Oluwatomi (Tomi) Makanjuola is a longtime advocate of the vegan lifestyle and a food blogger with her own interesting journey and twist on the typical Nigerian cuisine. She is the author of the book, Nice Cream: 25 delicious dairy free recipes, a book that compiles natural and guilt free dairy recipes that are perfect for the summer heat.
Makanjuola proves that once you go vegan, you never go back. Even though she has truly embraced a vegan lifestyle, her initial feelings around the idea were mixed. “My initial feeling was one of elation, having made the amazing discovery and noticing the immediate health benefits. After this elation however, came an overwhelming sense of dread and solitude.”
For a while, she felt as though she was the only Nigerian on the planet who was vegan — and rightfully so. Her eating habits were a slight departure from the cultural norms around food and eating in Nigeria and in many other parts of the African continent.
Makanjuola was born and raised in the city of Lagos in Nigeria to a wonderful family life. One of her favorite childhood memories was going on bike rides with a family on Saturday or Sunday evenings. Her close and enabling environment was perhaps very pivotal in thinking through some of the choices that she has made in life, including a decision to change her diet.
“I grew up in an environment where my parents encouraged our creativity and encouraged us to do our best.”
She started writing short stories as a young girl, and when she discovered the cooking channel on satellite television, she was hooked. “It’s honestly no surprise that I now find myself running a food and recipe blog.”
The vegan enthusiast, who is currently based in the busy, bright city of London had her ‘aha’ moment just over three years ago, which led her to her journey.
“I was born and raised eating full-on Nigerian food – chicken, beef or fish and lots of it, included with every main meal,” she shares. “I never had much dairy apart from yogurt and powdered milk every now and again. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I really got interested in nutrition and just the way food affects the mind and body. I’m not going to lie – I tried quite a number of different diets, trying to work out which was best.”
Another major step in her journey included the discovery of how what she ate was affecting her health and energy levels. “I was in France for a year (as part of my university degree program), I found that I was consuming a large amount of meat and dairy products. Parallel to that, I was living with a pet dog for the first time in my life, and I slowly began to make the connection between meat and the animal it once came from. If I could never eat a dog, what was the logic behind eating other sentient beings such as cows and chickens?”
After coming across the term veganism by chance, she subsequently went through a period where she carried out a lot of research and decided to make the choice — and she hasn’t looked back since.
So people want to know; does she miss eating meat? Not at all, she says. “Once the connection was made, I couldn’t go back to viewing meat in the same way. What was once a spiced up piece of food on a plate turned into the flesh of a once sentient being.”
More importantly are the benefits she has gained as a result of her new lifestyle. “Some of the immediate benefits that I have personally experienced include better skin, better digestion, more energy and more mental clarity.”
Other benefits she sees relates to much broader issues that are near and dear to her. “From a wider health perspective, a vegan diet reduces the chances of developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension and many more diet-related illnesses. From an environmental and ethical point of view – a view which I hold dearly – veganism is better for the planet because it reduces the devastating effect of livestock farming such as erosion, pollution and deforestation. Most importantly, more people around the world could be fed if we all decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle as the grains that are currently used to feed and fatten livestock could be distributed among humans. Finally, veganism is simply a kind and compassionate response to animal cruelty and exploitation.”
While Makanjuola may be one of a relatively few number of active Nigerian vegans, she is impressed by the connections she has made with other Nigerians and Africans who have reached out to her through her blog or social media platforms to share their experiences of being vegan, or t heir desire to adopt the lifestyle.
“It’s an exciting progression that is only going to intensify as time goes on. “Africans can and should embrace natural eating, as we have done in generations past. Many in Africa have the advantage of living on one of the most agriculturally blessed continents on this planet. By encouraging agriculture and building meals around the abundance of fruits, vegetables and grains that are produced on the continent, eating naturally should be easy enough. Unfortunately, there is also the growing trend of fast food outlets opening in droves around major African cities, mainly as a result of globalization. We need to resist all that and return to our yam and plantain, please!”
She also believes that governments should play a role in encouraging healthy eating in localities that need them the most. “Things get dicey when we then consider parts of Africa that suffer from famine, droughts and other devastations that make it difficult to live from one day to the next. The idea of veganism or ‘healthy eating’ as a lifestyle then appears trivial and unimportant in the grand scheme of things. To that, I believe individuals and governments have a responsibility to alleviate the epidemic of malnutrition and distribute healthy, natural foods to those who need it the most.”
But no matter where her food journey takes her, she will never stray far away from her favorite dish, Jollof rice. “I could eat it all day, every day. It’s made by cooking rice in a spicy blend of red peppers and tomatoes, seasoned with curry powder and thyme, and cooked until you’re left with fluffy, bright orange rice. It was the first meal I ever learnt to cook, and I’m pretty confident I can cook it blindfolded.”
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