As a child, I never heard of other eating lifestyles except for how I ate, which was everything. In my previous post: Food Philosophy, I talked about how important memories were all centered around food, and many cultural events in my tribe placed huge importance on the sacrifice of animals. So eating meat was in our culture. I was only exposed to other eating lifestyles (I don’t like to use the word diet as much because of the negative connotations it has) when I moved to Tanzania when one of my really good friends, because of her religion, was vegetarian. As a country with a heritage of many eastern cultures calling Tanzania home, it was definitely not uncommon to find many Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians all with different dietary restrictions, cultural beliefs and experiences with food. In Ghana, over 80% of the population identified with Christianity and ate everything and anything. But here, I had to be careful with what I served my friends and what I said about my eating because it was not always a pleasant story for all. But this certainly opened my eyes to see that eating does not have to follow one path. However, becoming a vegetarian or removing certain items from my diet never crossed my mind, besides, I would say to myself, I was Ghanaian.
The possibility of becoming vegetarian did not really come up until I came to high school in the US. Being very conscious about my impact on this earth and sticking true to “Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling” I joined the Conservation Proctors at Choate, the resident sustainability organization and was exposed to all the truths behind food production in America. It all made sense to me as a large country with a large population of very hungry people. However, with that meant large subsidies and a loss of respect for food. Food just didn’t taste right to me, but I couldn’t let go of my Ghanaian staples and so stuck with eating organic meats when I got the chance but staying very clear from commercial meat. As I slowly weeded meat and animal products from my diet at school, I tried vegetarianism for a month, which was certainly quite an experience. Lets just say cheese pizza became my best friend. I was very uneducated about what exactly I should be eating, and I just felt like I could not let go because I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the staples of food that I loved so much.
Long story short, one eating disorder later, a year of battling weight and suffering from severe dehydration and malnourishment, I finally made the decision to start a plant-based eating lifestyle because at this point, it was about my body–healing my body from all the obstruction and restrictions I inflicted on it and nourishing myself. My parents questioned my decisions, all the people we had over to share a meal with questioned my choice to stick to basic wholesome food because that meant no more plantains, and bean stews, and jollof rice. But what I have come to learn is that I can still enjoy those food but staying true to myself. In addition, it’s not just about my eating but my use of other animal products in my hair and on my skin. In the end, the identity of being Ghanaian does not come with a full description of what I have to eat, what I have to wear; I am identifying with a culture, it’s values, it’s history and its ideals.
Being Ghanaian is important to me but my body is what sustains me. I certainly have a huge journey ahead of me and I am going to learn to merge these two worlds together. I am going to have to keep convincing people that my decision is the best for me and is not taking away from any new experiences I can have with food.