I don’t often discuss my vegetarianism with people, and I’m going to attempt to explain why. For the duration of this blog, I beg that you shelve your well-oiled knee jerk reaction to the word “vegetarian” and see what kind of thinking might lie beyond your boerie roll. I don’t actually care if you put the boerie roll down or not, but I am really tired of defending my kale chips.
Jokes, I hate kale chips. They’re silly.
In all the happy years that I’ve not eaten meat, I’ve yet to tell another person to stop with the chops. Yet my choice to remain predominantly plant-based is challenged daily. It is so, so boring.
I stopped eating meat nearly 6 years ago, at around the same time as I started running. The two journeys were conscious ones and although I 100% acknowledge my tendency to fly off the handle and make impetuous decisions, the evolution to a no-meat athlete was careful. I have never digested red meat well, but that is just one part of it. I do not approve of global meat farming methodologies and I can’t tell the difference between my love for the dogs and cats in my home, and the love I feel when I look at a small piglet or tiny lamb. The more I read about what we face in terms of water and land shortages, the more sense it makes to consume with a conscience and to apply some research in to our food choices. Especially if you are privileged enough to be able to choose.
About that privilege…
I’m not unaware of the success stories of meat farming in Africa, where entrepreneurs have turned their lives around and now enjoy great wealth whilst creating jobs in the farming sector. This, for example, is a paragraph from AgricNation.com:
Before hitting the limelight, Anna Phosa was an unknown entrepreneur who made a livelihood from her small vegetable farming business in Soweto. She was introduced to pig farming by a close friend and instantly developed a liking for the venture.
In 2004, Anna invested 1,000 Rand (about $100) to buy four pigs she used to start up her own small pig farm. A little less than four years later (in 2008), Anna was contracted by Pick ‘n Pay, the South African supermarket and retail giant to supply its stores with 10 pigs per week. This quickly grew to 20 pigs per week shortly after. In 2010, Anna signed a breathtaking contract with Pick ‘n Pay to supply 100 pigs over the next five years under a 25 million Rand deal (that’s nearly 2.5 million US Dollars!)
With a contract in hand, Anna received funding from ABSA Bank and USAID to buy a 350-hectare farm property. From just four pigs, her new farm now holds nearly 4,000 pigs at a time and supplies roughly 100 to 120 pigs a week to retailers in South Africa. Anna currently employs about 20 staff and has become something of a celebrity pig farmer on the continent!
I did the research, and yes, Anna Phosa is indeed a celeb pig farmer in South Africa, and is very successfully bringing home the bacon. If Anna is the reason that you choose to eat pork, and you have spent the time researching the origins of the meat you consume, you’re comfortable with the farming methodology behind it and you are completely certain about the level of hormones in your chosen meat, then I commend you. But I’d hazard a guess that you don’t consume this way, as the vast majority do not.
We order what is on the menu. We buy what is neatly and easily packaged at our leading supermarkets, and we stash it in the fridge or freezer without connecting any of the dots. I want to keep connecting the dots because the big picture matters to me.
I am privileged enough to be able to choose.
The global statistics around vegetarianism are a bit boggy to try to understand. A 2006 study revealed around 40% of India follows a vegetarian or vegan diet, compared to a 2015 study of adult Americans, indicating only 3.4% don’t eat meat. Wiki reckons Indian immigrants to Africa, particularly in South Africa brought vegetarianism with them which has been documented as far back as 1895 in the Natal Province. But vegetarian eating in Africa is believed to be statistically low. I’m not sure how to interpret that as my feeling is millions of Africans are ostensibly vegetarian, as they can’t afford meat-based protein.
They can’t choose.
While you are busy challenging the eating choices of me and nearly half of India, why don’t we turn the conversation in to one of learning. I know what bacon tastes like on a hangover, I’m sure that your sizzling steak is the stuff of dreams and you don’t know how to live without biltong, but have you tasted my lentil dahl with a swirl of coconut milk? Could I interest you in a stuffed black mushroom done on the braai, or a chickpea curry that will have you calling for your mummy? As a veg-head, I can make a tasty meal for two from half a head of broccoli, some chopped mushrooms, sunflower seeds, a sachet of veg stock, a fresh chilli from the garden and a cup of brown rice. Beat that the day before pay day.
Oh and my iron levels? Well, I don’t question you about your personality disorder or your ugly toenails, so please don’t lose any sleep over my iron levels. They are fine, and I test them regularly. I go on those bloody long runs, remember?
When I do buy meat, and that would be for my two youngest children who eat some meat because they aren’t big fans of plant-based protein and I don’t believe in forcing my life choices on them, I buy as follows:
- Elgin Free Range Chicken from Checkers (I do most of my shopping there)
- Free Range Beef Mince and Ostrich Biltong from Woolworths
- Gogos Deli in Newlands, Cape Town (also organic Fruit and Veg)
Also, we’ve heard it all. Seriously. I’ve had people showing me their pointy teeth during a meal, like, “See, built for meat!” I know what teeth look like, I’m almost 40 years old, I’ve been through three kids teething and I have a whole set of my own. Yup you creative genius asking me for the umpteenth time “but if you were stranded on an island…”. Please, come on. I’d use my iPhone and order a great big bowl of Thai curry with extra crispy tofu. I’m no more a nutrition expert than you are and I hate the debates about what we should be eating based on what our cave dwelling ancestors ate. They died in their 30’s… next topic please.
So, less dinner table and around-the-braai grid mocking of the life choices of others. Also, don’t knock it until you’ve tried the dahl. Here is the recipe, you’re welcome.
Roughly chop half an onion, sauté on low heat in a heavy based pan or pot, in a bit of olive or coconut oil. About 3 minutes.
Add turmeric, dried coriander and cumin seeds – half a teaspoon of each. Or a mild curry powder mix, something aromatic.
Mix through so that onion is coated in the spice, then add a finely chopped or crushed garlic clove and simmer for another minute or two.
Add a cup of red lentils (dry) and your choice of hot veg stock, enough to completely cover the lentils. Add a tin of crushed tomatoes and a table spoon of tomato paste, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer until lentils are cooked.
(You can add mushrooms just after the onions, or chopped marrow for extra veg. Can also stir in baby spinach at the end. Add fresh chilli when you add the spices if you want it hotter).
Swirl of coconut cream or milk before you serve with or without rice.