For World Vegan Month, The Vegan Review is sharing the stories of vegans from 30 countries around the world. Here’s one from Kenya.
Sylvia Aluoch, 36, is a High Court advocate in Nairobi, Kenya. She has been vegetarian for 15 years and a strict vegan for seven.
In Kenya, “English and Swahili are the dominant languages,” she says, “and in both cases, ‘vegan’ is the word.”
Why did you go vegan?
My preference and palette were mostly vegetables and plant-based food, so it was not difficult to eat strictly vegan. I grew up where animals were a sign of wealth, were taken care of, would wander free and were not exposed to the ill-treatment you see now for mass food production. The Kenyan diet has historically been heavily vegetarian, and meat was mostly a delicacy left for celebration or ceremonial occasions.
What was the biggest challenge when you transitioned?
Veganism in Kenya was a foreign concept back in 2012. I had difficulty eating out in restaurants as people did (and sometimes still do) not fully understand what it means to eat vegan. There were little to no options in the menus. Even vegetables were served in butter; I mostly ate really boring salads or chips in restaurants, so I avoided eating out, which was a pity.
It was also not possible to find alternatives made from plant-based products and if you did, it was very, very expensive. Things are getting better and some restaurants have begun to increase vegan options on their menus, which is lovely.
What was the reaction of your loved ones when you went plant-based? How did they adapt?
They are still adapting. Many still panic and ask what they can serve me or cook when I visit them. Sometimes I get the occasional “But can you eat fish?”
My husband also panicked when I moved from vegetarian to vegan and asked: “What is left to cook then?” But he bought some vegan cookbooks and searched the Internet. Now he cooks the best vegan dishes and I am very happy.
Who are your influences?
I don’t really have any, to be honest. I eat the way I want to.
What’s your favourite thing to cook now? Have you tried to veganise a local traditional dish?
Grilling my freshly made tofu, and oyster mushrooms. I eat this with local vegetables and ugali, which is a local dish and doesn’t need to be modified for a vegan diet.
What vegan product do you wish your country had available?
I missed natural, fresh choices of vegan cheese, various tofu flavours, and vegan ice cream without preservatives and additives. Since they were not available in Kenya, I decided to introduce vegan cheese as well as fresh and smoked tofu made from natural organic Kenyan products without any additives or preservatives to the market myself.
How accessible and affordable are vegan products in your country?
Vegan products are still pricey, as most processed products are imported from Europe or the US.
What’s your favourite spot for vegan food in your city?
I recently went to Wasp and Sprouts and was quite happy with the vegan breakfast option. I love the vegan pizza at Mambo Italia. I also love that it’s called the Vegan Sun.
What is the one city you’d like to visit as a vegan?
Cambodia. I have heard good things about it, including the huge vegan options available.
What’s the biggest roadblock to veganism in your country?
The belief that meat must be on the table to eat well and be healthy. Many think protein is only sufficiently obtained from meat, which is very wrong.