On Being Vegan in Ghana and Nigeria

I landed in Accra on January 7, 2007. I’ve been a vegan since I was 15, starting back in 1999. My trip was a rare opportunity to use my grad school fellowship money to get out of New York City and its winter, as well as the winter of the anemic and ideologically whack Africana studies department at my university. As a person steadily rising in Pan-Afrikan consciousness over the previous year-and-a-half, my journey was a chance to express and cement my commitment to Pan-Afrikanism and my love and solidarity for Afrikan people. It was a chance to directly study the conditions of Afrikan peoples on the continent. As an Afrikan of Nigerian descent, it was a chance to visit family last seen over ten years ago and barely remembered. As a profoundly alienated Afrikan youth in urban Amerikkka, it was a chance to connect with my own people more deeply and perhaps find more community. It was a chance to be totally immersed in societies where everyone looked like me.

On landing, a friend of my uncle retrieved me from the airport and delivered me to a very loose contact of his, a family of a mother, her three young children, and their grandmother at a house in East Legon. The first thing I ate in Ghana (I was a vegan, not a raw vegan while I was in Afrika, because had not yet even considered raw veganism) was some organic oatmeal I brought with me. I had fasted for a long time between taking off at JFK and landing in Accra (on a long but descent non-stop flight via North American Airlines). The family’s attitudes were accepting of my veganism and there was no drama about it. I stayed with this family for the first two-and-a-half weeks, until I got a place in a hostel right up the road, a hostel full of Ghanaian students, not an international hostel.

My initial experience being a vegan in Ghana was an overall nice one. I had to buy a gas canister, gas stove, and some pots and utensils for storage in the outdoor kitchen area of the hostel, with which I cooked meals all the time. I regularly ate the locally grown brown rice (which had to be thoroughly washed as it was maad soily), as well as local gari (cooked cassava meal), with vegetable and bean stews I made. I also regularly steamed plantain very frequently. I introduced some very expensive cereal-and-soy-milk eating (sourced out of the downtown foreigner-oriented, Arab-owned grocery stores like Koala Market and Max Mart). I didn’t do this long, though. But mid-way through my five-month semester in Ghana I began to get lazy, even perhaps somewhat exhausted, with cooking all the time, so me eating cereal and even peanut-butter and jelly very late in my stay happened more frequently.

Also towards the end I identified two vegan restaurants in Accra. One was called just “Vegetarian Restaurant” or something. It was very close to the Airport and “37” bus depot. And I think they may no longer be there because they posted notices that they would be leaving at the end of May, around which time I was either in Nigeria or returning to Amerikkka. The other restaurant has a name I forget. It was near Nkrumah Circle and across from one of the biggest and most prestigious internet cafe’s in town, whose name I also presently forget. This restaurant is run by Hebrew-Israelites from Amerikkka. Any Rasta or serious vegetarian in Accra knows what I’m talking about. When I’m reminded of the names of these establishments I will correct this post.

Towards the end, especially the last month or so, of my stay in Ghana, I became much more heavily reliant on these establishments for my food. For even a very poor traveler from Amerikkka like me, all the food was really cheap. The “Vegetarian Restaurant” near “37” was the better of the two restaurants, with much lower prices and much tastier, and completely traditional, Ghanaian vegetarian meals. The restaurant near Nkrumah circle served a lot of rice dishes, veggie burgers, and so on. Their food was rather salty and sometimes oily, while the food at the “Vegetarian Restaurant” was very starchy and fatty. I would eat my favorite, fufu with groundnut or palm-nut soup, all the time and voraciously. I think that sort of eating was part of why my immune system began to weaken by the last month of the Ghana tour, and I was getting sick, feeling flu-like for some time.

