Over the past 3 months I’ve been traveling in Africa. I started on the main continent in the south east and then moved over to Madagascar, where I’ve now been for 6 weeks. I can say, without a doubt, Africa is not easy for vegans and there are several reasons why.
Now before I go into those reasons, I will say South Africa wasn’t so bad. South Africa is essentially a European Africa and the beautiful Cape Town epitomizes this. I could easily find a variety of food and vegan options everywhere I went. When I volunteered at Kwantu, they easily catered for a variety of dietary needs including vegan and when I traveled to Cape Town there were lots of restaurants boasting vegetarian and vegan options.
Now the hard part comes. I traveled into Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. These countries were beautiful and all you’d hope for for an African experience. However, the curlture doesn’t really understand vegetarian diet requirements and requests like other parts of the world. I constantly got asked, “why don’t you eat meat?!” To Africans it was natural and expected and in some places that’s all they had to eat. It’s hard to appeal to a culture to make choices they really don’t have and I tried to be as sensitive to this.
I was generally able to find something to eat somewhere but it didn’t prove as easy as it had been before to find something substantial and somewhat balanced. As it had been through a lot of my trip, bread was an unwanted staple due to being readily available and safe. Normally in situations like these I would have gone to the market and picked up some fresh vegetables to make a healthy meal at the hostel, but a lot of places we stayed in didn’t have common kitchens. Also, we quickly found out eating raw vegetables was a no-no!
I would, however, get thick skinned fruit, like oranges, to eat as well as picking up some nuts, packaged dry fruit, and other prepackaged junky stuff. These things helped to fill the voids and I certainly didn’t go hungry. However, I was wanting for more of a balanced meal.
Moving on to Madagascar and on to more volunteering I was hopeful for a little more options. While bread is still a staple in my current diet, I do get a bigger variety of rice, beans, and vegetables. Also the margarine contains no dairy as refrigeration is hard to come by. That said, while everything I’m eating is vegetarian, I can’t say it’s 100% vegan. The cooks like to add egg and mayo to many things. I prepared myself for this possibility when I set out on my journey and just vowed to do the best I could. At this point, with as much activity as I have to do, more calorie and nutrition deficits are just not an option.
It’s been a tricky few months for sure and I’m doing what I can do, while still trying to meet my needs. Africa is beautiful and it’s definitely worth a visit regardless of dietary constraints. Do the best you can, wherever you are and whatever you have to work with! I’m hopeful for better luck when I get to Asia in a month.