Abuja, Nigeria: On November 1st, the world (well vegans anyway) celebrated World Vegan Day. The day marks the beginning of World Vegan Month. Established in the United Kingdom in 1994, the day’s celebrations usually calls for activities such as tree planting, vegan food festivals, events and shows.
In my country, Nigeria, the day was not marked by any special events, seminars, lectures or even talks that I know of. However, it is entirely possible that there were such events and I simply wasn’t aware of them because there isn’t much awareness or information available for these kinds of events. (You may want to read my previous article about how little information is actually produced in Africa). This is because there are no national discussions about vegans and vegetarians. If vegans (who consciously choose to be vegan, and identify as vegan) do exist here, they are the minority of the minority.
There is a simple explanation for this. In Nigeria, across Africa and most other parts of the developing world, the emphasis is on eating, not necessarily about what you eat. Just eat. The average citizen is often hard-pressed to put three square meals on his or her table. Therefore, to tell a person here not to eat any type of food, for any reason short of certain death, is a stretch.
Nigeria has one of the highest poverty rates in the world with about 67 percent of the population of about 200 million people living below the poverty line. These figures are however according to Western standards. Most Nigerians fall into the fast disappearing middle class. This middle class feed very well, live comfortably but cannot afford any form of luxury. Luxury in this case includes owning a car.
The average Nigerian would be quick to declare that he or she is not a vegan and would regard a vegan with a certain amusement, seeing it as another vicissitude of the lives of the white man. This declaration is made with a certain pride that seems to say that we are lucky to be immune to such issues. I for one, am not vegan or vegetarian.
However, in recent times it dawned on me that I and my fellow Nigerians are more vegetarian than we’d care to admit. In examining what I eat, I have come to realize that the diet we Nigerians consume the most, are vegetarian diets. (I have restricted this article to the dietary facets of veganism as it pertains to meat as this applies most to Nigerians.)
The staple foods in Nigeria are rice and fufu, which is made from processed cassava. The fufu is eaten with a soup prepared with vegetables. These vegetables and other ingredients are all organic and are purchased from a nearby market from traders who grew them in their own farms. This soup is customarily cooked with fish and meat. However, for a huge part of the population, if there is no meat or fish, the food is still eaten happily.
The rice is often imported from Thailand and other Asian countries. There is however a local alternative which is grown by farmers in various coastal areas. This local variety has gained prominence as the government tries to encourage local production and as the prices of the imported variety skyrockets. The rice is prepared in various forms – the most popular being jollof rice. This is once again prepared with locally grown organic vegetables and condiments.
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In a case where a person does not eat fufu, generally referred to as “swallow”, the person can go for months without eating meat.
Do not get me wrong, Nigerians eat a lot of meat. Meat features in almost every meal. But it features as an add-on, as a luxury. It is not the food itself. Meat or not, the food will be eaten without a second thought. There are few meat-based meals such as steaks. When you do not consume meat in this way, there is little chance of inadvertently eating meat by mistake. Nigerians are not big on hamburgers or other meat based pastries. Meat rolls often have an alternative which contains diced potatoes rather than meat.
So what I’m trying to say is that even though we may not be vegan, we aren’t exactly non-vegans either. What this means is that we usually do not consciously make a decision to go vegan. I am what I have decided to call Vegan by Chance.
We in Nigeria are vegans and vegetarians, not because we want to, not because we choose to, but because that is the way it has happened.
Being vegan is a conscious choice. Most Nigerians simply cannot afford the luxury of that choice.
We are vegans by chance.