I never took any malaria meds or what not while in Ghana. All that stuff is overratted and toxic, especially if one is already an Afrikan and one keeps the immune system strong. And I was stung by every mosquito in West Afrika. No problem. Before heading to Ghana, I looked into natural preventatives of malaria, like garlic and lemon oil. I didn’t deal much with lemon oil. I had some oregeno oil and I think echinacea something with me. Didn’t use them much. And I was supplementing with vegetarian multivitamins and multiminerals throughout my stay.

In the second week of April, I went to Nigeria. I flew the 45 minute flight from Accra to Lagos, was picked up by my father from the airport, spent the night at a Lagos hotel, and flew the hour flight from Lagos to Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where I spent the week. This was during the chaotic and corrupt gubernatorial elections Nigeria was trying to hold, though things never went as bad as they got in Kenya this past month. My cousins on my father’s side, who are some of the coolest Afrikans around, were all cool with and intrigued by my veganism. They considered it progressive and intuitively understood it as a way of obtaining the best health. I ate lots of fruit while there. I made, and was made, vegetable stews, served with Nigerian-style fufu, a Kalabari yam/plantain dish, and rice. I had salads. I did alright overall in Nigeria and ate better than I had in Ghana, where at the time I was beginning to get lazy, eat cereal, and go to restaurants.

Going back to Ghana to finish out the semester, I ate the roadside baked yam and plantain pieces, with dry-roasted salted groundnuts, for lunch often. I had bananas on my way back home. I had my brown-rice-stew-and-plantain meals mornings and evenings. The grandmother in my initial host family sometimes made me copious groundnut stew which I would freeze for days and eat with brown rice. And so on.

I got my produce primarily from Medina Market, the big open-air market north of Legon. I got some of what I used for my sauces at the downtown supermarkets, including Indian-style sauce bases, occasionally.

After exams were over, I flew again to Nigeria, this time to spend a week in Lagos with my cousins on my mother’s side. My aunt is a caterer, so she made a lot of rice-and-bean meals which I could eat. I didn’t cook at all while in Lagos because of this. I didn’t eat too many fruits either.

By the time I returned to Amerikkka from Nigeria at the end of May 2007, I think my immune system was exhausted from eating so much cooked food, ultimately more cooked food than I had been eating in Amerikkka before I left for Ghana. I wish I had considered raw veganism for my whole stay in West Afrika, which would have made everything more convenient and simple, and left me much healthier. Which I will expand on in my next post.

But I thought it was important to share my experience being vegan in West Afrika, which was not without its challenges, but was for the most part pretty easy. The bulk of the challenge came in doing it alone, and trying to cook every single time I went to eat, which I eventually got lazy and exhausted about. The only person who challenged me for being vegan was this stupid, stuck-up, narrow-minded jerk from the geography department at University of Ghana.

While in West Afrika, fitness-wise I did lots of calisthenics and walked as much as I could in the nice hot sun, which some Ghanaians thought ridiculous, but kept me very fit and ready to jump right into Kung Fu not long after I returned to New York.

There needs to be more resources for vegans and raw vegans in Afrika, so I hope this little contribution helps.

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23 responses to “On Being Vegan in Ghana and Nigeria

  1. peace,
    feeling the blog. good to have a next vegan cat up in the mix, not to mention your insight on food (justice) and culture. i recall groundnut goodness from a trip to ghana in ’01. nuff flavor, nuff starchiness. i think it was the starchy options “hemmed up” my digestive system up in brazil last year – lesson learned! but i’ll need to get at you on your natural anti-malarial strategies for my trip to nigeria…what’s good?!

  2. Peace Brother,
    I am pleased you have found this blog, being another black vegan NYC-based athlete like me. We must converse. Yes, I think all the starchiness definitely bogs us down, so I definitely do without it (which is par for the course in a raw vegan/ fruitarian diet).
    As for malaria, I didn’t do anything whatsoever, and didn’t worry about. I considered taking lemon oil with me before going off, but didn’t do so in the end. I think the most important thing is to keep the immune system very strong (eat well, and be well rested, etc.). You black already, too. I think after spending a significant amount of time in the tropics, I’ve heard, one becomes immune to vectors like malaria, having been bitten hundreds of times by mosquitoes, but not succumbing to disease. But don’t take my word for it!

