I Bless the Rains down in Africa

By Kirk Lilwall

editor’s note: this entry is a cross posting from Kirk’s own blog.  Kirk is currently in Kampala Uganda working on a documentary film.  To read more about Kirk’s experience in Uganda check out his blog.

We have been having crazy thunderstorms over the last few days so I’ve been working away at the film and (clearly) neglecting my blogging/writing responsibilities.  Sorry.

As many (if not all) of you know, I decided to give the vegan diet a try back in January of 2012.  Well, it’s been over a year now and I’m still eating on a vegan diet.  This was a concern when I decided to come over to Uganda.  I wasn’t sure I would be able to avoid meat or dairy but decided that it wouldn’t be a big deal if I needed to go off being vegan for a few weeks if necessary.

Not at all necessary, turns out.  Eating vegan here has been very easy.  In fact, I may be eating even healthier here than I was at home.  The ‘fake meat’ option is not one I have here in the same amounts (I did find some fake sausages and chicken yesterday that is imported from South Africa but it is expensive and I will not be eating it very often if at all.)

Uganda is one of (if not the) biggest exporters of organic goods in the world.  Almost everything they grow here is organic (by organic, I’m talking about food that is grown naturally, outside in the sun and the rain, without the use of harmful pesticides, and without any kind of genetic modification to the seeds, etc.)  Coffee, pineapples, mangoes, papaya, cucumbers, squash of all kinds, bananas, plantains, wheat, rice, etc…  All organic.  In fact, we did a test and it appears that the most expensive things in the grocery stores are by far the NON-organic products.  Why?  Because they are imported from South Africa, Kenya, etc.

The other factors working in my favour is that there is a large Indian influence locally which means plenty of Indian dishes of the vegan variety for me to choose from.  The local food is also very much available in vegan.  The idea of portion control is thrown around a lot in North America (the concept being that we should be eating a more balanced diet; a steak, for example, should be no more than the size of a deck of cards rather than the size of the entire card table.)  Portion control here is just a way of life.  This is partly due to the fact that meat is expensive here (unlike in North America where you can get plenty of government subsidized meat for crazy cheap on any of your local value meals) so it is treated as a compliment to the meal rather than as the main course.

This is not to say that there is no fast food or junk food here.  There is a very large billboard that I will do my best to get a photo of that advertises for a fried chicken chain that seems to acknowledge that the food is bad for you.  This will be made clearer when I post the photo.  Coke is everywhere here.  As is, oddly, Coke Zero.  There are not any MacDonalds’, Burger Kings, Wendy’s’, etc.  Not one.  There are local chains and South African chains but nothing North American.  It’s awesome.

You can buy chips and crackers and many of the chocolate bars we are all familiar with (Nestle is, sadly, very present here.)  The best part about these things is that they are expensive.  The chocolates and chips cost as much if not more than they do at home.  Again, because they are imported.  The coke is bottled locally and is therefore very inexpensive.  There are also ads for it everywhere, largely aimed at children and families.  Coke/Pepsi/all sodie pop seems to have undercut the market making it the cheapest option once again.

Another that I am struggling to get used to is drinking bottled water.  It’s the only water I have consumed here when out at a restaurant etc. (my wonderful in-laws lent me a water purification filter so I can drink filtered tap water at home.)  The bottled water consumption here makes sense in a lot of ways (certainly makes more sense than drinking it in North America, frankly) but it still feels wrong.  One of the things that makes me wary of it is the local tendency to burn garbage in the yard.  Don’t like to think what I’m breathing in as I pass by; there’s a very good chance there is plastic from water bottles or coke bottles burning in those yards.

Anyway, the vegan experience here has been not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be.  The breads tend to be made of local, organic, whole wheat.  Some of the pastas are egg based but I’ve eaten pasta only once since being here and that was at a restaurant and they assured me that they had made the pasta themselves and that there was no egg in it.  It has been a wonderful experience so far as far as food goes.  Having so many fresh and organic options available to me pretty much at all times has been something I will have to adjust to losing when I return home later this month.