The first time I had a real conversation with a vegan was roughly four and a half years ago at a dinner in Oxford, and during my master's degree in Cambridge. Before then, I can't exactly boast that I was very aware of the trend or concept. I had lived in Nigeria for all of my life and frankly everyone ate meat. Not eating meat was almost like a taboo. It was very rare.
So that night at the dinner table, side by side with someone who had been vegan for such a long time, I was perplexed. How and why did he just decide to stop eating meat? He explained that after being exposed to how animals were treated for food, he couldn't justify eating them. I'll be honest and say that he didn't look like the most healthy person, so I wondered if he had made the right decision.
Nonetheless, he had piqued my curiousity and soon after, I watched a documentary on treatment of animals. It had an effect on me and I probably tried to go meat free for a week - but that was it! Today, being vegetarian or vegan is much more common and very much preached about. I don't know if I'll ever be able to go vegan, but I wonder about it - especially these days as meat tends to get stuck in my teeth way too often!
So I decided to ask 9 vegans about their journey, their diet, challenges and tips! It's exciting hearing their experiences, and the reasons why they might ever consider going back to the meat eating life!
1. Itua Iyoha - @eatrightnaija
• Currently an MBA student at Said Business School, University of Oxford.
• Being vegan makes me feel: Healthier, vibrant and free!
• Four food staples: Rice, legumes, mushrooms and tomatoes
• One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: only if it would somehow convince everyone else in the world to go vegan!
My journey to veganism started with a search for the healthiest way to eat. I was living a very sedentary lifestyle because of my job and I knew I had to do something to offset that. I cut out red meat first because I heard about its links to heart disease. This was easy, as I was never crazy about beef anyway. As I did more research I found that all animal products have negative health impact when consumed. I also learned about the environmental devastation and animal cruelty inflicted by the animal agriculture industry. After watching documentaries like Cowspiracy, Earthlings and Forks over Knives, I had no desire to eat animal products ever again, not even cheese and prawns which were my favourites. Once I did the research to make sure that I would not be deficient in any nutrients, I went vegan and haven't looked back since.
I have little difficulty finding a variety of foods to eat every day, but that's because I'm lucky to live in a place where vegan friendly options are abundant. My parents have also been super supportive, although it was a bit of a shock for them at first. They thought I had become a Buddhist. The truly hard part of being vegan for me has been the fact that I am often put on the spot as the only vegan in the room. Although I'm happy to discuss my lifestyle choice with others, I've found that the topic of veganism can make some people uncomfortable, defensive and downright rude. I often avoid mentioning that I am vegan in social gatherings for this reason, but it eventually becomes apparent at the refreshments table.
My advice for anyone looking into a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is to do the research. Watch documentaries, educate yourself using reliable sources like nutritionfacts.org, and make sure you have a strong reason for making the change. It will be challenging and if you're not armed with conviction and knowledge, you will eventually find a reason to go back. Also, be patient. Meatless food might taste weird for a while, but before you realize it, your taste buds will adjust!
Fun fact: One time I told a waiter I was vegan and they recommended the chicken dishes for me. After explaining that I didn't eat any animal at all, they helpfully offered prawns!
2. Yemisi Kehinde - @yemsmoothies
- IT Professional; Green Smoothie & Vegan Ambassador
- Being vegan makes me feel happy that I am contributing to keeping the environment and animals safe. On a personal level, I feel at peace, youthful, stronger, mentally calmer and alert.
- Four food staples: Chickpeas, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach and Mushrooms
- One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: Blasphemy- Knowing what I know now, I will never go back to eating meat again - I am vegan for life.
My main reason for going vegan was ethical because I couldn't stomach the thought of animals suffering for me to eat meat. Further down my journey, my choices have included health and environmental reasons. One of the toughest parts of this journey was giving up cheese and egg. Before going vegan, I ate an egg every day and I was obsessed with cheese. I am pleased to say that I coming up to my “One Year Vegan-Anniversary" and I haven't missed any of these animal produce.