  3. Peace, Brother.

    I came here through “vegans of color”. Nice to see that such communities exist.

    Just wanna leave a “big-up” for the write “on being vegan in Ghana and Nigeria”. I am of Nigerian descent my Self, and vegan too. Never been vegan in Nigeria tho, been a few years since I was home (going this summer).

    In any case, staying vegan in Afrika wether in South Afrika, Mozambique or even Zimbabwe is too easy (trust me, been to all three while vegan). I found it to be cheaper too, and it will mos def keep you healthier in terms of malaria and what not (and yes! all the medication nonsense is a joke, big up for knowing that).

    Well, this is just me rambling. Brother, we need to stay in touch. I see you hava a few projects going on. Listening to the C’ote Divoirian video at Hip Hop Dharma now, nice.

    My e-mail: chi maobi @ ayi n.no (minus spaces).

    Holla black and stay blessed.

    Sam Chimaobi Ahamba

  4. Oh, shucks. Did not know my gmail account would allow me to post here. Hm…

    I need to start blogging, my elders are harrassing me.

    Anyways, now u have both my e-mails.

    PEACE.

    Chi

  5. Greetings,

    I think the name of the internet cafe you referred to was Busy Internet and the Hebrew-Isrealite jawn was Akp pa sao? (I am not sure of the spelling on the last part. I was in Ghana in 2004 and I am a vegan, so I can identify with your experience quite well. My experience, I regret to say, was a ‘little different.’ I visited with a friend of mine who was working in Ghana as a diplomat, so I feel a little like I didn’t have nearly as ‘authentic’ an experience I would have liked. Nevertheless, I loved Ghana.

    BTW, when I was takiing Capoeira some years ago, I went to NY to visit Jaoa Grande’s Academy, is he still with us, is he still teaching there?

    I love the blog…stay blessed.

  6. ipraiseyahshua

    Hey,
    I just wanted to express my appreciation for this narrative you’ve posted. I am vegan, and I am also Nigerian. Those two traits of mine are seen as an oxymoron to most. I always get joked for being vegan, not in Nigeria, but in the US within the Nigerian community.

    I’ve recently begun to cook a lot of traditional Nigerian dishes including Egusi soup, Ogbono soup, jollof rice, moyin-moyin, and the list goes on and on. I never even attempted to before because I always associated 9ja food with meat, and a boiled egg on the side. I love being vegan, and still enjoyin my cultural cuisine!

  7. Hi all, Ghanaian and raw. I am still trying to figure out how to not give up the foods that I like, while keeping it raw. Excellent posts – I am planning a trip back soon, should be interesting this time around!

    I have discovered that parsnips chopped/grated is an excellent raw substitute for rice (an African staple!) – Egusi is (by the way also a Ghanaian food) – also something that I have started making and eating – raw.

    … still in the hunt. ciao.

    • Hi can you send my yor recipe for the raw parnp rice as well as egusi? Thanks!

    • QueenVegGoddess

      This is GREAT post!
      I love Egusi!
      I put it in my greens (slightly steamed greens, I might add) and it’s an excellent source of protein…
      I will try the grated parsnips, thanks!!

      Peace, Love & Light.

  8. Hi guys! Feel a bit intrusive as I am neither African nor a raw vegan, but was hoping you might be able to give me some tips…I’m vegetarian and going to visit my Nigerian boyfriend in Ibadan in April, but he seemed to think the only things I could eat were pizza or whatever we cooked at home – does any of you know of anything I could eat if we go out for a meal? I would really like to try some genuine Nigerian food while I’m out there, but worried that won’t be possible!

