• Saara & Ozzy

Meat. A sin or salvation?

"I grew up vegetarian... but not by choice."

This is what my husband comments on people when they say they are vegetarian/vegan. Majority of Kenyans totally get what he means. But here in Finland he needs to explain himself a bit.

He grew up in a fairly typical Kenyan home where meat is a luxury ingredient served on special occasions like weddings and Christmas. When it is time to celebrate or you are hosting a party, that is when you slaughter a goat or chop a few chicken heads in the morning for a slow cooked delicious meal prepared with patience and care. The “normal” everyday meals were pretty much vegan already: maharage (kidney beans), choroco (mung beans), mboga mboga (local spinach), sukuma (kale), wali (rice), ugali (thick maze porridge/”the kenyan cake” as my friends have referred to it). Once a while throwing in a few mayai (eggs) or mala (sour milk) or adding some maziwa (milk) to your tea, but definitely not every day.

Living in this mentality the idea of “being a vegetarian/vegan” is absurd. Turning down a meal of meat because of “being a vegetarian” is quite often funny for the locals. It can even be offensive. When I go to my husband's village and his grandfather kills the biggest chicken they have to celebrate us coming I would be quite rude to refuse to take the best piece being offered to me. Am I right Ozzy?

Here in Finland the case is quite different. Being vegan has lately become “the right thing to do”. I would dare to say it has become fashionable and socially admirable. I mean everyone who is cool and awoke is vegan. Meat eaters are ignorant and selfish people destroying the planet. (Maybe a bit exaggerated yes, but for the sake of dramatic effect why not?)

Finland used to be a “meat nation”. Meat has been an essential ingredient in my generation's “normal” diet. Our grandparents, who lived through the war years embraced the meat once it was once again available and it became a “normal” part of every single meal. I grew up eating meat at least once a day, sometimes even on every meal so 3-4 times a day. And I must say I do like the taste of meat. But I also like red wine and I don’t take it every day. I like sleeping long and doing nothing the whole day, but I don’t do that every day. I like many things, but they don’t have to be featured in my everyday life. They are more special when they are rare.

My own consumption of animal products has reduced dramatically following the trend. (Yay, I'm cool and awoke!). Being vegan has been made fairly easy in Finland nowadays as there is an alternative plant based product for almost everything available.I mean, you don’t have to change your way of eating or cooking, just replace animal products with plant based and voila! You are saving the planet!

If the entire western world would follow the average “Kenyan diet” of 80% vegan, 10% vegetarian, 10% meat there would be no need for promoting going vegan so much. But since this is not happening the individual choice of what to eat inside the “meat nation” does have a global effect. Which is exactly why I have started opting for other than animal products. But when in Kenya, I would never turn down nyama choma (beef) or kitimoto (pork). Here, I choose tofu.

Now I am curious to hear Ozzy’s view on this matter.

--- Saara ---

Kenyans eat LOTS of meat. Don't get me wrong. We have vegans too but the ones who love meat love it a bit too much! 😜

If you're a herbivore in Kenya, get used to raised eyebrows every time you announce your culinary reservations. "Not even beef soup!!!?" Someone will ask you as if the question is meant to instantly shift your personal and biological preferences.

We are unapologetically a carnivore nation. It's not a guilty pleasure, We just really looove meat. Many kenyans are not too worried about possible lifestyle diseases that come with overconsumption of meat. It's so easy to forget and ignore the warnings because meat is literally everywhere! At the next small food shack and in almost every household. Ironically meat is also a kind of comfort food that is associated with improved standards of life. For instance, an average middle class Kenyan consumes more meat than a poor guy per week. The reasons may be financial, but surely, when life becomes a bit better no one wants to eat herbs and fruits like an animal! These reasons to indulge are therefore valid and necessary. YOLO right!?

Interestingly, the middle class Kenyan also consumes more meat than the upper class citizen. I'm no food and culture expert, but in some corners of this continent healthy eating is considered a thing for the rich. Apparently, rich people like to jog, take yoga and eat measured servings of raw vegetable salad and charcoal water. Not true. Healthy food looks and tastes terrible. Again not entirely true, in my opinion. Here, vegetables can sometimes be a mere alternative. Something to colour up your plate and confuse your taste buds. 😉 And a lot of Kenyans are still struggling with eating uncooked veggies. It still seems like such an elite sport! (Like golf).

And yes Saara, I'm glad you know it's downright rude to turn down "chicken that died for you"! Local free-range chickens are great. It is recommended that you chase around to catch before the slaughter. I hear it's the fear that makes it taste better.

Food can be expensive here. The cost of food has easily doubled within the last three years. A kilo of beef costs around 4eur at a butcher shop, local chicken about 7eur, fish about 7eur. These prices are high considering current economic situations. It is, however, hard to know if our carnivorous tendencies will change. Again I'm not the expert here, but I know African carnivores follow their meat cuisine quite religiously and they have 1000 ways to recreate a single recipe. Not even climate change or high blood pressure will stop them! So Yes, a lot of people here are vegetarian involuntarily and grab every tiny moment to escape!

That being said. I personally love my local veggies and fruits. The fresher, the better. It is incredibly wonderful that you can find so much fresh produce from farm to table. There is still a lot of organic produce that taste way better than the genetically modified knock-offs flooding stores today.

PS: Nyama Choma (grilled meat) is an all-time Kenyan favourite. And it's the best in the world (please don't argue with me.) And local free-range chicken is great. Want a recipe!??

--- Ozzy ----

Buying fresh meat from the local butcher for barbeque in Arusha Tanzania
Saara's "real" brother and our "other" brother buying meat for choma (bbq) from the butcher next door in Arusha, Tanzania (2016)

1. Saara thought this is the perfect picture to sum up the contrast and confusion around our discussion.

2. Then she thought maybe it's too much and someone will get offended about the "dead animal" hanging there.

3. Then she thought maybe she is being "too finnish" and Ozzy would laugh out loud if she expressed this concern and he would say something like: "How can some be offended of a piece of meat? Does a hanging carrot offend someone?"

4. She asked Ozzy's opinion and Ozzy said: "Its FIIIIINE! Otherwise our whole point is lost."


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