World Vegan Month: Being plant-based in Ghana

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For World Vegan Month, The Vegan Review is sharing the stories of vegans from 30 countries around the world. Here’s one from Ghana.

Kodzo Bob Ababio, 45, is the owner of Roots Yard Eco-Lodge and Vegan Restaurant in the Volta Region of Ghana. He went vegan in 1998, while attending the University of Cape Coast.

There are over 50 Ghanaian languages, of which I speak four, and I am not aware of a local word for vegan,” he says. “In Ghana, it is common to say ‘vegetarian’ but this always means vegan. In Rastafari culture, the term is ‘Ital’, which is a natural, whole food, organic, plant-based diet, often without salt. The word comes from the Rasta use of ‘I’ — to connect the I-self to the universe — and the word vital.”

This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.

Why did you go vegan?

I would say complex spiritual, moral and ethical reasonings, but also physical and health aspects. Once my mind was made, there was a moment I remember, when meat just seemed no more like food — it stank, like carcass, and I could not put that inside my body. Your physical energy, but also the spiritual energy of your soul is fed by your diet.

Man has a responsibility to himself, but also to other life on the planet: cause no harm. Life should not be fed by the death of another thing, when we are sufficiently developed as a society to live without this in our diet. (It is only in the last 10 years or so that I have come to realise the negative environmental impact of the meat/dairy industry.)

What was the biggest challenge when you transitioned?

Sourcing protein, and also having now to cook for myself, when I was sharing cooking with roommates before.

What was the reaction of your loved ones when you went plant-based? How did they adapt?

I was not living with my family so they did not need to adapt, but my father still asks me to feed our children meat. My family did not like it back then, but now in these health-conscious times, my sisters, brothers and uncle are interested in adapting part of their diet plant-based for health. My wife was vegan when we met in 2004, and our boys, aged 10 and 13, have been vegan their whole life.

Who are your influences?

The Rastafari community was and is my biggest influence for vegan Ital life. But our children influence us too, as we think of their future, but we also get inspired by them and learn from them.

What’s your favourite thing to cook now? Have you tried to veganise a local traditional dish?

The Boomshakalaka Burger we serve at Roots Yard. Everything we serve is locally sourced and homemade. We make our own tofu, and then turn it into the best tofu-bean burgers. We cook and serve nearly all traditional Ghanaian dishes substituted with tofu, but there is a famous local dish that is vegan anyway, called Red Red. It’s black-eyed beans in tomato stew with fried ripe plantain.

What vegan product do you wish your country had available?

Just a variety of protein, really. And vegan cheese.

How accessible and affordable are vegan products in your country?

Because of the Korean influence at the ports in Ghana, there has been tofu and soy milk for a long time, and it is common to see hawkers (people walking around selling stuff) who have soy kebab, a spicy tofu kebab. These are cheap and easy to find, along with traditional Ghanaian street food that is vegan, like koliko (fried yam and spicy sauce).

There are also affordable vegan restaurants in the cities because of the Rastafari community and the Hebrew Israelites. These are also used by normal Ghanaians because their food is good value, delicious and healthy.

What’s your favourite spot for vegan food in your city?

Sister Pat’s, without a doubt! Asaase Pa (meaning Good Earth) is also great. And if you are not in the city and you head to the Volta Region. try Roots Yard!

What is the one city you’d like to visit as a vegan?

Addis Ababa. As Rastafari, we always look to Ethiopia, and much of its traditional food is pulse- and lentil-based.

What’s the biggest roadblock to veganism in your country?

I think the economic situation for many people in my country leaves them little space to pick and choose their diet, often rearing livestock to supplement their income. Traditional diets and social expectations of what a good meal should be are also getting in the way of vegans in Ghana. There is a kind of social status of being able to afford good meat. But I think veganism is more socially acceptable now, and the health benefits are understood by many Ghanaians.

Olivia Rafferty
Olivia Rafferty
Olivia is the Assistant Editor of The Vegan Review. An aspiring Middle Eastern correspondent currently studying journalism at City, University of London, she is passionate about the planet, she believes veganism is the first step to solving the complexities of climate change.