  9. I landed in Accra Feb. 2009. As a vegan it was very easy to eat and I enjoyed the food. I stayed with christian friends who served freshpineapple, papaya, bananas and oatmeal, millet, wheat cereal and wonderful wheat bread for the am meal. It also included a rich and healthy immune boosting molasses honey syrup and cashew butter or pnut butter for the bread. the afternoon meal consisted of vegan stew or egusi, brown rice, sometimes pasta with tomato andgreenpepper andredpepper sauce, plaintain boiled and wheat bread. I loved the okra stew and other delicious vegan foods. You can eat very well in Ghana as a vegan or raw foodist if you are careful about washing produce and take along grape seed extract to wash lettuce,etc. I ate mainly cooked but included salad every other day with fresh carrots.Also had grapes and apples as treats on some days during my stay. Many recommend MMS as an antimalaria herbal tonic , lots of lemon in water (note use with care as lemon is a natural blood thinner) and acai 1,000 mg. caps (Sambucal) however, there are other things one can try like garlic or if the immune system is weak before departure,try herbal doxocycline (sp) or see your doctor for the standard yellow fever shot (egg embryo :() and antimalaria meds. Always do what is best for you. Be careful about eating from any street vendors. Take your own linen but leave all linen in Ghana before returning to the US as it may harbor eggs or worm hatchings. Do a small detox upon your return to the US to stabilize the immune system as this is a routine travel thiing todo …

    • QueenVegGoddess

      This is reeeally great info!
      I plan to travel to Afrika (Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal) for the first time and i do NOT take meds. NO shots for me!!
      I learned that loading the body with raw garlic + cayenne pepper 2-3 weeks before travel will keep the immune system in tip-top shape while traveling abroad. Also less chances of being bitten. Eucalyptus oil, lavender oil, oregano oil, rosemary oil will keep bugs at bay. I don’t eat sweets, but that’s good because the sweet blood won’t attract bugs either. If there are some other natural remedies that you know of please share because I’m sure there are others out there (like me) who do NOT vaccinate or take drugs but wanna travel outside the U.S.
      Thanks soooo much!!

      Peace, Love & Light.

      • I don’t get shots for travel, but I also wouldn’t tend to worry too much about preparing with a lot of the other supplements (garlic and all) you mentioned. Just eat healthily to keep your immunity high, which should be standard operating procedure at all times anywhere. Wherever you go, if you can, keep a ceiling fan on at night to keep mosquitos off. And/ or just set up a good mosquito net around your bed. That’s all I needed to do. You will be stung by most mosquitos in West Africa at some point, especially if you hang out outdoors a lot in the evenings. Most likely nothing more will come of it but some good itching and scratching. Eat clean and fresh fruits and veggies and stay sanitary. Leave tropical travel paranoia to the oyinbos.

    • QueenVegGoddess

      Also, I am 99% raw food vegan.

  10. Greetings,
    I am so proud to see so many Afrikans staying true to the diet. The piece was wonderful and inspirational. I will be leaving for Ghana in the fall and was wondering what life would be like for a vegan. Also I was hoping someone could tell me how far Legon is from Accra.

    Your sister in the struggle,

    • In Ghana (as in most sub-saharan places) there is the pervasive stench of KF*, McD*, etc in almost every gathering area. It costs the most, and that is what most people seem to be hungering for. Especially the affluent.
      The “poor mans” food is (by and large) the unprocessed – coconuts, oranges, bananas, roasted peanuts. I think that it is possible to live quite cheaply and healthily on “poor mans” food for quite a while – and feel a lot better than by eating the “rich man’s food”

      I have not done the Legon trip in a long time, but Legon is now really part of greater Accra. It is just beyond the airport, as you travel from Accra – I wish I could tell you a time, but it varies so much by the traffic.

