Chicken soup for the vegetarian soul

Posted by: Belinda Shange | Date: December 2, 2013 | 6 Comments

Two years ago, I finally decided to take the vegetarian route for health reasons. Since then, I’ve had the most interesting experiences of my life. I’ve found myself having to deal with awkward statements from family members, friends, colleagues and strangers.

One of the first things that people ask when they discover that I am vegetarian is “What kind of Zulu are you?” Okay, let’s take a step back here. What does my diet have to do with my ethnicity? Are Zulus inherently meat eaters? Where does this myth come from? Does my “Zuluness” prohibit me from choosing the kind of lifestyle I want to lead? Surely there are many more Zulu vegetarians like me out there.

Another thing that always puzzles me is when people ask “But you still eat chicken though right?” No! Vegetarians DO NOT eat meat (fish included). We don’t even eat the chicken stock (that you love so much) so please don’t slip it into our food while we are not looking.

Another assumption is that vegetarians are secretly insecure about their weight and so this is their way of slimming. Nope, we love how we look. We just don’t like the taste of meat (among other things) period.

Not too long ago, I found myself sitting in front of a “panel” of meat eaters that wanted me to explain why I had made this decision. They didn’t understand why I would stop eating meat if I wasn’t allergic to it. Many weird things were said during that “session”. I can’t remember everything (that’s how traumatised I was) but I do remember the following questions and statements.

“So you’re not going to cook meat for us anymore?” Response: No. Unfortunately I cannot personally do that anymore. Cooking is an exercise where I have to taste the food that I am preparing and so on that basis I cannot do that anymore. But you are more than welcome to bring your own pots (okay, maybe not) and get that meal going.

“We didn’t raise you like this.” Response: But you raised me to be an independent thinker. Am I wrong? (Somehow, we are sent to these wonderful schools that empower you to be a courageous individual and yet we are not expected to the come back home and exercise our newly-acquired confidence? Really?)

“You and I will never be equal” (yup, somebody said this to me in an effort to get me to understand that my choice to be vegetarian is overridden by their status as an elder) Response: I am 30 years old. At what point do I become considered a fully-functioning adult? And what does your status as an elder have to do with what goes into my mouth? Confused.

“Your generation makes really weird choices. We didn’t have all these problems when we were growing up.” Response: How is vegetarianism a problem? What negative effect does it have on society? If the norm is overfeeding animals for rapid growth, raising them in appalling conditions and overloading them with antibiotics, then let me be the happy weirdo.

And my favourite “I walked 50km every day to and from school for you to be where you are”. Response: I appreciate all that you have done for me. I really do. Now let me proudly live this life in honour of all your efforts. Because of you I am the individual I am today. The choices I make do not in any way aim to disregard any great thing you did for me as a child. I will forever love you for walking those kilometres but please let me walk my own now.

As you can see, the list goes on and on. On any given day I experience anything from people feeling sorry that I eat leaves all day, to people taking offence that I will not take their offer of a drumstick. And don’t get me started on limited vegetarian menus in restaurants.

When I made the choice to be a vegetarian, I didn’t realise that I’d encounter so much resistance. All I wanted was a healthy lifestyle and what I got was a gamut of fascinating and peculiar experiences. What more can a girl ask for? How often do you get a panel dedicated especially to you and your life’s choices? What a blessing indeed.

Image – Gallo


  • Thola

    Yep I feel ya sister, been vegetarian since the beginning of this year and I get those questions all the time AND I am proudly Zulu too!

  • Lisa

    I personally love the unabashed stereotyping.

  • Toopi

    You must tell them to visit their nearest Seventh-Day Adventist Believers, there are plenty of Zulu Veggies there. I’ve been a Veggie for the past 14 years,which is 40% of life so far and I can tell you it’s super.

  • Thobile Ntaka

    It’s simply un-African. Once an African baby is born, the first ritual performed is one where an animal is slaughtered to inform the ancestors that their baby has arrived and will need their protection.How can this baby grow to become an non-meat eater when their very existence was formally declared using an animal.. I joke:)

  • Belinda Gxamza

    My step father doesn’t eat a plate without a piece of meat. If you bring him food without meat automatically the food you bring is regarded as inferior. In most cultures meat is regarded important maybe because of its social element, whenever there is a celebration at home we slaughter so that the people can eat and be merry. I understand the link between culture and meat its definitely how as Xhosa girl i was brought up. That was before Genetically modified foods, we used to farm and feed the cattle’s that we slaughtered.

  • Be who you are..

    Just be proudly who you are. I am not a vegetarian but have plenty of friends who are. My only gripe is that they are truly offended when I don’t have time (and sometimes experience) to prepare yummy veggie food for when they visit, but then they refuse to touch “flesh” when I visit them and I have to eat veggie fare. Also, some vegetarians can be really sanctimonious. Leave it alone. Its a deadly conversation killer or an open opportunity for those who will attack (as you experienced, this can be quite vicious.) Ultimately its a choice and I think people should be left alone to be who they are. Unfortunately being vegetarian is somehow regarded by many non veggies as a declaration of superiority (rather like atheism – LOL).