I decided to give up meat right before moving to Rwanda, having slowly removed different meats from my diet over the years – first pork, then beef, and finally chicken and turkey and fish.
Being vegetarian in Rwanda is easy. Pizza is everywhere. Omelettes are everywhere. Great salads are everywhere – avocado vinaigrette was my favorite!
Despite the ease of eating vegetarian and the abundance of vegetarian options, you may still get teased by friends – I was often told my dinner was the patch of grass at the restaurant!
But being a vegan in Rwanda is not quite as easy.
Veganism isn’t well known here, so having to constantly explain my diet is one of the many reasons it’s harder. Vegans don’t eat anything that comes from an animal, nor do they wear or use animal products (this one I’m still struggling with – I love my leather handbags and shoes!)
The ethos of veganism is to avoid the exploitation of and cruelty to animals, per Vegan Society. But the vegan lifestyle also helps the planet (animal agriculture is one of the main causes of climate change), and your body/health (by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, increasing the intake of cancer-fighting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals). Choosing to become vegan will likely make you healthier and will have a significant positive impact on the environment.
The diet focuses on fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, and pulses/legumes. A typical meal for me is stir-fried veggies over rice or couscous with some sesame seeds or cashews thrown in.
Many traditional Rwandan meals are vegan! Think rice and beans, sweet potatoes with peanut sauce and dodo, ibitoki with beans and veggies.
Giving up milk may be difficult and require a change in your tastebuds, but soya milk is now readily available at many of the supermarkets around Kigali. There are so many options available in Rwanda, it just requires a change in mindset, some new recipes and a strong backbone – for all the questions you’ll get from friends and family about your new eating habits!
One of the main questions vegans get asked is, “where do you get your protein from?”
There are lots of vegan sources of protein; beans, lentils, peanuts, broccoli, peas, chickpeas, tofu, oats, and rice, just to name a few. These protein sources are healthier than meat because you get the protein without the added fats and cholesterol you usually get with meat protein sources, and some vegan options actually have more protein per gram than meat. In addition, gram for gram, plant proteins have more nutrients per calorie than animal proteins, and they have fiber which has been shown to have a significant impact on reducing heart disease.
Now, the practicalities: there are some restaurants in Kigali that are vegan, and many more that offer vegan options or can make their dishes vegan when asked.
One of the first things I did when I came back to Rwanda last year was start exploring all the new restaurants around Kigali. It’s been so exciting to see how much has changed and to revisit some of my old favorite restaurants.
At some restaurants (akabare mostly), your only option will be chips (or grilled potatoes or ibitoki). It’s not a nutritionally complete meal, but it can fill your belly if it’s your only option! One of the main things to watch out for at restaurants in Rwanda is mayonnaise. It’s found on the plate of chips, mixed in the salad dressing, on your sandwiches, etc.
When you switch to a vegan diet, it’s important to make sure you’re eating correctly and getting all your nutrients. This is true of any diet, but especially true when you’re making a change in what you eat.
It’s easy to just eat bread and peanut butter, or a plate of chips, but you need to make sure you’re getting your fruits and vegetables and protein daily.
Finding new ways to prepare your favorite dishes and trying new recipes can make going vegan fun and exciting! The markets in Rwanda are full of many delicious vegetables and fruits – try them all and find your favorites! Plus, the internet is full of great vegan recipes and I’ll be posting some here on the WEEKENDER for you to try!
Even if you aren’t ready to go fully vegan just yet, cutting back your meat consumption has a huge impact on the environment and will likely make you feel and look better too!
I’ll be posting every Monday for #MeatlessMonday to help you try some meat-free meals and maybe you’ll find it’s not so hard, it’s quite delicious, and you can go vegan!
For more information and inspiration, follow me on Instagram @vegan_in_rwanda
All views and opinions expressed are the author’s