  11. I know this blog is old- but it refreshing to know I am not the only Nigerian-American out there who’s Vegan. I’ve being a vegetarian for about 7 years now and although I eliminated most diary from my diet; I’d always indulge in the occasional cheese. But I’ve being Vegan for some months now and found out that it’s really not that much of a difference and the benefits are much better as it makes me more centered :). I went to Nigeria to do some brief service and NGO work for about 2 years plus (with breaks in the middle) and the experience was mixed~ food wise; there were days it was hard having to explain to people why I’m inquiring about the specifics of how the food was made. People sorta got it but there were hesitations and comments as to why this ‘way of life’ was chosen, and how it will affect my social life….
    It would be nice to hear back from everyone, how they decided to become Vegan; their trials and tribulations and how they are sustaining the pressure in the Nigerian community both here and in Nigeria.

  12. Greetings Toyin,
    Glad to hear about your experience. Outside of the blogosphere, I’ve failed to encourage other Nigerians to consider going vegan. I have not made much an effort, but neither am I living in an area with a large number of other Africans currently. I would also be very curious about the state of veganism in Nigerian and the Nigerian diaspora, and the African diaspora generally.
    I think it’s very important for us to stand our ground and present our choices as not only perfectly rational and natural, but excellent and well-informed, leading to positive health results and minimizing negative environmental impacts. We can’t dumb down or tone down our posture to our people. It’s too late for that.
    Thanks for the contribution and look forward to hearing about the experiences of other African vegans in Africa and elsewhere. It’s now been three years since my half-year stint back in West Africa and time is due for another trip soon. I’ll probably do even better next time with the my African vegan experience.

    • Greetings,

      It’s nice to hear back from you, it would be nice to get a push in the Nigerian/African community. The Nigerian community is so steeped in its tradition even when it comes to our diet- that to make healthier food choices is some worth frowned upon, ignored and/or seen as wanting to negate from the community; but there’s nothing wrong in been open to foods from different culture while also preparing healthier versions of our indigenous foods.
      My experience in Nigeria was regarding Vegan foods was tough at times- I made sure to eat before leaving home and is always lucky as fruits where always available but there were a number of times I went without food for long hours especially if the trip was not planned, plus I ate lots of noodles- and unlike Ghana, I might be wrong but I’m almost certain there are no Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant in Lagos, maybe somewhere else but it might be hard sell elsewhere.
      Well I know now not to try to be something else- but there just seems to not be enough answers to all the different questions as to why. It’s comical in Nigeria as people don’t understand why I don’t want to consume meat as its seen as a status symbol and they almost feel sorry for me, there are times I just tell them it’s for religious reasons (cos Spirituality has a negative connotation). So when next is your trip planned, plus would you visit anywhere else in the continent?

      • revolutionaryandjoyful

        sorry to jump in uninvited but:

        Toyin, why is spirituality seen negatively in nigeria? Is it because it is associated with “juju?”

        Also, would you mind sharinng more of your NGO and am also considering doing service in Nigeria and would really benefit from your experience.

        Peace

  13. Please do jump in as much as you can- the more interchange of ideas the better 🙂
    I think there’s a misconception or an interplay by misusing the words or relating spirituality with traditional gods or spirits- so yes, to agree with you it’s seen as some occult or juju worship.
    I do not have an NGO; sorry I gave that impression to you. Doing service in Nigeria was a mixed bag, the orientation camp was tiring- very militant and not very given to personal space, but you get to meet some cool people. As an international student you get to pick your place of service re: State, but NYSC (the body that picks your place of work assignment and everything else related to the service year). Best advice for orientation camp which lasts for 3 weeks- they have “restaurants” or buka joints- you know what I mean, look around for cooks that serve lots of vegetables and explain your plant-based diet and request that they make special foods for you that’s separate from what they sell to the other corpers.
    Please feel free to send your email address to me so I can discuss in length any other question that you might have.

    • revolutionaryandjoyful

      Hi Toyin!

      I appreciate your quick response and would love to know more about your experience.

      However, I am not too keen on posting my email on the i-net.

      I believe that the author of this blog (the Precision Afrikan) can see both of our email addresses and if he doesn’t mind I think it would be best for him to email both of us of with the other’s address.

      What do you think?

      Are you willing, Precision Afrikan?

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