I’ve never quite been a meat lover. When I was a little girl, I’m reminded of the way I used to be such a picky eater. It wasn’t necessarily because of the meat, but weird looking food in general. From pretending to be dramatically sick, hiding food in my pockets, to the convenient fatigue rush that would take over my cheeky self whenever I was asked to come to the dinner table – I did it all. Mono-eating was my jam. Like most kids, I would get obsessed with one food sometimes one ingredient, and only want to eat that and that alone. I also hated messy looking food which is rather odd considering how much of a tomboy I was. I definitely get this from my mom because she has always been a picky eater since she was a tot. I also had a thing about textures and smells so would ET prod and sniff my food before I decided to proceed- terrible habit I know.
One of my earliest and favourite food memories was when we lived in Burundi and our family cook Gaspar would call “Watoto, chakula.” which translates to “Children, come eat.” in Swahili. Gaspar made the best chapatis and also made the best meat I have ever had. He would make these beef, goat and even liver brochettes, I think they were grilled. I liked them because for one I was a picky kid so any food on a stick was definitely the way to my heart. Also, because he always made meal times so extra – it felt like a game of sorts. Unfortunately we had to leave Burundi, so no more Gaspar.
I ushered this pickiness into my teens but got better at eating. I started attending a boarding school when I was 12 years old and food wise this was the best-thing-ever! You know how boarding school food in the movie Matilda sucked? Well it was the opposite for me. We would have the these monthly weekend pool BBQs. For breakfast we would have our eggs made to order, and had a continental style spread. In hindsight, this was a little extra for children in my opinion as it sets unrealistic expectations since I later found out that this is not what happens in real life – but that’s another story.
To accommodate different dietary restrictions (due to religions or allergies), there were always different meat and vegetarian options. The vegetarian menu was always more appealing to me. It was mostly Indian food, so very fragrant and different from the bland Zimbabwean/ British menu I had up till then mostly been accustomed to eating. Now at school the only restriction I had was “I’m picky.” which obviously couldn’t really qualify me for the special menu but between my cute smile (and sometimes pout), I always got in on it. Another random thing that reinforced my love for vegetarian options was in the 90s while living in Kenya there had been a mad cow disease scare and on a whim I just decided that I would no longer eat red meat. I have not eaten any read meat since then.
Later in my teens was when I really began loving food. During summer breaks I’d learn how to make all sorts of things, mostly sweet treats. I did remain mostly vegetarian with chicken and seafood featuring on my plate from time to time. Over the last decade, I’ve had blocks of years where I was 100% vegetarian and then dance back to the chicken and fish thing. What I’ve learned about my body is poultry doesn’t digest as quickly for me and often gives me the feeling of being full, so I mostly ate seafood. That said I’ve made some tasty chicken recipes in my lifetime. Seafood, well I love seafood. Anything of the sea always tastes delicious to me – including its plants.
About 5 years ago is when I really delved into food. My mother had been diagnosed with an environmental cancer and while this was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, it also seeded a more conscious relationship with food for me. Because of this, I notice and acknowledge food. If you’ve ever been affected by a cancer diagnosis, then you’ll know just how frantic you become, especially in the age of Google. I read up on anything and everything I could get my hands on about cancer. From “foods that cause cancer” to “cancer fighting foods” lists- I read it all! As a daughter and caregiver, I just wanted her to feel better. Thankfully my mother made it out of that crappy storm.
The biggest food lesson that came out of that entire chapter of my life is that everything that you put in your mouth will either heal you or kill you – we are what we eat. It sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. I had always eaten lots of plants but this diagnosis got me intentional about it all. I promised myself that while I can never control whether or not I get cancer, I would at least try my best to prevent it by improving what I put in my body and more generally how I treat my body.
Cooking has always been soothing to me and one of my truest happy places. I started being more intentional about my eating and began meal prepping every single weekend. My meal preps are always lit because I made sure to try out different recipes that were mostly plant-based but also sometimes included poultry and seafood. I would set myself food renovation challenges where I’d try to recreate all of my favourite unhealthy recipes into yummy ones. In case you’re wondering, this was way before the whole Tasty era (#justsayin). I genuinely loved finding better ways of eating and also using food to heal my body when it wasn’t at it’s best. Between work and life I would sometimes neglect my eating rituals here and there but because it’s that important to me I find my way back, always.
Last year I made an intentional decision to try eating only vegan food, meaning no animal products what so ever. It didn’t feel that much of a stretch to me because I had already been eating mostly vegan anyway. Accidentally. I figured why not, so I did. My only real anxiety going into it was “What about yogurt and ice-cream?” and “Oh my god, cheese!”. What I didn’t know was the vegan world had been making yummy substitutions for all these worries of mine so you can definitely buy some. I love making my own vegan “nicecream” and cheeses.
There are many vegan recipes and products that are almost perfect copies of the original but as a real food lover I will not sit here an make a case that vegan substitutions are exactly like the “real” thing, because they aren’t really. They just have their own new flavours and it’s an opportunity to wake different bits of your taste buds. Because of my credentials of being a selective (*my substitute word for picky) eater, you best believe that I don’t subject myself to food that’s below delicious. There’s always a way to joosh your food up, that’s my food philosophy.
I still eat a “vegan” diet but I don’t consider myself a real vegan as I don’t subscribe to some of the movement’s philosophy. Plus I still wear leather shoes etc. I don’t like baggage, but that’s another story. The main thing that bothers me about eating animal products is that the production and how this production process isn’t working for our bodies. If I could always guarantee (and afford) quality poultry, seafood and dairy, then I would probably always include them in my diet but still always maintain an 80/20 or 90/10 vegan to non-vegan diet. It’s also important for me to point out the fact that there is definitely such a thing as an unhealthy vegan. In recent years the vegan industry has begun producing so many substitutes for everything so of course this means many shelved products are more than just a humble plant.
For now I will continue to eat a mostly a low processed vegan diet (and of course homemade vegan junk food) because firstly, my body works (and looks) a lot better, I’ve significantly reduced my health concerns, and about the production process of these animals that end up on my plate and lastly I get to challenge myself in making delicious foods that happen to be 100% animal product free (now that’s science).
I could easily go on but I’ll end here for now. If you’ve read this far, please let me know what “diet” you follow and your thoughts about vegan food.
live + love,