Being vegetarian in a meat-eating country

The other day I attended a training workshop for work, which was really interesting, and surprisingly fun. Lots of brain work… By the time lunchtime came around, I was famished. I don’t know why, but I envisioned a self service table with meats, rice and yummy side dishes, like salads. Well, that didn’t happen. Lunch was a box of KFC. How nice – now I  had to speak up about not eating meat and being vegetarian... sigh.

When you’re starving though, shyness takes a bit of a back seat.

So I promptly offered my chicken thighs to two hungry-looking guys and got another packet of chips to go with my single portion… whew, fooooooood. And then the dreaded questions came up: “How long have you been vegetarian?”, “Don’t you EVEN eat chicken?!!”


Sometimes I feel like personal food choices are right up there with political and religious choices. Sometimes…

It got me thinking about things – mostly, what it’s REALLY like being a vegetarian in South Africa today. Not in sunny California where there are veggie options for Africa (I was in 7th heaven last year – OMG, take me back!!), but here – in a meat-eating country, where ‘biltong’ and ‘braaing’ are almost like a 12th language, it takes a bit of creativity and brushing up on that vegetarian elevator speech.

Eating out

Gone are the days of going to a nice-looking restaurant on the fly. Now (thank you internet), I need to go through restaurant menus online with a beady eye  – which takes away some of the fun.

I’ve found that a number of wine farms don’t have proper vegetarian food options, which is really annoying considering where we live. I get that wine goes great with meat, but come on – where’s the creativity? Ever heard of tofu? What about “meaty” vegetables like portobello mushrooms and egg plant? And if I have to see mushroom risotto as a veggie option on one more restaurant menu, I am going to scream.

Yes, yes – Cape Town city central has a ton of cute little vegetarian cafes and restaurants, but there’s really not a hell of a lot in the winelands.  Having said that, here are a few places that I love, that DO think about their vegetarian customers:

5 Ryneveld Restaurant in Stellenbosch – AMAZING vegetarian burgers!

George’s Greek Restaurant off the R44 – 10/10 food and service, love going here.

The Millhouse Kitchen at Lourensford in Somerset West – top class food, pizzas and wine.

Stables At Vergelegen in Somerset West –  delicious veggie sandwich and lunch options.

Most pizza places, and Thai and sushi restaurants have a decent range of vegetarian dishes.

My favourites are Wang Thai for curries and wok dishes, Pomodoro for pizza and Asami for vegetarian sushi options.

vegetarian food

Grocery shopping

I loathe going to shop for groceries over the weekend. I never used to, but I’m a VERY fussy eater and it just depresses me to see the lack of vegetarian options we have here. I want quick and convenient, budget-friendly and delicious – tall order to find all three in a single shop; it’s almost always one or the other.

But, it’s no use complaining the whole time, so here are a few things I’ve started doing lately:

  • Stocking up on frozen veggies –  they last longer and I hate throwing away fresh food. You can also add these to soups, stir-fries and stews which go a long way.
  • Buying tofu – At over R50 for a little block, this isn’t the easiest buy. But then I remind myself about the cost of meat and chicken. If you’re clever and creative, a block of tofu can last about 3-4 meals.
  • Choosing more ready-made meals – I try to only do this once or twice a week as it can get a little pricey. Woolworths has a great range of meat-free meals, salads and vegetable dishes.
  • Limiting “meat-like” foods – I LOVE meat-free brands like Quorn and Fry’s; they really make amazing vegetarian burgers, hotdogs, nuggets, mince, ‘schnitzels’ and other “meaty” foods. The problem with these – as I soon came to realise after indulging in this new heavenly food every night, is that it’s processed food at the end of the day – no getting around that one. So it’s not exactly healthy to have every night, but I enjoy having my spaghetti “bolognese” or “chicken” stir-fry every now and then as a treat.

Buying weekly home cooked meals

This was SO convenient at the beginning of the year, because I finally found a company that cooked a range of vegetarian meals – HOORAY! (Most places don’t for some or other reason – especially the ones who design your weekly meal plan, then it’s all fish and chicken and meat. NO veggie options).

The problem with this is, there are only about eight veggie options and only four I liked, so that meant having the SAME food every week. I stopped buying these after two months and went back to super quick cooking at home.

But, if you’re keen to try ready-made wholesome and nutritious vegetarian meals that aren’t processed, I highly recommend FitChef.

Social eating

This isn’t as hard as it used to be – well, eating with friends, isn’t.

I think I’ve mastered the art of going to braais and just make sure I bring along a nice big (filling) salad for the table, some or other vegetarian “meat”, and try to eat something before we go so that I don’t gorge myself full of chips while we wait for the fire (VERY hard).

When it comes to other social situations, like work, for example – this isn’t so easy. I feel SO awkward requesting a vegetarian option for staff meetings and things like that, so I usually just keep quiet and bring my own food to eat before or afterwards. (Interestingly, I’ve yet to meet another vegetarian in the six months I’ve been at my company).

