In Nigeria, the building blocks of every meal is adorned with an assortment of meat, with many Nigerian cultures considering meat as the "crowning glory" of any meal.
Although many Nigerian meals are made with plants and vegetables, they are often heavy in carbohydrates and cooking styles often lead to loss of nutrients. To balance nutritional needs, animal protein is a Nigerian favourite. Red meat, chicken, all seafood, name it — even dogs and snakes are eaten in some parts of the country.
“Nigerians want to see some chunk [of meat] on top of their rice. They just want to see one big chunk. Or one or two or three. That makes the meal complete,” Hakeem Jimo, who owns a vegetarian restaurant in Lagos, told The World in 2019.
Scientists and doctors have long spoken of the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle— everyone’s been told to “eat your fruits and vegetables” at some point in their lives.
Studies have also shown the health benefits of being vegetarian to include: reduced risk of cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, and hypertension.
Clearly, Nigeria is not a vegetarian country, much less a vegan one — where you cut all animal products, including dairy and eggs, out of your diet. That then begs the question: can anyone living in Nigeria be a vegetarian?
Short answer: yes. But it will require some dedication and knowledge. So we've put together some top tips to help you get started on your journey.
1. Knowledge really is power
Being vegetarian is not just about what you eat — it’s a lifestyle, and the more you know about the lifestyle, the better.
Nigeria has a growing vegan and vegetarian community and getting familiar with meal choices, restaurants, vegetarian friendly stores, brands, and vegan groups is a great way to get familiar with vegetarianism in Nigeria.
Look up recipes online and explore different meat substitutes. Knowing what to eat and how best to fit it into your current lifestyle is half the battle. (If you’re in Lagos, Veggie Victory is a vegan restaurant in Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi to check out).
2. Just start
Cutting out meat and animal products from your diet might not be the easiest thing to do and you might be concerned about how best to start. Should you go cold turkey? Or is it better to slowly transition into a vegetarian diet?
There is no one right answer. The most important thing is to just start — take it at your own pace. There's no right or wrong way to "go vegetarian" — and it doesn't have to be 100% of your meals all at once. You can make the switch all at once if you're up for the challenge, or maybe start with eating only vegetarian meals on certain days of the week. Pick one or two days that work around your lifestyle to be your "veggie days" at first, so the whole thing feels like daunting, and then ramp up from there.
3. Plan everything plannable
As we’ve already established, Nigeria is not the most vegetarian- or vegan-friendly country so it's important that you plan accordingly. From sourcing your food ingredients to work lunches and dinner dates, if you can plan ahead, do it.
You can start with simple vegetarian meals with ingredients that aren’t hard to find and are easy to make yourself. Akara and Moi-moi, which are made from bean paste, are a good starting point. Bole is another popular vegetarian option that is easy to make.
4. Swap ingredients
Depending on the kind of vegetarian meals you prefer, you may be able to still keep some meals you’re used to by replacing the protein source with vegetarian options.
For example, you can replace meat, poultry, and fish with tofu, lentils, textured vegetable protein, and mushrooms. You can also replace milk with soy, almond, or coconut milk, and use pureed banana, sweet potato, or applesauce instead of eggs in baking.
5. Become an expert at reading labels
A lot of our favourite groceries and menu items contain animal ingredients and it may be easy to miss, if you are not paying attention. Be sure to read labels carefully to identify these ingredients and other common sources of animal products.
According to Healthline, some of these lesser-known but popular sources of animal protein include:
- Honey: It comes from bees and can be found in beauty products, baked foods, and flavoured teas. If the vegan lifestyle is what you’ve chosen, then you want to avoid honey for sure.
- Gelatin: it is made from animal collagen and can be found in processed foods like fruit snacks and marshmallows.
- Whey: It is a byproduct from making cheese and can be found in some workout supplements, breads, and candies.
Switching to a vegetarian diet should be relatively simple for most Nigerians but it might be helpful to talk to your doctor about such a big lifestyle change. Better to be safe than sorry, right? Besides more insight and contextual guidance never hurt anyone.
Now go get your vegetarian on! And if you need a bit more inspiration to get you going, download the Global Citizen app, where you can take our challenge to go vegetarian for a week — to help get you started on your journey!