I’ve been getting asked if I’m a vegetarian recently, mainly because I fill my stomach up on peanuts and salads almost every day. Truth be told, if I answered yes, my Nigerian mother would probably start crying.
Actually she kind of already did.
One day, when my health nut persona had finished developing and my lighter being could attest to it, my mom came down to my room while I was sleeping. She woke me, distraught, and confessed her dream centering on me becoming anorexic. She couldn’t go back to sleep.
The weight battle between my mom/my family/the Nigerian community has been one without an ending. Ok, some times it does die down, but come dinner time when my food portions are smaller than everyone else’s there was an issue. But this isn’t about the past. It’s about my present eating habits!
However, if you want to know more about my trials and tribulations regarding my weight, here’s a body shaming video I made about it.
So let’s answer this question.
First off, let’s address a few things:
Meat completes every Nigerian meal
I remember the times I would make a fresh batch of rice because Mom told me to, but the stew would be old and old stew almost always equated to no meat. No meat means the rice was about to spoil because no one was going to eat rice and stew with no meat.
Rice without meat is Ice. Ice is water and water is not food.
In my culture, the quality and quantity of meat signified authority. The parents would get the most meat, followed by the older siblings, and the poor youngest gets stuck with a few pieces, if not just one. It’s a reason my sister and I were the designated food-dishers. We first of all cooked the food, and we were less likely to fish for the biggest meats in the stew pot.
But the boys would still do it. Even though it’s practically a sin to dig around for meat in our household.
I had no problem serving my brothers and catching meatthieves in the kitchen. But when I came back from college the first break, I had changed. I no longer wanted to serve my brothers. I no longer cared that they were ravenous for meat. It didn’t bother me that they were not leaving enough meat in the pot for me when I get hungry. I wasn’t that hungry for meat. College veggie-washed me.
Meat at Mercer is sketchy
Pretty sure you guys know that I go to this fancy schmancy expensive private school that’s robbing my family of our financial stability. The school predominately uses the money for education (specifically science education) because it SUUURE isn’t used for dining (shoutout to the $2,500 I spent for bugs in my pizza). My meat has been burnt, people have gotten food poisoning, a friend of mine witnessed beef patties being slammed against the wall to unstick them (which isn’t thaaat bad but…), and the chicken here sometimes just tastes rubbery and funny and full of sketch.
So I slowly migrated away from the meat cooked here starting from the Caf meats. I would still get turkey subs at Subway, but I wouldn’t really bother with the Chik-Fil-A sandwiches across from it because they were probably fried, and friend foods make me break out.
At Mercer I met friends, including fellow Nigerians, that skipped out on the sloppy Joes and grilled chickens. Then I got involved in Meatless Mondays, just because I was bored and needed a challenge and wanted to see if I was as strong as them. Turned out it wasn’t really much of a challenge because the meat here is gross.
And so… I just kinda stopped eating meat.
I’m not a Vegetarian
I still eat meat though. Thanksgiving day, I gobble gobbled up that Turkey. My egusi soup is still a river of floating cow. And when I go home, rice is almost always rice for me, and not ice (although I don’t eat white rice as much as I used to. You know, carbs and stuff).
I can bake and season chicken and fry fish and all that good stuff. It’s just not going to kill me if I don’t add it to every meal.
Nor will I cry and throw up if I eat something that was once mooing or baaing.
Vegetarianism is a type of diet. And I don’t like specific diets that give no leeway for cravings. Sometimes I just might crave some turkey or some chicken, but if I were a “true” vegetarian, I wouldn’t. I’m pretty sure vegetarians don’t even crave meat like that since they’ve gone for so long without eating it. I don’t crave junk foods as much as I used to because I rarely eat it. (My cheat days almost always consist of a bigger salad with -oh my gosh- extra cheese. Woah, calories).
Anyways, besides, being a Nigerian vegetarian is too much work. You gotta explain yourself to every single aunt and uncle (that aren’t even related to you, btw) that brings rice and stew to the table and asks why you have wasted the meat. Heck, being a black vegetarian from the south is enough by itself. Plans are foiled when your friends book reservations at a soul food buffet only to learn that you’re not black enough to scarf down on some chicken wings.
People just look at you funny. Like when I tell people I don’t like watermelon because it smells funny.
It’s just inconvenient. People feel that they have to go out their way to accommodate you sometimes. And the sad part is sometimes they…do. Especially if they don’t really eat healthy to begin with.
Some people I know deep down feel like they’re being judged. They may feel that they are offending a vegetarian by eating pig butt (ham) right in front of them.
On the same token, I’m sure there are some vegetarians that scoff at meat-eaters and silently judge their unhealthy eating habits and contribution to global warming.
And that’s why I’d just rather go label less. Eat what I feel like eating.
As far as health goes, there are pros and cons for both sides. Animals provide an efficient (and overabundant when used in every meal, some sources say) supply of protein, which is essential for building muscle and being healthy. They also, however, are heavy in saturated fats, the bad fats that contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and high cholesterol.
Luckily meat isn’t the only source of protein. Nuts, beans, broccoli, soy, etc. are all other sources of protein that carry far less saturated fat. Thing is, plant-based proteins are terrible sources of protein. They’re incomplete proteins and need to be paired with something extra. For instance, you can eat a chicken breast alone and that would be enough protein for the meal. You can’t do the same with beans though. You’d have to pair it with rice to make it a complete source of protein. And if you don’t then you’d need to take protein supplements to make sure you’re not protein deficient. See how complicated life is sometimes?
That’s why I’m trying to make it simple by not attaching a label to my identity.
I just wanna eat.