For anyone deciding to make the switch, I’d say do your research, start simple, go slowly and don’t put high and unrealistic expectations upon yourself. Like any new journey, you will make mistakes, do not dwell on those mistakes but simply pick yourself up and start again with determination.
Fun fact: My parents could not understand it when I went vegan; my dad said "You will be soon turn to rag and bone" The last time I saw my dad he said "Are you sure you are still vegan because you look very well rounded my girl!"
3. Somi Igbene - @veganbysomi
- Freelance Medical Writer / Vegan Wellness Blogger
- Being vegan makes me feel very clean and healthy on the inside. There is an unexplainable peace I feel these days. Some vegans have said it is common to feel that way. The best explanation I’ve got for it that you’re no longer consuming the pain from another animal. Energy is never destroyed, it is only transferred.
- Four food staples: Grains, legumes (beans and lentils), vegetables and fruits
- One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: only if I have a life-threatening illness that requires meat to treat it.
I went vegan for health reasons. Just after I had my daughter in 2015, I developed a relentless itch in my throat. I initially thought it had to do with the repeated bouts of cold I was suffering from at the time. The cold went away eventually but the itch in my throat remained. Out of frustration, I went to my GP to check if something sinister was up, but apparently everything looked fine. My GP suggested that perhaps pregnancy hormones had caused me to develop an intolerance to something in my diet. She suggested I try an elimination diet to figure it out.
I started eliminating things (mainly animal products) from my diet one at a time and each time the itch got progressively better. I had eliminated dairy, meat and chicken from my diet when I stumbled on a video on YouTube about veganism. It wasn’t the first time I had encountered veganism, but it was the first time I had really listened to what it was all about. At that point, the only non-vegan food I had in my diet was fish so I thought it would be worth eliminating it to see if it helped my throat. Within two weeks of removing fish from my diet, my throat cleared up. I have not looked back since.
Fun fact: Initially, a lot of people in my family thought I was suffering from extreme depression or I was having a mental breakdown. They couldn’t understand why I would want to give up meat. Now, a lot of them want to go plant-based.
4. Bolanile Olatunji - @veganinnigeria
- Marketing Consultant by profession; health and nutrition enthusiast
- Being vegan makes me feel cleaner on the inside, less lethargic, clearer with a more creative mind, spiritually connected with nature and other living beings
- Four food staples: Chickpeas, mushrooms, quinoa and avocados - as I am a whole foods alkaline non-hybrid vegan
- One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: Never going back!
I chose to transition to a plant-based lifestyle on the journey to health and wellness. First, I went organic, as I was in the United States at the time and realized how unhealthy conventional food and how almost unavoidable GMOs were. After trying various vegan restaurants and being pleasantly surprised at how tasty the food could be, my mind was opened to a whole new world and a sustainable way of eating. I transitioned by removing all animal flesh in one day then eventually removed eggs and lastly dairy. I've never looked back since!
My challenges with the lifestyle have evolved with my experience living it. When I first made the switch, my challenge was being able to feed myself. I had the luxury of eating out in New York but when I returned to Lagos (Nigeria) I had to quickly learn how to adapt to my new life. Now I prefer my home cooked meals.
After returning to Lagos my challenge was finding a support system and friends that could also identify with the lifestyle. I started a vegan community, first of its kind in Nigeria, called Vegan in Nigeria to highlight the vegan experience from within the country, identify other vegans and provide a support system as well as enlighten omnivores that were curious. Through this channel I have come to discover that there are many vegans in Lagos and in other parts of Nigeria. My current challenge is having more transparency with the way the farm foods are produced. Some packed food items that are imported tend to be thrice the price it is sold abroad so I would typically bring items back when I travel. I have since decided to try to eat more local, seasonal and readily available food items.
Fun fact: I celebrated my birthday a couple years back at a private beach club and had an all vegan menu. The attendees were pleasantly surprised as I did not mention it prior to the event. It gave people a different perspective on food.
