Name: Toyin Akinbuli
Occupation: Recent MBA Graduate
Location: Worcester, MA
How long have you been vegan? And what inspired your journey?
For roughly two years, I have been vegan. I like to say that I did not become a vegan; veganism became me. As a six-year-old kid living in Lagos, Nigeria, we had a big Sunday breakfast. It was the one time a week that we ate a big family meal together. I never could eat the scrambled eggs, as it irritated me. As a replacement, my mum would make a stew sauce, which I ate with potatoes and yams. Additionally, I was not a big fan of milk either, so I hardly added it to my teas.
From age six to seventeen, I pretty much cut out eggs in life until I started college. I would go with my friends to these dreadful weekend brunches and order what my friends ordered, trying not to throw it up later. My body was rejecting it (even worse when cheese was melted on top of it). By senior year, I seldom ate eggs and switched to organic milk, only drinking it in moderation. On New Year’s Day of January 2004, I decided to become a pescatarian, switched to soymilk, but thought I could not give up cheese, as it was a perfect complement to wine.
A year later, I also gave up fish but went to Nigeria for volunteer work. While there, I visited my parents, who did not understand my new meatless lifestyle. My mum insisted that I needed to eat flesh, so I returned to being a pescatarian. It felt tolerable rather than attempting to bridge my cultural views and explain the reason I chose a meatless lifestyle. Plus, most fish stews were cooked separately than meat stews at restaurants, so that helped my decision.
Nigerians see the act of consuming meat as a sign of wealth and the ultimate source of protein, so why would anyone make a decision to not eat meat? As an African female, even if you make a personal decision not to eat meat, you’re still expected to cook meat for your spouse and/or your in-laws when they visit your home. Although I date all kinds of people, most African men are not vegetarians or vegans. If dating one, I am expected to switch my eating “habits” or get comfortable with the repercussions of my being vegan. Maybe I’ll eventually find that holy grail of a partner who is Nigerian vegetarian or vegan, or someone open to living in a foreign country. I feel that I am stuck in two worlds and I don’t fit neatly into either.
Has veganism enhanced your health? Why or why not?
Even as a kid, I was always a healthy eater. You could not bribe me with a candy, as I would tell you it’s too sweet and I’d rather eat something else. During graduate school, I embraced a vegan lifestyle and noticed that it helped with clarity while studying. I also did not gain weight from sitting and studying for hours on end. Veganism helped me understand the impact of detoxing and eating the right foods. I am still a work in progress, but I enjoy eating a lot of vegetables, especially kale in its most raw form to achieve its fullest nutrients.
In retrospect, how do you feel about meat? Or do you have any thoughts on America’s meat industry?
While my switch to vegan life was health inspired, it’s also enhanced my spiritual connection to all that is natural and pure. I’ve embraced a holistic way of living and discovered through that connection humanity and nature. Veganism ties to the impact of our choices in consuming animal products and its dire effects on our environment. Not to mention, meat’s impact on the Black community is astronomical. We have record high levels of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and much more. It’s important that we comprehend the adverse effects of our food choices and the cumulative effects on our health, families, and community as a whole. We need to adopt healthier food choices.
Was there a community of black women that helped you along your meatless journey? And if not, what are you doing to change this for others?
There was no community, but I started this journey with one of my closest friends, Breeze Harper. While life took us on different paths (and she embraced it with more zeal and gusto than I did), I knew I had to get there on my own. And Breeze was always a reference point! Where I live, there aren’t many minorities, but I do try to get talk about my food choices. I try not to force it, but it’s especially harder in the African community to get people to understand the importance of veganism and what it represents. Not only does veganism have health benefits, but it also offers abundance spiritually and saves our environment.
Are you a vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian? Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to be featured in the Black Female Vegetarian Series. Check back every Tuesday and Friday for a new profile! Click to read past profiles here.