If you’d told me that I’d be a vegan 20 years ago, I think I would have put you in the same class with flat-earthers.
Born and bred among the fisher-folk Luo tribe around the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, eating fish not only had a cultural value but also a tinge of ethnic spirituality. Eating fish was not just about satisfying your hunger or appetite; — no, — -we believed that tilapias were what you needed to ace calculus and obtain admission to the university.
But of course I would not credit tilapia for my admission to the university. That would be gross. I mean there were students who ate more fish than me but never made it to the university.
At the university, parties and bashes revolved around fish. We would get government loans for personal sustenance, around Ksh. 17,000 per semester (USD 170). We would then head off to the nearest town, some 30 kilometres away, to reduce our cash ‘to manageable levels’ by taking two hours eating fresh tilapia at the lakeshore. Many times we’d be the ones to pick the fish to be cooked from those that had just been harvested. The fish would still be shaking, gasping, and coiling — before losing the battle of life in the hands of skillful fishmongers.
But nature may have providentially pushed me to veganism. I was allergic to meat from birth. Immediately after eating meat, I would feel as if someone was piercing my stomach with sharp, prickly pins or needles. I would also get bumpy, ugly skin rashes all over my body. After several determined attempts, I gave up on meat. I cannot even remember the taste of meat!
When my mom served meat at the family table, she always gave me scrambled eggs.
Then my university roommate gave me a book. I remember it was called Ministry of Healing. The author was Ellen White. My eating life was upended. To an extent, my life, in many other respects, changed forever.
The author made a very compelling case in support of plant foods. It was a broad brush. Her arguments, made purely from a health standpoint, would have sufficed. But she included morality, sustainability, and spirituality aspects that I had never before given any serious considerations. It was an epiphany.
Yet not a single peer-reviewed, placebo-controlled, randomized control trial was quoted. It was all an appeal to good, old sense; a dash of logic and a bit of common sense.
I was sold.
My next meal at the university, and every other meal since that time, has been free of fish; free of chicken. It was a radical decision since the author herself cautions against adopting an abrupt change in diet; — -she says that the body should never be jolted.
I was in my second year of studies, with no girlfriend on the horizon; but I made a wish, — -almost a determination, — -to one day marry a vegetarian.
The book had also mentioned something about two meals being actually better than three. But I never gave this idea much room and space in my mind. It would be another ten years! The idea would invade my thoughts like strands of thread in a sisal twain that join together then depart again. Eventually, it ripened in my mind and I implemented it three years ago.
My wife fully embraced the two-meal shift. All our children have been on the two-meal plan.
We had completely given up milk earlier on. The book China Study by T. Colin Campbell was a major influence. All our three children have not been raised on cow milk. So basically our kids are vegan and on a two-meal plan.
Vegan kids on a two-meal plan!
Many would consider it unnecessarily restrictive, even irresponsible. Yet all has turned out to a very good effect.
I can’t forget this time we went home for the Christmas holidays. My brother and my sisters were all at home with their children. If there is one statement to capture the experience, it is that the best argument for any diet or nutritional program is the evidence in health and wellness.
I don’t say this to brag but my children were the heaviest, most active kids in the compound. My last born, six-year-old Willy, can do up to 20 push ups. My nieces and nephews, in similar age brackets with my children, were, to put it mildly, a tad lighter on the scale. You notice this when you carry them and throw them up in the air like all good uncles do.
Funnily enough, I was also very much surprised by this fact. I also realized that, compared to their cousins, my children were relatively free of allergies.
I have two boys (11,6) and a girl (8). All of the them weighed not less than 3.6 Kgs at birth.
My university neighbor always believed that there was some secret that we were not revealing about our children’s health.
We recently did a 10km trip for a family excursion and I penned the experience here.
But what exactly do we eat?
I thank God that I teach at a university. So there’s some flexibility. We take breakfast around 9:30 to 10:30 AM and dinner comes at around 4:30 to 5: 30 PM. We go to bed between 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM. Every single day.
And our meals are not anything out of the ordinary. Ugali is the main article of diet in Kenya. It is a solid version of maize-flour porridge. We take this with collard greens and finish off with millet porridge and some sweet bananas most of the time. Sometimes we do chapattis, rice, and beans or some other legume, like lentils. But millet porridge is always a constant.
We enjoy Githeri; a Kenyan traditional meal of maize and beans, sometimes with some peanuts mixed and boiled together.
Breakfast takes us for about six hours.
Then we take our dinner; the same breakfast version, but scaled down a little bit. We rarely take porridge at this time.
We absolutely love seasonal fruits. But fruits can be expensive and we don’t beat ourselves when we can’t afford. Sometimes we go for a whole week or two without some banana, orange or mangoes. We rarely eat fancy, exotic fruits like kiwis or pomegranates. We eat what is locally available.
What are other benefits that we have experienced?
Of course health would top this list. I have a generous medical cover with my employer but I can’t remember the last time we visited a doctor.
Then there is the saving in time. Cooking three square meals every single day is not easy. Most of the time it means you are either cooking or thinking about what to cook. I am happy that we have avoided this drudgery and we have some time in our hands to do our stuff. My wife is doing an online degree course and I also run some internet errandsJ
And our kids rarely complain of hunger. Of course once in a while, Willy demands food at the wrong time and we give him some bananas or a little porridge. But these instances are rare and far between.
Personally, I always feel full, energetic, and robust all day long. Sometimes I feel a dip in my energy level but it is when I have missed my break-fast because of some emergency or I have taken it in a hurry.
And the best part of the two-meal plan is the scale of your food budget. You will thank your wallet for it.
I know food is an emotive topic where taste usually trumps sense, but I would not hesitate to heartily recommend the two-meal plan.
With the total lockdowns occasioned by COVID-19, many families are finding themselves on a shoe-string budget and how to procure a rich variety of food in sufficient quantities and quality is becoming a difficult puzzle. Striking the right balance between survival and nutritional adequacy is always a dilemma.
But there are lessons from the South East. Okinawa in Japan is called the land of immortals. It was featured a while ago as one of only five blue zone areas, where the World’s healthiest people live. But there’s a surprise if you look at their traditional diet. Before 1950, purple-fleshed sweet potatoes alone constituted up to 70% of the energy needs of the Okinawa highlanders!
And you would think that the Japanese feast on fruits to live that long. Far from it. WHO recommends fruit consumption of 146kg per person and the Japanese consumed only 63 Kg of fruits per person in 2017, less than a half of the recommended daily fruit uptake. Their traditional diet had even less fruit. In 1961 for instance, they were consuming only an average of 29 Kilograms per year.
And in Japan, Okinawans, the healthiest of all, consume the least amount of fruit of all the 47 prefectures!
So what’s the point?
“Give us our daily bread” is a famous Christian prayer. Maybe at its basic level, what is really necessary for life is a simple, local diet that revolves around calorie-rich, nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates similar to the daily bread of the ancient Jews, eaten to sufficient levels, twice a day.