In 2015 two studies were published in the Science and Anthropocene Review that came to the conclusion that human beings are “eating away at our own life support systems” at a pace not perceived in the previous 10,000 years. This startling phenomenon came about through humanoids acts of degradation of land and freshwater systems resulting in the secretion of greenhouse gases as well as the release of vast amounts of agricultural chemicals into the environment. An article in The Guardian states that our current economic system is pushing us towards an unsustainable future (Milman 2015). With our natural resources at an all-time low and the rapid decay of our planet, many people are consciously making an effort towards a greener lifestyle by opting for plant-based diets. It has been contested that vegetarianism and veganism is not only a healthier diet to follow but also much friendlier to the environment than opting to consume animal products. The big question, however, is how affordable and sustainable it is to live organic and be dedicated to this form of food activism. To get some answers I spoke to three femmes who prescribe to a plant-based diet, young artist Anne-Marie Kalumbu, creative Anny Botha and food activist and vegan chef Parusha Naidoo.
In my interview with Anne-Marie, she expresses that her decision to become a vegetarian was motivated by moral inclinations as well as her desire to live consciously of her environment and her role in it. “I thought I wouldn’t eat my cat so why do I feel ok eating a cow. It’s insane how detrimental the meat industry is to our planet.”
In her art practice vegetarianism does not come in to play in a straightforward manner. She does, however, enjoy taking pictures of nature and her choice to become vegetarian was motivated by a moral inclination to reduce the amount of man-made damage the planet endures by not contributing to the cycle. Anne-Marie feels that maintaining a plant-based diet has made her feel healthier and be more self-aware of her eating habits, expressing that there are no cons to the lifestyle she leads.
Anny is a young dynamic creative working as a hair colourist at Cellardoor Hair and a freelance make up artist and stylist. In my interview with her, she tells me that she has been following a vegetarian diet for about three years. She explains that her choice to follow this lifestyle was prompted by her vegan boyfriend at the time that often cooked her meals. “I eventually just went full on vegetarian after a few months.” Anny expresses that since she has stopped eating meat she feels more energetic.
When asked about the cons of this lifestyle Anny tells me that eating out can be a challenge. She continues to say that over the last two years there are more veggie options and restaurants but that initially, it was very difficult to find a decent meal out. In Anny’s opinion, it is healthier to follow a plant-based diet if your plant of choice is not a deep-fried potato.
Both Anny and Anne-Marie advocate a vegetarian lifestyle and Anne-Marie quotes the following words of ASAP Rocky to explain her sentiments “you gotta do research on the way they treat like f**king chickens man”. Anny explains her food activism by saying; “I grew up with lots of farm animals around me so eating them has always been an issue for me. Personally, I would rather be friends with a piggy than eating it. Aside from that, we could literally feed hundreds of thousands of hungry children with the grains we feed livestock. Once the demand for meat drops people can focus their energy on using our resources to do a bit more good than harm.” Anny tries to live as green as she possibly can by avoiding brands that test on animals.
Many a meat eater may ask where vegetarians get their protein from and both Anne-Marie and Anny express that their protein intake is streamlined by eating beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, grains, quinoa and bean butters.
When I came to my most pressing question as to the costs of maintaining this lifestyle Anne-Marie tells me that this lifestyle can be rather costly. She continues to say that prices are higher if you choose to go the organic produce route. Anny tells me that when vegetables are bought from markets and your eggs are sourced directly from a farm, being a vegetarian can be a cost-effective lifestyle. Anny estimates her monthly expenditure on groceries for herself and her housemate as R1 800 a month excluding eating out and buying a litre of milk once a week. Both Anne-Marie and Anny are in agreement that this lifestyle can be sustainable.
Curious about the answers that Anne-Marie and Anny have given as to the health benefits of a plant-based diet I did some of my own research. In a video lecture by Dr. Michael Greger M.D FACLM (Plant-based Diets for improved Mood & Productivity 2015) he states that in 2014 a study was published in The Systematic Review of Met Analysis of Dietary patterns & Depression that came to the conclusion that a healthy diet pattern is associated with reduced chances of depression. The video further states that eating a plant-based diet increases your antioxidant status and might help alleviate depression. Plant-based diets also improve digestion, increase energy levels and results in better sleeping patterns Greger states. The final conclusions of the video are that a vegan diet improves a person’s productivity, quality of life and is low in cost.
