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Veg Life 4 Life: Keeping up a Vegetarian Diet in Ghana

Veg Life 4 Life: Keeping up a Vegetarian Diet in Ghana

Why are you vegetarian? What?! How do you survive?!  I couldn’t live without meat! Aren’t you deficient in protein? Don’t you love animals?? I do, they’re so tasty! I tried once for a few years!  What do you even eat?! How come you’re not skin and bones?

These are the most typical responses I get whenever I tell carnivores that I’m vegetarian.  Ghanaians have asked me the same questions and given me similar feedback.  I enjoy all the responses because I love talking about delicious plant-based foods and my borderline strange obsession with animals.  These convos usually touch on the two.

Getting to choose a diet like this is obviously an extreme privilege, but the reality is that millions choose to be vegetarian worldwide mainly for religious or health reasons. I’ve been a vegetarian for over five years, mostly because I love and care for animals. It’s just part of my personality. When I was six, I would insist on carrying my Siamese cat everywhere, hugging it as tightly as I could, loving her so I much I was probably torturing her. I also did a stint at wildlife rescue where I got to kick it with injured owls, skunks, a three-legged coyote and baby mountain lions. I assisted in the rehabilitation process. It all felt very Julie Andrews a la The Sound of Music, frolicking around in my own version of animal awesomeness. (Once, I accidently set an endangered hawk free and almost fainted when they tried to have me feed it a frozen chick but that’s another embarrassing story I like to share after a beer.) I understand that there’s hypocrisy here, but whether or not vegetarianism may seem silly to someone, it’s an important thing for me.

Coming to Ghana, where meat is the staple of every meal, I’ve faced some challenges, but overall it’s been pretty smooth. Here are some tips I would give to a vegetarian on a student budget travelling to Ghana.

Eat the street food at your comfort level. Try:

  • Coconut. You’ll see them in a pile of about one hundred. Choose your coconut and then a machete-wielding man slashes off the top and pops in a straw. You’re good to go for some major potassium. 2 cedis.

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  • Bofrots. A favorite of our group! Flour, yeast, sugar, butter, water and egg deep fried to golden perfection. They sell them in glass boxes balanced atop a strong woman’s head. Bofrots are easy to buy out the window of a tro tro for a donut-like morning meal. 50 pesswas.

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  • Koose. Fried millet that tastes a bit like falafel. It’s fried up in vegetable oil and sandwiched in a six-inch roll of freshly baked bread. Only 1 cedi.

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  • A whole pineapple and mango. They cut it up for you and pack it up in Styrofoam. 2 or 3 cedis.

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What to stash in your suitcase:

  • Multivitamins and sublingual B12 tablets. A lot of vegetarians like me feel exhausted without enough B12.
  • Soy nuts and sunflower seeds. Easy protein. High in calories and nutrients.
  • Plant protein powder and a shaker cup for easy go-to meals. I usually go for the Raw Protein from Garden of Life in chocolate flavor and mix it up with soy milk that you can buy in a lot of the neighborhood grocery stores here. Warning: milk really doesn’t last here with the electricity going on and off all day (dumsor).

Here are some possible restaurants and meals to check out when here. Yelp should pay me for this:

DNR. It’s a halal Turkish restaurant. I go for Shacshuca— chopped and roasted eggplant, potato and tomato. It’s garlicky, oily, a bit salty and topped with delicious yogurt. They have lentil soup and other veg options that come with two huge portions of round bread.

Vegetarian Health Food Center. It’s located opposite El-wak Stadium at 37.  I haven’t tried it yet but I heard this is the chance to try fufu and other local Ghanaian dishes sans the fish and chicken broth. Always get fried plantains for a side.

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Akuma Village. It offers some vegan dishes and is close to the beach. I met a Ghanaian Rastafarian at a bar called Republic and he recommended this place.  He then spent a lot of time trying to convince me to become a vegan and educated me on his version of brotherhood.

Baobab Vegetarian Moringa Restaurant. This was my favorite. If you can make it to Cape Coast try this NGO restaurant for vegetarian versions of Ghanaian dishes, some with black eyed peas.  Everything is cooked with vegetables from a school-owned organic farm. Their pineapple-moringa juice is fresh squeezed.

Some things to consider:

  • If you do eat eggs, it may be helpful to know that Accra is the ultimate in free-range chickens. They run around everywhere. They cock-a-doodle-doo you awake in the morning. They have cute little babies to gawk over on your walk to work. I’ve bought eggs here and have eaten them at restaurants, but of course I’m still a little skeptical.
  • If you’re going to eat vegetables raw, make sure they are thoroughly cleaned with vinegar or whatever solution you bring from home. Some obsolete pesticides are still used here too, so that’s something to be mindful of.

A big piece of advice is to ask and then double ask if there is meat in anything. Culturally, they are not used to people asking for vegetarian food and it means different things here. I would ask, “Does it have chicken? Does it have beef or cow? Does it have fish? And does it have any of these in the broth it’s cooked in? And is it fried in vegetable or animal fat?” They define meat as just beef here, so asking if there is meat in something to cover the whole gamut of animal products doesn’t work. Sometimes, the person may speak primarily Twi and not English and may not quite understand either.

The philosophy could be to try to maintain your diet as much as possible but not to freak out or yell at a server if you accidently discover a piece of meat in your supposedly vegetarian pie. Just stop eating it. Although I really do respect hardcore vegans and vegetarians, I often feel that being too vocal and uptight about it only turns people off to it altogether. At the end of the day, food should give you the energy to enjoy the experience in Ghana to the best of your ability!

Check out the version of this story published on the Starr FM website here.