This month we spoke to Vegan Cycle India participant, Jyoti Singh, about veganism in South Africa.
How long have you been vegan?
I have been vegan for over a year.
Why did you decide to go vegan?
There wasn’t one single over-arching reason. My doctoral thesis was grounded in the animal studies field, and this in and of itself was an eye-opener. The theory all points towards the same thing: there is no ethically-based argument which can be made in support of eating animals, abusing them, or exploiting them.
I am an animal lover, and while this was also a power motivator, I realised that veganism is one of the most compassionate choices we can make, and a choice which has myriad, wide-ranging implications. The environmental scourges facing our planet today – desertification, deforestation, and pollution – can all be greatly alleviated by adopting a plant-based diet and a more merciful mindset in general. The idea of living cruelty-free appeals to me on many levels, and it is infectious: it has become an all-round lifestyle change. The more aware you are of the impact just a single person has on our environment, the more empowered you feel. We really can all make a difference, even if it feels minimal.
How do you say “I’m vegan” in your language?
South Africa has 11 official languages, but English is my mother tongue. So, “I’m vegan!”
What is the vegan scene like in your city/country?
Progressive, innovative, and widely embraced in the larger cities, with restaurateurs regularly pulling out all the stops.
You’ll find many wonderful farmers’ markets across the country where local, (and often organic) produce is on offer. There is an abundance of fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried fruit and nuts available all year round. Artisanal stalls abound, and you’ll find friendly locals offering you all sorts of scrumptious options.
South Africa is a nation of entrepreneurs, and we are incredibly fortunate to see many small businesses embracing veganism, and encouraging compassionate consumerism too.
Do you have any tips for vegan travellers to your city/country?
Many of South Africa’s poorer communities rely on vegetables as staples, so eating vegetables and fruit is something that most people understand, even though they may not necessarily recognise the term vegan.
With new knowledge and understanding about healthy lifestyle choices constantly circulating, restaurateurs, food manufacturers, and businesses are becoming more aware of the fact that people can’t, and won’t, just eat anything. Don’t be shy about asking for alternative food choices, or about requesting ingredient substitutes (well, unless you’re in a fine dining establishment).
South Africans are a hospitable bunch, and they will do their best to accommodate you – all you need to do is ask.
If you are dubious about the food, or feel that the vegan options are particularly limited, you can always cater for yourself. Many chain stores (supermarkets) have a range of vegan foods available – and self-catering accommodation generally has the added benefit of being cheaper.
Is there any local accidentally vegan food they should try?
South Africa is a melting pot of cultures, and the foods are as varied as our languages, ethnicities, and geography! Mielie pap – ground corn – is a staple for many local people (just ask for it without milk or butter, and substitute your own plant milk).
South Africa has a large population of Indian immigrant settlers, and the Indian influence on local vegetarian / vegan cuisine is well known. In fact, many of the veg curries you’ll encounter – that includes Thai and Cape Malay – are vegan, or can be adapted to accommodate your dietary requirements.
Any restaurants or supermarkets you recommend?
There are many healthy, mindfully vegan restaurants I can recommend. If you are in Johannesburg, you need to go Leafy Greens (Muldersdrift), where you can enjoy beautiful scenery while sampling the most delicious food. Lexi’s Healthy Eatery (Sandton) is my go-to (they also have a branch in Modderfontein). I also love Free Food Deli & Takeaway (Birnam).
If you are in Durban, try Earthmother Organic in Glenwood – there are a range of gluten-free vegan dishes you can try.
If you find yourself outside the main city centres, don’t despair! Chain restaurants / fast food outlets should be able to help you out. Burger joints (Steers, McDonald’s), some pizza houses (notably Col’Cacchio), and even restaurants renowned for chicken (think Nando’s) will have something vegans can eat. You can also try the local Thai, Chinese, Indian, or Asian fusion restaurants.
Woolworths and Pick n Pay have a considerable variety of vegan convenience foods if you prefer self-catering, or are looking for healthy snacks. My favourite supermarket in Johannesburg is Jackson’s Real Food Market. They have a restaurant attached, and there are many seasonal vegan dishes on offer.
Is there a traditional dish from your city/country that can easily be veganised?
There are tons that can be, and which have already been, veganised! The traditional meat bobotie can be veganised by adding butternut, chickpeas, and broccoli (use coconut oil or avocado oil as a substitute for butter). I’ve seen boerewors (a type of South African sausage) veganised, melktert (milk tart) veganised, and even good old-fashioned boerebeskuite (rusks) veganised.
What do you think the future holds for veganism in your country?
There are some real positives with regard to the growth of veganism. According to Google Trends data, South Africa ranks 23rd among the top 30 countries worldwide where veganism was most popular over the past year (it is also the only African country represented in this ranking). Interestingly, the popularity peaked at the start of this year – coincidence, Veganuary?
However, the demand for chicken (South Africa’s most consumed animal protein) remains alarmingly high. Approximately 20 million birds are slaughtered per week, with around 20% of them being served up at fast food outlets. But more birds are imported from the Americas, bringing the total consumed per week to approximately 30 million!
Despite this, South Africa provides many examples of businesses and industries which support people becoming more health conscious, and which play a significant role in encouraging people to choose cruelty-free options. I aim to further this cause and awareness by representing South Africa in Veganuary’s very own Vegan Cycle India 2020 – where I will be cycling the requisite 392 km and an additional eight to raise even more awareness about veganism.