Final thoughts…

I’m happy with the decision I made two years ago to go vegetarian. It makes me feel good on an emotional level, but more than that – I feel healthier than I have in years.

South Africa is SLOWLY starting to get on the bandwagon when it comes to providing meat-free food options, but I feel like we’ve got a bit of a way to go still…


8 Replies to “Being vegetarian in a meat-eating country”

  1. I love all the vegetarian options here in the States – partly because so many people (not us introverts!) have made a stink about having better options. Either that or maybe it’s just where I live. The city of Asheville (that’s 20 miles away) is what they call the “San Francisco of the East.” You can get just about anything under the sun.
    That said, I want to start doing more research for going back on a vegetarian diet. Both my mom and John’s mom are of that older generation that has to have the “meat and potatoes.” When I tried to be vegetarian the last time, omigosh, I felt like I was “putting everyone out” who was trying to feed me.
    The other challenge is my Juanito. He is thin as a rail and lost 10 lbs of muscle last time we tried. I was buying blocks and piles of tofu and tempeh, edamame and any other thing that had gobs of protein. But no matter: he lost weight like I would gain it if I ate the same portions in chocolate. Haha. It was hard and it was especially hard on the wallet. The total cost of our grocery bill was more than our mortgage – by two times!
    So here John was eating as much protein he could stand, greens, veggies and polenta galore, and still was starving. He even once told me, “I’ve eaten so much fiber in these veggies, I pooped a sweater.” HAHAH. Dammit.
    I would like to try again. But that do you do for a guy who has the metabolism of Superman? Sheesh.
    Anyways, hope you’re well! Sending hugs! xo
    Cynthia recently posted…And Then She Spurted a Second Novel…My Profile

    1. Melanie Chisnall says: Reply

      Okay, that’s it – Asheville is now on the bucket list for whenever we get back that side for a visit, hopefully… one day *wish wish wish*. Lucky you!! 😀

      I remember you telling me about John and when you guys tried the vegetarian lifestyle for a while. Hmmm, I know this isn’t exactly healthy, but when Geoff and I were eating the same weekday meals, I’d try and bulk up his plate with some carbs, like pasta, rice or potatoes – that helped soooo much. Carrots, butternut and pumpkin are my go-tos for healthy carbs, they’re filling and nutritious – a good substitute in place of the ‘bad’ carbs. Peas too – those are also “carby” veggies. A bowl of lentils or chickpeas and beans just doesn’t seem to cut it for Geoff, he’s already tall and skinny – so I hear ya there. Lucky men and their bloody good metabolisms grrrrr LOL!

      That’s awesome to hear that you’re considering going vegetarian yaaaaaaay! 😀 xxx

  2. also vegetarian. I couldn’t eat in a sushi place – that smell of raw fish!

    Thanks for the Winelands options. Look forward to trying them.

    Another good option in winter is Woolies prepared raw soup. I freeze them. And cook an easy meal as needed.

    Chick pea flour or dried soy mince – also adds protein to pasta sauce.
    Diana Studer recently posted…Goats Do Roam at Fairview Wine Estate with our daily breadMy Profile

    1. Melanie Chisnall says: Reply

      Lol! I’ve never really thought about the smell of raw fish at sushi places – or I haven’t noticed it, rather. Please… it’s such a treat going to those places, I’d love to hear when you go and what you thought from a vegetarian perspective. 🙂

      Thanks for those foodie tips – I am definently going to try the Woolies prepared soups and freezing them, what a great, quick and convenient idea! I used to buy chick pea flour when I baked, but haven’t in a while – thanks for the reminder, and thank you for your comment! 🙂

  3. Wow this post really made me see things from a vegetarian’s perspective. I could really relate to this as I have a close friend who has these same daily struggles.

    1. Melanie Chisnall says: Reply

      Thanks Chandre! Yep, it really can get tricky sometimes, that’s for sure – the struggle is real! – but, I think it helps that more and more people are trying this lifestyle / way of eating… even if it’s flexitarian, or a meat-free Monday once a week. I love seeing that!

  4. William Holland says: Reply

    I could do it, Mel, but I sure wouldn’t enjoy it. LOL Seriously, good for you if that’s what is good for you. 🙂 You would love our area. This is a very liberal area of the country with many alternative lifestyles, and we have a large population of vegetarians and vegans, and restaurants to serve them. If you ever get tired of South Africa……

    1. Melanie Chisnall says: Reply

      Bill, I love your honesty my friend 🙂 Alternative lifestyles? That sounds like somewhere I want to visit!! I was so overwhelmed with the amount of foodie options in California and I’ve heard amazing things about Portland area, so I can only imagine what your part of the world is like.

      Lucky you!! One day, one day – we’ll have to make a plan to get that side again. 😀

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge