitutes for texture in soups and stews.
Two things I know for sure: veganism requires creativity and meal planning if you want to stay vegan. Unfortunately, the world we live in likes its conveniences, and convenient is one thing that healthy veganism isn’t. Planning for success and keeping your menu from becoming stale requires some forethought and planning. Luckily vegan podcasts, Pinterest boards, magazines, and cookbooks make the lifestyle mainstream enough to make the transition painless.