Taking a bite off vegetarian cuisine Vegetarian salad

Kundai Marunya

“I can’t live sorely on vegetables. I’m not a rabbit,” is a joke often thrown around when many hear one is a vegetarian.

This is one of many statements that mock people, who made conscious decisions to quit meat, choosing a vegetarian lifestyle.

Eating meat has always been associated with social status in Zimbabwe, where it is often expensive compared to vegetables that can even be grown on one’s backyard.

It’s absence or limitation at milestone events such as birthday parties, graduation celebrations, anniversaries, weddings and even funerals, often indicates the organisers’ lack of finance.

Its abundance draws praises on how well organised an event is.

“I can’t imagine a life without meat,” said Peter Machingauta. “It’s how we celebrate different events. We braai; it’s how we hangout as family and friends.”

Braais have grown to be a big part of Zimbabwean culture, with many family events and festivals themed around the open fire meat barbecuing experience. More often than not vegetarians are not catered for at social gatherings that they usually end up consuming unbalanced meals. Sometimes they end up snacking on salads.

Though many may mock their lifestyle, vegetarianism often draws large numbers of people, some mostly because of religious beliefs.

Religious driven vegetarians include Rastafarians and the Seventh Day Adventists, among many others.

“Meat is dead, eating it would, therefore, work against livity elevation,” said Rastafarian high priest Tayambuka Mupfunya.

Spinach rolls

Livity is the realisation that an energy or life-force, conferred by God exists within, and flows through, all people and all living things, and since animals are killed for meat they then cease to live.

“I do not eat meat because I avoid unknowingly eating meats that the Bible deems unclean,” said Christian Machemedze, a Seventh Day Adventist member.

“Sometimes abattoirs slaughter the animals and process meats with the same machinery they use for ‘unclean’ animals, so to be safe I just stay away from meat.”

It is believed that 30 percent of Adventists are vegetarian. Other people are, however, drawn to vegetarianism for health benefits, concerns about animal welfare or the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock, or a desire to eat in a way that avoids excessive use of environmental resources.

For Jean Paul Baron, who has not eaten meat for 19 years, one of the factors that drove him to become a vegetarian was what he calls the factory farming system.

“I become aware of the industrial/factory farming system whereby animals are raised solely for our consumption and are often kept in inhumane and overcrowded conditions.

“Moreover, they are only treated as inputs that are pumped with antibiotics and hormones to speed up their growth and keep them from getting sick, to slaughter them as fast as possible,” he said.

“I also realised that animals are sentient beings and feel pain just like us and they get terrified when taken to the abattoir.”

Baron said the environmental destruction associated with the raising of animals, especially cattle, kept him from eating meat.

“Rainforests such as the Amazon are getting annihilated for the huge demand in meat worldwide.

“Methane, the worst greenhouse gas, is produced by cows and their dung and urine when concentrated in lots pollutes rivers and groundwater. The eating of beef is seen to be the greatest contributor to the greenhouse effect and, therefore, climate change,” he said.

Some, however, follow a largely vegetarian diet because they can’t afford to eat meat.

Crispy tofu dish

“Thousands of cows in these ranches are fed on grains that are grown in countries where people don’t have enough to eat, and use a lot of their available land to grow grains for export while not having enough to feed themselves with a diverse diet,” said Baron.

The differences that draw people to vegetarianism have also played a part in mapping out different types of vegetarians.

There is the lacto-ovo-vegetarians, who avoid the flesh of all animals, both meat and fish, the pescatarians, who eat fish but not meat, lacto-vegetarians, who consume dairy products but not eggs, ovo-vegetarians, who consume eggs but not dairy and vegans, who avoid all animal-based foods, including honey.

To avoid suffering from malnutrition, vegetarians need to make careful choices about their diet, and to eat a wide variety of foods to ensure that they meet their nutritional requirements.

Some vegans may need to take supplements. Ignorance has also driven people to think vegetarian diets are not healthy when the opposite is actually true.

A study by the World Health Organisation in 2015 suggests that processed meats like bacon increase the risk of getting cancer, same as asbestos and smoking cigarettes.

Research also indicates that a vegetarian diet can cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 32 percent. “We think (it) is due to their lower cholesterol and blood pressure,” lead researcher Francesca Crowe from the University of Oxford’s Cancer Epidemiology Unit told AFP.

Vegetarian diets also reduce the risk of suffering from a stroke as meat causes blockages in blood vessels, while consumption of red meat in particular has been reported to increase the risk of an ischemic stroke by 47 percent.

According to a study by Harvard School of Public Health found “consumption of red or processed meat significantly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes — an illness that can cause debilitating health problems, including blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, and stroke.”

Other diseases attributed to meat consumption include obesity, Alzheimer, and erectile dysfunction. Vegetarian diets also have lower cholesterol.

Though they are many health benefits, if not watched well, vegetarian diets can lead to malnutrition. Locally, there is a large variety of vegetarian foods and products one can pick from, enriching one’s body with balanced meals.

Meat is high in protein and fat, which can also be found in beans, round nuts, peas, soya beans, and groundnuts, among other locally available food items. Some vegetarians go on to eat bacon processed from soya beans, and use soya mince as relish.

Vegans also have the advantage of using soya milk, instead of milk products from animals. Though there is a seemingly wide pool to pick from, many in the food industry still profess ignorance over vegetarianism, thus, in some restaurants and food outlets, their diets are not catered for.  

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