Perhaps a plant-based diet can be sustainable and cost-effective. Looking more into the topic I received an Internet introduction to foraging teacher Roushanna Gray who has been referred to as a wild food innovator. Teaching seasonal workshops to children and adults about foraging she takes her inspiration from local edible indigenous plants. In her kitchen, she experiments with the diversity and stimulating flavours of indigenous fauna, fynbos as well as the culinary offerings that inter-tidal rock pools along the coastline hold. In Roushanna’s classes, she teaches adults the act of sustainable foraging which, if taken on, as a lifestyle may be a very cost-effective way to maintain a plant-based diet. This, of course, will only work if you live in an area where you are able to forage. Johannesburg? No, I don’t think it would work.
I spoke to Parusha who has elevated the vegan lifestyle to a form of intersectional consciousness to get some more concrete answers. Parusha has become well known for her vegan cooking classes and pop-up events in Johannesburg. In an interview Parusha had with our editor Christa Dee a number of months ago she explains that she started thinking about how eating meat has never been a conscious decision for her. In the interview, she states, “As creative people, I think we don’t question the norms of our societies enough and interrogate why we are doing things. I decided that I needed to look at everything in my life and consciously choose what I’m doing. After some research into it, it made sense to me to try it out veganism for the planet, the animals, and the earth.”
I asked Parusha whether plant-based diets are healthier than eating animal products to which she responded that that is not necessarily the case. She continues to say that it is dependant on whether a balanced plant-based diet is followed. A balanced plant-based diet consists of a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes Parusha tells me. “In general there are no hormones or antibiotics in plant-based foods. And all animal products contain cholesterol, which is responsible for heart disease. Cheese, milk, yoghurt, eggs and all meat contains hormones and antibiotics, and fish contains mercury.”
Parusha’s answer in regards to the cons of a plant-based lifestyle corresponds with that of Anny’s. She expresses that eating out in South Africa can be rather inconvenient as not all chefs are creative when cooking vegan or vegetarian meals.
Providing me with something to think about Parusha states that a vegan diet is not necessarily a plant-based diet and expresses that “You can eat a lot of peanut butter on white bread, and chips with tomato sauce or vegan ice cream, cakes, biscuits, fried samoosas, etc.”. Thus meaning that veganism cannot inescapably be classified as a plant-based lifestyle.
According to Parusha the pros of this lifestyle is that she feels and looks younger. “With the meat-free lifestyle, you definitely have less chance of getting diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. That’s scientifically proven.” Parusha feels that as creative individuals, we should be creative about our decisions.
“Be curious about alternatives to the mainstream. Question what you are actually doing. We live in a world that encourages independent thinking but not when it comes to food. If we all lived on whole grains, fruit, vegetables and legumes it would not make anyone any money – the meat and dairy industries would collapse and so would the pharmaceutical industry, and most medical professionals would be out of jobs. Veganism is not expensive. You don’t need super foods. Beans and rice are really cheap. Spinach is cheap too. Apples and oranges are cheap.” A previous comment by Anny corresponds with this statement by Parusha indicating that if all people followed plant based diets the meat and dairy industries would fold.
Parusha’s advice for persons who are interested in following this lifestyle is the following, “Don’t just live on boiled vegetables! Be curious. Be creative. Eat delicious food! If you have any questions, Google is your friend. Try going meat-free for a day or a week, or a month. Whatever you do just TRY!”
Parusha has combined art with her vegan cooking classes and explains that this decision was prompted by her work as a graphic designer in advertising before she became a vegan chef. “I am combining my love of food with art. I like that everyone can have a conversation about food.”
Continuing the thread on sustainability and affordability Parusha tells me about black veganism. This diet is about more than a diet and can be seen as a framework for analysing various oppressions. It is an intersectional veganism and can include whole grains such as brown rice, vegetables like spinach and carrots, legumes such as lentils and beans as well as fruits. Black veganism is about creating more hearty, simple dishes rather than superfood salads. She states that this lifestyle can be very sustainable, as you don’t require a lot of super foods, seeds, nuts or upmarket oils. Eating Dhal and rice as her staple, Parusha expresses that this diet can be very affordable.
When prompted to estimate the cost of living as a vegetarian or vegan Parusha states that it is dependent on where food is purchased. Stating that it could cost R100 a week or it could cost over R1000 a week. This variation in cost will be subject to whether you choose to prepare meals at home as well as where you decide to purchase your groceries. Eating out and purchasing from Woolworths is a lot more costly than home-cooked meals and purchasing from markets, independent shops, and street vendors.
After my own research and interviews with Anne-Marie, Anny and Parusha I am of the opinion that a plant-based diet can be better for your health when a balanced diet is followed that doesn’t just consist of carbs, sugars and Fry’s Foods. Furthermore, the cost of living as a vegetarian or vegan will be determined by an individual’s choice of either cooking at home or getting take out. It is also dependent on where you decide to buy from markets, vendors and small independent shops or from chains such as Woolworths or Pick n Pay.