Ten years ago, I stopped eating meat. At this time I had no knowledge of veganism/vegetarianism, or that any such ideologies existed. I knew nothing about animal welfare, environmental degradation, nor the health implications of consuming animal flesh. My entrance into what is called veganism came via a spiritual exploration.

For many years, I practised Qi Gong and it was through this that the awareness to stop eating animal flesh arose. Qi Gong is the practice of channelling life energy through the body, raising the awareness of chi through breath. Using various breathing techniques, one learns to circulate living energy within and through the body – it is a meditation in which you integrate your body in both the external and internal environment. It also involves various physical movements – gentle flows within and without the body akin to less rigorous yogic stretches. It is the aim of the practitioner to balance the poles of energy, commonly referred to as Yin and Yang.

In this process, the relationship with my body evolved and the deeper the connection grew, I became more integrated with my body. It was no longer just a vessel I was occupying, the body was me, and in order for me to heighten the experience of life I needed to transform my body into a temple of flowing energy. It became apparent that the consumption of dead animals was not a responsible habit, nor was it practical for the cultivation of living energy within the body temple. The death that I was ingesting was the death of spirit. I needed to put life in my body and it was then that my body and my spirit directed me to stop eating meat.

It is widely peculiar at present for an African to not eat meat. However, many indigenous cultures have adjusted to the growing Western influence with many traditional practices being adopted behaviours that have remained. The truth is, a plant-centred diet has always been an indigenous culinary tradition.

In retrospect, this reminds me of my childhood, growing up with my grandmother where what we call a backyard in the suburbs is basically a farm. To have crops on your land was normal – our neighbours had farms and everybody had food growing at their homes. As kids, we’d pluck fruits off the trees of neighbouring homes as we played in the village. We always ate directly from the earth and while the occasional slaughtered cow or chicken would feature, it was primarily for festivities and celebrations. We never consumed pigs and contrary to popular belief, meat was not a traditional staple. Farm animals such as pigs, cows, goats, sheep and chickens did not exist on the continent for many years as these creatures are not endemic to Africa at all. So embracing a plant-based way of eating was, in fact, a return to indigenous tradition.

In the context of Africa, what remains unknown to many is that for the most part, the animals currently being eaten are vastly different from the animals the indigenous African would’ve consumed. These came much later with the introduction of religions like Christianity and Islam. Their traditions and practices were adopted, to the detriment of the new converts. 

The unfortunate truth about the African is that many don’t know the foods of our mothers prior to Western influence. The food that we find ourselves eating today is not only deteriorating the body at an accelerated rate, but it is also undermining the psychological substance and simultaneously compromising our spiritual ascension.

Our expression towards our physiology is an extension of our expression towards the earth and all its inhabitants and the reverse holds the same truth. So let us worship that which God created and not what we’ve created or created in the name of God. The time to heal is at every meal.

Written by Derrick Shadrack