Ethiopians are Fast(ing)

While in Argentina, I had some friends who were vegetarians and vegans coming in. However, given the importance of beef, steak and meat empanadas in the Argentine diet, they realized that their current dietary restictions were likely to prove untenable, and relaxed them for their time abroad.

In Kenya, the situation is similar, if perhaps even more extreme. Meat is an absolutely integral part of a Kenyan’s diet. Perhaps the most famous Kenyan dish, nyama choma, literally means “roasted meat”, and the means of preparation is equally literal. They take a significant portion of an animal (the appropriate unit of measurement is in kilograms), roast it for a length of time, and then chop it up to be eaten. There are side dishes, such as maize meal or flatbread, but the focus of the meal is absolutely on the meat, and not on garnishes, marinates, seasons or any other factors.

It is even more extreme in pastoralist areas, such as where I worked. One study I read found that 60% of a typical pastoralist’s caloric intake is some sort of animal product (ie milk or meat, perhaps occasionally blood as a means of getting a major dose of iron). Moral of the story: being a vegetarian in Kenya would be extremely difficult work.

The same is not necessarily true of Ethiopians. The most common religion in the country is Ethiopian Orthodox, a form of Christianity. A significant element of their religious practices involves “fasting” days, where meat and animal products are not eaten. They fast in this manner every Wednesday and Friday, and on many other occasions. In total, Ethiopian Orthodox members restrict their diets approximately 250 days a year. According, this means around 70% of the time, they are eating vegetarian dishes, meaning a lot of the most popular and best prepared dishes are vegerarian-approved. In other words, aspiring development workers who are vegetarians, Ethiopia might just be the place for you.

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3 Responses to Ethiopians are Fast(ing)

  1. Kathleen says:

    Love your posts Nate. Reminds me that the most popular restaurant in Kenya, for many years, was Carnivore Popular with both tourists and locals. Huge slabs of meat are brought around on skewers (if you have not been) and sliced off on to your own griddle “plate”. Carnivore was also known as having the best vegetarian menu in Nairobi – if you could stand the smell of nyama choma and all that meat being paraded around!

    • nate0316 says:

      Haha only in Kenya could a place called Carnivore have the best vegetarian food in town. I think that Marsabit County would absolutely have to be one of the worst places in the world to be a vegetarian though. On my one trip northI went without Sokotei, other than meat, the guys and I LITERALLY only ate ugali, chapati, skuma wiki and the biscuits I’d brought from Nakumatt. Thank goodness for chapati.

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