5. Hakeem Jimo
- Founder of VeggieVictory – Nigeria's First Vegan Company
- Being vegan makes me feel like friends with all animals
- Four Food staples: VegMeat (our brand’s meat subsitute), beans, fruits, all veganized Nigerian dishes
- One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: Sorry, no reason unless I am brain amputated and cannot remember my Vegan life anymore
My 4 years Vegan and 20 years Vegetarian lifestyle started in my early twenties in Germany. A couple of livestock crisis made me realize something was going wrong: Mad cow disease, food and claw disease, chicken pest, even the fish in the North Sea were poisoned. I figured it would not make sense to try to take chances to hope for the uncontaminated meat.
Then, it was for health reasons majorly but now, it is certainly for probably more important reasons than personal health: environment, animal rights in Nigeria also socio-economic reasons and public health.
The main challenge for me was cheese because of its variety. I am perfectly fine with replacing meat. My only struggle now is how to give the bottom of the pyramid in the society viable plant-based options. My company is in the middle of rolling out nationwide Nigeria's first meat substitute that is cheaper than meat.
My advice for those making the switch is that this is your chance to be on the right side of history and the right side of you.
Fun fact: I have plenty of conversation especially in rural parts in Africa on explaining what being Vegan or Vegetarian is. So I usually say, I do not eat anything that can look at me. Now, this guy asks me “what about those that SPEAK”. He was referring to a particular plant that speaks at midnight. “I guess it is fine to eat those also” I told him.
6. Rachel Akinwande - @agaveafro
- HR Advisor by day, vlogger/blogger by night
- Being vegan makes me feel more dedicated to my spiritual journey as animals carry energy and I no longer want to put their negative energy into my temple.
- Four food staples: Plantains, yams, Jollof rice and almond butter on toast.
- One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: It definitely is hard being with a non-vegan partner; cooking for him is the highest form of temptation. I hope he becomes vegan soon!
I actually became vegan by accident. My intention was just to complete a 21-day body & soul detox where I, along with a group of other women, ate a vegan diet just to cleanse. I was so determined to successfully complete the detox that I did a ton of research on plant-based eating to keep my mind on track. I learned so many things about health, the environment and the animal farming industry that I just ended up continuing with it and formally accepted myself as 'vegan' soon after.
Waving goodbye to my favourite restaurants and takeaway shops has definitely been the hardest part of the journey. As an omnivore used to eating anything and everything, after suddenly going plant-based, it takes your mind and body a while to get out of those old habits and routines. My fiancé and I used to buy take outs or go to a Chinese buffet at least once a week - we haven't been to our local buffet in nearly a year and we rarely buy takeaways anymore as our favourite restaurants have no vegan options. I miss being carefree and eating wherever. Changing routines and habits you've had for years takes a lot of commitment. I miss the experience of frequently eating out with my other half and dolling myself up to get ready, the restaurant atmosphere and experience but it's a change we both understand and I want to continue with even though it's a constant temptation to give in and go back to old ways.
What made my transition 'easier' was starting my journey off by eating meals I was used to rather than forcing myself to try completely new foods and ingredients that I'd never had before. Nothing is more familiar than traditional Nigerian cuisine! I googled 'Nigerian vegan meals' during my first week of the detox and came across vegannigerian.com. I knew that as long as I was eating dishes I already loved, everything was going to be ok. Eating the vegan versions of my favourite meals made me feel like I was actually treating myself rather than eating plants. It definitely helped me feel acquainted to vegan food a lot quicker.
7. Chiizii - @theigbovegan
- Visual artist and designer
- Being a vegan makes me feel lighter and healthier
- Four food staples: Spinach, Tomato, Yam and Avocado
- One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: An apocalypse or food drought
I decided to become a vegan for health reasons. I was introduced to the lifestyle by my cousin who was a vegan and I started learning about letting go of a lot of toxic products. My younger brother’s allergies to gluten and dairy products backed up a lot of what she taught me. I wasn’t a vegan at this point but I was a clean eater. Dating someone who had been a vegan for about 6-7 years prior to when I met him led me to implement his lifestyle into mine, while still eating dairy and meat. 7 months later, meat didn’t taste as good and the way my body was changing for the better led me to becoming a vegetarian, then a vegan.
