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Meat-loving Kenya sees veganism trend

Andrew Wasike
November 2, 2018

A growing number of Kenyans are giving up the meat they traditionally love in favor of plant-based diets. DW’s Andrew Wasike looked into a few cooking pots across Nairobi, where veganism is trending.

A man and a woman in a pink headwrap stand over a table laden with vegetables under a few trees
Image: DW/A. Wasike

There is no denying that Kenyans, like many other Africans, love their steaks and ribs. Lamb, beef or chicken — whether slapped over the coals on the nyama choma grill, prepped as kebabs, or soaked in stews — are often on the menu of those who can afford it.

However, in the capital's Majengo slum, a community of around 200 people adhere to what they say is a "one hundred-percent animal cruelty-free lifestyle." They live, farm, socialize and pray together. 

At lunchtime, they beat their drums to pay homage to nature before tucking into a hearty meal. The portions are generous — but where are the milk, eggs, and cheese?

A bowl of nuts
November 1 is World Vegan DayImage: Colourbox/K. Vajda

"No, no, no, we don't consume any animal products. We say let animals live, let us live, let us eat what God has provided for us. Killing is not part of our policies. You feel this animal has life, let it live," John Mutai, a Rastafarian, told DW.

Over a plate of steamed rice, cabbage, fermented plants and fruits at Kilimanjaro restaurant in Nairobi, Esther Njeri told DW she initially cut meat out of her diet for health reasons.

"One day I attended a health talk and it finally made sense to me. Sinuses, allergies, asthma, skin irritations and the connection to what I was eating," she said.

"The problem was consuming animal products in the form of meat, or any other animal products. I moved from red meat to white meat only, then from white meat I moved to vegetarianism, and now I am a vegan."

Save the planet

Njeri, a college student, hopes that more Kenyans will switch to eating less meat for the sake of the planet. "We are damaging the ecosystem. Demand for meat is too high and global warming is the effect of that."

Scientists have long been citing the need for a change in eating and farming habits to curb climate change. Cows need to be fed 10 kilograms of feed on average to gain one kilogram of body weight, and they produce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, during their digestion process. Chicken and pig farming is also putting a strain on the environment.

Read more:Roughly 1.5 billion cows on the planet

A woman dishes out food from metal pots for a group of people queing at an outdoor counter
A group of vegans in the Nairobi slum of Majengo regularly meet to prepare and eat lunch togetherImage: DW/A. Wasike

Sam Obuya, a recent convert to the veggie diet, told DW there was no clear way to explain the joy he felt while eating the food laid out before him in his kitchen in Pangani estate, a few kilometers from the city center.

"Here I've made greens with potatoes, collard greens and maize meal. Let me tell you it is tasty. Back in the day I would have a piece of meat hanging about somewhere. None of that anymore," he said.

Health advantages

Obuya, an accountant, turned to veganism to lower his blood sugar levels and lose weight. It's not easy being a vegan amongst meat lovers, he said. The reactions within his family and social circle have been mixed, although many people have noticed his improved health, he said.

Nutritionist Dr. Vishali Shah says red meat is known to increase the risk of Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and Type II diabetes. Kenyans have started taking the advice of doctors when it comes to eating more plant-based meals, he said.

"A lot of chemicals are used in producing and maintaining meat, so when it goes into your system it doesn't work - and that's how it creates cancer," said Shah.

"It is extremely healthy if you have something plant based because you are not consuming so much energy to digest meat. Secondly, there is no side effect from a plant-based diet."

As Kenyans start grappling with the old adage "You are what you eat," it will be interesting to see if the rest of Africa's die-hard meat lovers will pick up on the trend.

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