A Vegan Diet in South Africa.

8:09 AM Jmo 0 Comments

     I know. I said a dirty word: VEGAN.  *gasp*
     When most people hear the word vegan...some may conjure up images of emaciated hippies with dread locks tying themselves to a tree soon to be cut down by 'The Man'. While this may be true for some, this is a stereotype. Not all vegans talk about being vegan all of the time. Sure, I'm writing a blog post about it...but...well, ok you got me there. But! I'm currently in the midst of a month long vegan challenge and considering I'm currently living in a country obsessed with everything meat, I think that it's an interesting topic to touch on. 
     I'm not here to lecture or preach. This post is intended for anyone curious about 'the challenge' and what it's like following a vegetarian diet outside of the Western World. I intend to share a few cultural-fusion recipes in future posts as well. 
     During my two year stint in Korea, I did sway far away from my normal vegetarian diet. I had been an on/off vegetarian since I was about 16 years old and found it very difficult to maintain a strictly plant based diet in Asia. When I cooked on my own, I was fine. But when eating communally with coworkers or with friends it was basically impossible and I had to dive in full-force. Korean culture is very communal. Everyone does, and eats the same. If you are at a restaurant meeting with your coworkers there is a set menu and it usually includes a meat or fish of some type. Heading off to Korea I was somewhat aware of this and went in with an open mind intent on exploring everything culturally.  I didn't want to offend anyone and wanted to be accepted by my school and coworkers as quickly as possible.  I was a closet-vegetarian on the side, hehe.
     Even going out with friends proved to be difficult at times. Salads or vegetarian options are incredibly scarce. Unless you are in a big metropolitan city like Seoul, you are best eating at home. But for the most part, veggie options simply do not exist and I even wish you good luck finding a decent lettuce in your local supermarket. So, I had to be flexible! Which is fine and I encourage you to be as well. I did my best to stay away from the meat at the table but instead ended up gorging myself on salty side dishes and white rice. My weight dramatically increased because of this and I was not a happy camper. I was very active during my years in Korea as well. I played badminton with my school, soccer with a weekend club, rode my bike everywhere, and joined a gym. But this could not fend off the onslaught of sodium and carbs. So, I gave in and had to switch up my diet a bit.
     I did have some friends who were able to maintain a great deal of their vegetarian or vegan lifestyles while in Asia. But, every once in a while I did catch them eating something that wasn't exactly in line with their views. But, like I said, it is virtually impossible and sometimes ignorance is bliss. Also! Ordering a "vegetable sandwich" in Korea means that you get a ham sandwich with vegetables on top. And, in my personal opinion, wasting an animal product is far worse than eating one. Waste not, want not. I do not believe in a throw-away culture. (That's how I came to eating live octopus. But, I'll bring that up in a later post...haha) That is one of my biggest pet peeves. 
      For those of you unaware, I am currently living in Pretoria, South Africa. And since the start of my vegan month in Africa, I have "cheated" on this little challenge of mine. I had caramel-chocolate cake for my boyfriend's birthday. And yes, it was so worth it. I don't consider it a set-back. I consider it my boyfriend's birthday and it was the first that we've spent it together. But other than that, I've managed to stay true to my diet. And it's been lovely! I've been full, and full of energy. I enjoy cooking and searching out dietary substitutions is easier than you think. Thank you Internet!
     South Africa, though meat is a stead-fast part of their culture, also has an incredible stock pile of farm fresh produce for exceptionally low costs compared to MidWest, USA. This has made vegan-life yummy, colorful, and plentiful. One thing that has been a lovely surprise here in South Africa is the fact that avocados are virtually a staple food. Everyone eats them! And they're cheap!  Who would've guessed! Avocados in Michigan, my home state, can be fairly pricey and can often be considered a luxury item. Here, I challenge you to find me a salad either in a restaurant or in someone's home that is sans-avocado. Yes, please and thank you~!
     Unlike Korea, South Africa has an incredible variety of vegetarian options in restaurants. I love cultural-fusion food and South Africa, through historical means, has a wealth of it. Combine vegetarianism with a multi-cultural palette and it's easy to munch away. Now, I don't know if this burger was necessarily vegan (I ate it pre-vegan month.) but just look at it! 
     In all of its glory:
Look at that color~!!!
     Beautious! Chris took me to a little local hangout spot here in Pretoria called Ginger & Fig. Their menu was decadent, playful, and surprising. Deciding on this beetroot burger with mushroom tapenade was an easy choice and I was anything but disappointed. I'm sure there'd be a way to make this vegan, if it not already is.