The toughest part of this journey was transitioning from being a vegetarian to a vegan because I loved cheese. I was eating more cheese than I previously was to make up for the meat but it was ruining my skin and bowel movements. I took an allergy test and found out those were allergic reactions to the heavy consumption of cheese.
Top advice for those thinking of making the switch would be to gradually become a vegan by excluding certain foods little by little so that it doesn’t feel overwhelming and damning. If possible, find someone with more knowledge about the lifestyle and who knows how to cook vegan meals. A lot of people fail or find it hard because one needs to know how to cook well to be a vegan, there isn’t a drumstick or steak to hide behind, understanding flavour is important.
Fun fact: For the first week while I was a vegetarian and before becoming a vegan, I had to double check by ordering a pepperoni pizza and 14 piece bbq wings to be sure.
8. Tomi Makanjuola: @vegannigerian
• When I’m not running the website www.vegannigerian.com (and all the activities that come along with that- hosting pop-ups and private dinners, selling at food festivals and markets, and catering events), I work a literary 9-5 job in London and write/publish fiction when inspiration hits.
• Being vegan makes me feel: empowered.
• Food staples: Rice, beans, plantain and peppers
• One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: Genuinely can't think of one reason why I'd go back to meat.
I initially went vegan for health reasons. Wanting to feel less sluggish, I eliminated all animal products from my diet and felt a massive difference in my energy levels within a week. At the same time, I was struck by the irrational way we justify treating some animals as lovable pets and companions while cruelly exploiting others for food, fur, leather etc. Now, after four years of being vegan, reading extensively about the lifestyle and watching every health documentary under the sun, I can solidly say that I am vegan not just for health reasons but for the animals, the planet, and the lives of others who are negatively impacted by our problematic food systems.
It's gotten much easier in recent years, but very occasionally I still struggle with dining out if I haven't researched the menu in advance.
My number one tip for anyone who is considering the lifestyle is do your research! If or when the journey gets tough, you'll need to fall back on a solid foundation of knowledge to keep you going. Understand why you are making the switch, and allow your head (facts and figures) to connect with your heart (compassion). It also helps if you get excited about experimenting with food!
Fun fact: I went vegan while I was living in France for a year and my first experience of dining out at a French restaurant involved getting a pitying look from the waiter who went to great lengths to assure me that the chef could whip something up for me. I literally got a plate of 4 boiled potatoes and overcooked carrots. It was the saddest meal I'd ever seen, but there was plenty of humour to be found in it.
9. Eneda Eze - @veganspiceferry
• Herbal healer
• Food Staples: Colourful vegetables, fruits and various nuts
• One reason I may consider going back to the meat life: If I get a clear message from animals, telling me how excited they are to be killed and giving me permission to eat their flesh, use their milk, and wear their skin and fur. Until then, no, thanks.
The decision to become vegan for me was instant. I didn't have to ponder on whether it was something I wanted to do long-term, or about the things I would eat during that time. One minute I was having lunch with friends, the next I was on the highway driving behind a truck filled with cows that were being transported from the North, I noticed the cows were being kept docile by ropes that were passed through their nostrils and tied to various parts of the truck. The cows were looking straight at me and in that moment I realised that they were going through all that because I had decided I couldn't live without eating their flesh. With further research I learned that cows cried before they were being slaughtered and that was the end of meat eating for me.
The main challenge for me is eating out in restaurants that don't cater to vegans or dining in other people's houses. Other from that, I'm good at making my own tasty vegan meals.
My advice to people considering the lifestyle is to take things slow, analyse why they’re making the lifestyle change and possibly meal prep before-hand. One could also try being vegetarian first to ease the process, otherwise, go for gold.
If you read till this point, you'll have to agree that these vegans are serious about their convictions! And have rather interesting arguments & experiences. And in all honesty, most of the meals in the photos above look so appealing even without meat.
What's your take? If you're vegan / vegetarian or tried it out at some point, do share your experience. If you're not, would you consider this lifestyle change? why or why not?
You may also like: