Vegetarianism is growing in popularity in a lot of countries.
And now, South Africa is one of them.
Today, more and more South Africans are experimenting with the vegetarian way of life by cutting all meat out of their diet.
Others are exploring veganism. Vegans are similar to vegetarians but they avoid all animal-based products, including milk and eggs. Some vegans do not eat honey.
A Google Trends report puts South Africa at 14th around the world in searches for the word "vegan," the only African nation to be listed so high.
There is no official count of how many vegans there are in South Africa. But the interest has led to the birth of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Johannesburg, the nation's economic center. And this year, Africa's first big vegan and plant-based festival launches in Cape Town. The Vegan & Plant Powered Show takes place at the end of May.
When VOA News spoke with some new vegans in South Africa, they gave moral and health reasons for giving up meat and animal products.
Dayalan Nayagar is 41-years-old and works as a financial advisor. He says he decided to change his diet in 2019 after being a meat-eater his whole life.
"And I got introduced to this whole new way of eating, you know healthy, eating organic-type food from plants and I couldn't believe it. Like I said, [it] blew my mind and I got fully involved into it and haven't turned back."
But the owners of one of Johannesburg's newest and most popular vegan eateries say vegans do not owe anyone an explanation.
Banesa Tseki is one of two owners of Nest Space, a vegan café and yoga space.
She says people have given her warnings about veganism. For example, someone told her she would “definitely die.”
“All I’m trying to do is live a life that’s sustainable for me and that makes me happy.”
Her business partner, Anesu Mbizvo, is a medical doctor. Mbizvo says science supports a vegan diet. Both she and co-owner Tseki teach yoga and said they feel stronger and better since cutting meat from their diet.
But veganism can be a lonely road for many South Africans.
The country is Africa’s top consumer of meat from cows, pigs and sheep, based on information from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Many South Africans express shock at the thought of giving up meat, which is central to celebrations and spirituality.
This is an issue for many African vegans, including Anesu Mbizvo.
"In African culture, a big part of a family's net worth is their livestock. Their livestock define the wealth of a family. And so when you slaughter an animal at a gathering, it's seen as you giving of yourself."
But offering home-grown vegetables, she added, would not be considered as valuable.
She said, “I think that's one of the barriers to veganism for people of African cultures."
But she also understands giving up meat can have undesirable effects on some lives.
Her father heads a large farm in Zimbabwe and employs many members of the community. If he cut out his meat business, she says, all of those people would lose their jobs.
Some South Africans are finding their path somewhere in the middle.
Thirty-one-year-old Thandiwe Ngubeni is a communications specialist. She still eats meat — but less and less of it as time goes by. When VOA spoke with her, she was at the Nest Space awaiting a food order of vegan pancakes.
"I feel way more energized when I eat a vegetarian or vegan meal. It actually just gives me more energy.”
Ngubeni said the vegan food does not cause a heavy feeling in her stomach.
Tseki – the co-owner of Nest Space – has been vegan since 2017 and supports the slow method. She said there is no right way of cutting back on meat and animal products. Doing so has a lot of benefits but it’s “a choice only you can make.”
I’m Alice Bryant.
Anita Powell reported this story for VOA News. Alice Bryant adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
honey – n. a thick, sweet substance made by bees
introduce – v. to cause someone to learn about or try something for the first time
blew my mind – expression. to overwhelm a person with intense excitement, pleasure, astonishment or dismay
yoga – n. a system of exercises for mental and physical health
sustainable – adj. able to last or continue for a long time
livestock – n. farm animals that are kept, raised, and used by people
slaughter – v. to kill an animal for food
pancake – n. a thin, flat, round cake that is made by cooking batter on both sides in a frying pan or on a hot surface (called a griddle)
benefit – n. a good or helpful result or effect