Being a vegan where food and fish go hand in hand

Friday, June 26, 2015

As my time in Ghana is coming to an end, I have come to realize more and more how much I love my second home at Africa's West Coast. There are so many things I'm going to miss and though I look forward to being able to make different food choices soon, I guess Ghanaian food is one of those things I'll miss.
It wasn't always like that though. There were times when food was one of the toughest things for me here. But how come?

The title already suggests it and I think many of you have already realized it anyway: I'm a vegan.
Before my time in Ghana I lived on a strictly plant based diet and was extremely happy with that. Then I got offered a volunteering placement in a Ghanaian high school and was totally enthralled. While still in Germany, I already suspected I might be forced to compromise concerning my diet.
One thing I love about the organization of my volunteering year is that I live with a Ghanaian family instead of sharing an apartment with other volunteers. I just think it gives you a different inside into the Ghanaian culture and every day life. However, this also became one of my biggest troubles; as a part of the family you get the pristine local food...

...and in the southern regions of Ghana food and fish go hand in hand. Our Ghanaian partner organization told us during the first days of our arrival that the vegetarians among us (they didn't really count vegans) should try and wrap their minds around the fact that they are going to eat the same stews and soups as everyone else, they could pick out the fish and meat. I don't know why, maybe I was preoccupied with other things at the time, but I never even considered that.
In Germany, it was a matter of principle for me not to eat anything, which has been prepared with fish or meat aka a dead animal. After all, it's not like I don't eat because of the taste (oh no, I loved the taste of it) but for ethical reasons.

The good thing for vegans about food in Ghana is that dairy products are hardly ever used for cooking. However, there is a hitch: If there is no fish in the soup or stew, then that's because there is meat inside.
I was lucky to have a family, who respects my food choices and can also understand, why I don't want to eat a soup that tastes like fish. So at home, my food is vegan, though it's still not healthy considering the huge amount of oil used for cooking. I didn't have the heart to tell them I would like to cook my own food because in Ghana food is an essential part of good hospitality which I didn't want to take away from them.
Another thing is eating out. Especially during the first months I often made the mistake to buy something at a chop bar, ask ten times if there is fish or meat in, just to spit it out again anyway. One time I asked the woman preparing Indomie (fried noodles) why there was fish in when I told her not to add it and found out that she didn't count canned sardines as fish. Same thing with my family when they added shito (ground dry fish with pepper and oil) to my food. Something like that happens a lot and mostly the people are really sorry when it does but it made me change my own behaviour.

Sometimes I compromise when it comes to eggs (though I'm not happy about that), but I refuse to eat fish or meat no matter what. Now I only buy food I am absolutely sure about. Nevertheless, it happens that I do eat soups or stews prepared in a non-vegetarian way in order not to hurt someone else's feelings, like I said food is hospitality.
I'm not happy with these compromises but I still make them, for several reasons: it's only temporary and this way I don't offend people. Before my time in Ghana, I couldn't have imagined that, thinking: how can a lifestyle where you choose not to harm offend people? I was much more idealistic in Germany and maybe I will be when I go back.
But in Ghana I have also learnt that not everyone has the means to be idealistic.

- Sarah

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