Being black and vegan

by: Mamaputle Boikanyo - 19 July 2018

Being black and vegan

When you’re black and vegan you’re likely to be seen as the the oddball amongst your family and friends, or you might even be viewed as someone with a strange superiority complex trying to be white.

A vegan is someone who lives off a plant-based diet, and depending on the individual, the person might also choose not to wear or use animal products. Veganism is something that is mostly  seen as a ‘white thing’, but there are many black vegans out there. We spoke to two vegans to chat about their journey and get to the bottom of this ‘vegan being a white thing’ myth. 

Anda Mtshemla, author of the blog 24 Karrots (For The Practical, Bougie Vegan), told us about her journey with veganism. If you’re looking to go vegan and you’re about to search “South African vegan bloggers” for some tips on Google, I’ll save you the trouble. 

Mtshemla’s “24 Karrots” is a blog that’ll have you prepared for every occasion, whether you’re going on a picnic with friends or if you’re alone, lazy and looking for an easy meal to make. It even has an article about going vegan for beginners.    

She started the blog hoping to share her love for veganism with others. 

“I wanted to show people that it’s not all hemp seeds and ridiculous things that no one has access to. It’s more accessible than you think”, says Anda.

According to her, “[Veganism was] an awakening. It’s about being conscious, because, growing up you think: ‘Oh you have to eat meat for protein, you have to drink milk because it’s full of calcium’, but when I was researching veganism in the beginning I found out that all these things aren’t true. For me it’s’ really about being conscious and understanding what you’re putting in your body.”

On the issue about losing out on certain nutrients, Anda says that “With any diet that you’re on, you’re losing out on some minerals and vitamins. So that’s something that you must always consider not just when you’re vegan. And I mean, things like protein and calcium- when you get these from animals you’re actually getting it as a secondary source. You don’t need to eat the animal when you can get those vitamins as a primary source.”

Many vegans express the sentiment that knowing what you’re eating, how it’s made and where it comes from is one of the many joys of being vegan. Still, even though Anda has mainly had a good experience with veganism, others have had a bit of bumpy ride.

Sandla Se’Nkosi Koyana, a musician and entrepreneur, spoke to us about the difficulties he has experienced throughout his journey of being vegan. Sandla started off as a vegan for six months in 2015 and had to stop because he was not aware of the likeliness of developing a B12 deficiency. He kept going back to it throughout the years and officially became a vegan April of this year. The trick for him was to not immediately go “cold turkey”, and begin the process by weaning himself off of meat and dairy products. It was also extremely important for him to regularly take his B12 and B complex shots.

As an artist Sandla states that he experiences a lot of stress, and spends a lot of time over-analysing every aspect of life in order to find authentic material for his creative work. However, in the process of becoming vegan, Sandla’s sense of place in the world becomes harmonised with his surroundings and he states that he feels less stressed.

 “I just became balanced with the world, the universe and nature, just because I’m not killing anyone. I’m not a part of that cycle [of death]… on an internal level I got peace because I’m no longer adding toxic foods to myself… If you’re a chicken or you’re a cow or you are a pig, your frustrations as an animal are high quickly [in slaughterhouses]. Those animals are stressed and now we’re eating stressed animals [including the hormones that they produce when they die and when they are stressed/suffering], but for me, all my stress is external.”

 Of course, Sandla speaks about concepts that can’t be disproved or proved. Still, when hearing his and other black people’s experiences with being  vegan, it’s interesting to hear stories about how the change towards this lifestyle and diet is very much aligned with who people are and how they choose to express themselves— it’s a personal thing that has little to do with race or whiteness.

“Whenever that whole thing of “Uzenza bhetere” comes up, it’s like nah, it’s not even that. It’s more about “look as a meat-eater I was suffering internally, and I didn’t know of a solution until I came across an understanding of veganism. I tried it out. I decided to make my kitchen my pharmacy. I ate and now I’m healthy,” he says. 

 In terms of affordability, going vegan has been the smarter choice. 

 “On a price level it works out to be somewhat even simply because I chow a lot, but I know a lot of other vegans that don’t chow like me so they cost a lot less”, states Sandla.

“A lot of the judgement I received came when I was vegetarian”, says Anda and unfortunately, the criticism increased when shebecame vegan. She mostly shares the same sentiments with Sandla about people thinking you have a strange superiority complex when you’re a black vegan

 “I already had the tough skin from being vegetarian, but it does take work because people do judge. It is still very much a white thing so people think like me being vegan is me saying “I’m better than you, which is never really the case.”

 For Anda, the idea of veganism being a ‘white thing’ is almost absurd, since veganism/vegetarianism finds its roots in many dishes and recipes from around the African continent, and within Caribbean and Eastern regions. 

 “I don’t know how the food I’m eating can be a white thing”, she expresses, “Honestly I’ve always said that veganism is so African and black because historically we’ve always had the land and we’ve been agriculturalists, horticulturalists and so on. A lot of our diet, historically, must be plant-based. Veganism is actually very African,”she concludes.