Vegan Nigerians Are Breaking Stereotypes About Diet and Wealth

Updated May 12, 2019. Meat has been a big part of the Nigerian diet since colonialism. However, a new vegan community is emerging in the country.

Veggie Victory, the first ever completely vegan and vegetarian restaurant in Nigeria, is helping create that change. The restaurant’s owner, Hakeem Jimo, grew up in Germany but connected with Nigerian cuisine while visiting family, PRI reports.

“Beans and plantains used to be a perfect vegan dish, but people started putting corned beef or crayfish in it. … For no reason! Because they just believe that it is fashion or it is good or it is prestige,” Jimo explained.

Meat-eating may also play a role in fueling internal conflicts; over the past few years, drought has pushed cattle farmers south in search of grazing land, leading to deadly clashes between herders. More than 3,600 have been killed in these conflicts since 2016. “Slowly, slowly, the connections are being made,” Jimo said.

At his restaurant, tofu and seitan replace the meat that would normally sit atop rice. Jimo even makes his own vegetarian meat “chunks,” available in grocery stores across the country.

Blogger Eat Right Naija makes plant-based food using local ingredients | image/Eat Right Naija

Africa’s Vegan History

Whilst the vegan message is spreading in the country, vegan food on offer is still sparse, and online inspiration for vegan Nigerian food is not commonplace. Yvonne Iyoha, founder of the blog Eat Right Naija, started her platform after learning about the social and environmental impacts of eating meat. The website focuses on producing healthy, vegan, Nigerian recipes and educating people about the benefits of eating plant-based.

“[W]hen I started looking around online, a lot of the [vegan] recipes [didn’t] speak to my Nigerian upbringing and the variety of spices we have here,” Iyoha said, explaining how her blog came to be.

With hope, the growing vegan movement in Nigeria will continue to strengthen, and Ioyha and other passionate vegans in the country will carry on inspiring others to join them in the lifestyle.

“People say things like, [vegan] is how white people eat and this is not how we eat in Nigeria, that kind of thing,” she says. “And I just let them know that, first of all, the recipes that I share are not quote-unquote white people food, they are Nigerian food, and then secondly, our traditional foods are very much plant-based.”

Veganism is spreading across the continent.

“More Africans are going back to being vegan, not becoming vegan,” chef Nicola Kagoro from the culinary movement African Vegan on a Budget told Quartz. The company hosts regular vegan cooking classes and po-up events in South Africa.

For Kagaro, it’s a return to roots: “Veganism originated in Africa. We keep sheep and cattle, but back in the day, when we slaughtered these animals, it was only for special reasons like a ceremony or a celebration like a wedding, the birth of a child, or a funeral.”