     Since I began this journey a few weeks ago and since I've been an on/off Veggie since I was 16, I've been asked a number of questions. I typically don't mind the questions, but over the years I've gathered them all to be virtually similar. So, here you go:
Frequent Questions & Answers:
1) But, where do you get your protein?
     Ok, I said I didn't mind the questions, but... I hate this question. Abhor is a better word actually. Animal protein is not the only source of muscle building protein! Read a book, Lana! 
     Meet the legume. Do you love hummus? Most people do. Surprise! You've been eating a protein packed legume! Garbanzo beans, or "chick peas", make up the base of the world's favorite dip and it is packed with protein. Now, just like all foods, you mustn't over do it. Garbanzo and other beans and legumes, thought high in protein, are also high in calories and "good" fats; just like peanut butter and lean meat. A little bit is good for you, as is anything in a balanced diet.
     Other vegetarian proteins include: green peas (appx. 8 grams of protein, same as a cup of milk), whole grains such as quinoa, lentils (another legume),  nuts and seeds, and (the long stigmatized) tofu.
2) But, meat is so yummy! Don't you miss it?
     Yes. I do miss it at times.  But honestly I'm fine without it. Sometimes I do crave meat, especially here in South Africa where braaiing (barbecuing or grilling) is a weekend tradition and bonding experience. But when I do miss it, there are incredibly yummy alternatives that can even please the most steel-face meat lover. I've found a great company here in South Africa called Fry's. They make an amazing variety of vegan "meats" made with great, healthy, ingredients. I've even found "braai" sausages! 
     Of course, with anything, moderation is power. Don't go over board on these meat alternatives. The bulk of the ingredients include soy and soy is known to be high in estrogen. Every once in a while, sure, go for it! But, unless you want your hormones out of whack... best make some black bean burgers for the braai. Also, have you ever had a portobello mushroom from the grill? Oh my sweet, sweet, lawd! Juicy, smokey, and a bit "meaty" they can quickly squash any meat craving. 
     Cheese though. I do miss cheese and hate cheese substitutes. That has been the biggest battle so far. But! Cheese in South Africa does tend to be more readily available directly from its source in comparison to The States. There is definitely a stronger connection of farm and consumer here which I think is one of the biggest problems with the food industry in The States today. So, that being said, once this month is up... I'm going to douse a greek salad with some feta. I'm only human!
3) Do you really notice a difference?
     Yes. I've only been on this diet for two weeks (including a cheat birthday weekend) and I've already noticed a difference in my belly area. It's shrunk! As I type this, I'm currently wearing a pair of shorts that I've never been able to wear before. You know, those "goal pants". Buy them when they're a must-have, on sale, and a size too small so your future-self can fit into them once you 'get it together'. Yeah, those. Take that for instant results! A combination of exercise and a healthy diet will do that to you. No tricks or gimmicks here. I don't know if you knew this, but...veggies are kinda good for you.
4) How?
     As mentioned before, there is an amazingly vast non-meat world of food out there. I've encountered so many yummy recipes thanks to food bloggers from all over the world that one month may not be enough time to try them all. I like to Google my favorite recipes or ingredients and add  "vegan" before each search. Also, traveling around the world has opened me up to many recipes, food customs, and ingredients that I would've otherwise been oblivious to. Try new things! Try everything! You'll be surprised.
     Here in South Africa, one of my favorite new things is "atchar". It is an Indian-African side dish mainly made up of pickled mangoes, vegetables, Indian spices, and oils. It's sweet, sour, and spicy. My first thought was actually, "Wow, Koreans would love this stuff!"
     I've also downloaded (which I highly recommend) MyFitnessPal. It's an app that you can use on your computer or mobile that tracks your daily food and exercise intake. It also tracks your carbs, sodium, protein, etc. Simply search for a food and log it in. Using this app has not only helped me keep my calories in check but also serves as protein proof. Every day since I've used this app I have been within at least 5grams of my recommended protein intake. And, looking at past entries just now, I sometimes even go over my protein goals without even noticing.
Baked cauliflower and parsley "cookies". 100% SA farm fresh produce, 100% vegan

5) But...but, WHY?!
     I have my own reasons to eat the way I eat, as do you. You have that choice, as do I. I'm not doing this to offend anyone and if it does, maybe you should re-evaluate and re-direct your anger. 
     I like vegetables! How could that statement offend you? I'm not offended by anyone's diet (Aside from certain cases like foie gras and veal. Those do upset me I must admit.) . If you are educated on your dietary choices, and where your food comes from, and if it works for you, then hell-yah dude! By all means, eat up! I'm not stopping you. Culture dictates food, I am well aware of that. I just personally don't feel the need to kill an animal to have a yummy meal. If I have the option, I choose not to.  I like vegetables. It's as simple as that.
     In regards to my 'vegan-month', I'm doing this as an extra fitness challenge to myself. I used to be overweight in college and have since dropped 50lbs. The final phase of that weight loss was centered around a vegan diet and I felt great. I'm currently still trying to work off that extra rice-weight I put on back in Korea and decided to try this again. I enjoy the challenge! Living and eating abroad already comes with plenty of challenges. This is just a personal challenge of mine. And it's one that I happen to quite enjoy. 
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