BIPOC Portraits is a series in which Best of Vegan contributors Val & Mani Latifi of Plant-Based Passport profile one BIPOC vegan creator each week over the course of 16 weeks, to shed light on the unique challenges BIPOCs face in making the decision to embrace veganism. For BIPOCs, the prevailing narrative that veganism is a white-dominated movement can often mean a perceived loss of cultural identity. The hope of this profile series is to make veganism a little less lonely for BIPOCs and to give courage to vegan-curious BIPOCs out there. In the second installment of BIPOC Portraits, Ebenezer Odeniyi of Veganezer shares his journey to veganism as a Nigerian-Brit. He also provides a delicious recipe for Jollof Rice.
[The acronym BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color]
Ebenezer Odeniyi is a driver for Sainbury’s in London, UK. He went vegan after he lost someone close to him from cancer. He was inspired by the many health benefits the lifestyle offered, as well as the contribution to the well-being of animals. When he’s not cooking up a storm in the kitchen, he enjoys dancing and listening to music. He’s currently working on an eBook and a delivery service. Follow Ebenezer: Instagram | TikTok | Facebook
When you first went vegan, did you see the vegan community as diverse? Did you see yourself as having a place in the vegan community as a BIPOC?
Not really. I didn’t see much food from other cultures, which at first made it hard when I changed over to the vegan side. But after looking and researching, I was able to pick bits and pieces from others and make meals I used to have before the change. Showcasing this was hard at first; I was always second-guessing myself. As time went on, I remembered I went vegan for myself, so in theory, I was just showcasing what I ate.
To be honest, I didn’t see myself having a place in the vegan community. I didn’t show my face on my page for a year. I was worried about being judged.
To be honest, I didn’t see myself having a place in the vegan community. I didn’t show my face on my page for a year. I was worried about being judged. With time I worked hard to make more slots for myself and others, to show their food from their culture. For this I am happy, but we still have a lot of work to do.
Did you have any fears or reservations about going vegan? Did you feel like you might lose part of your cultural identity in your transition to veganism?
Yes and no. I was determined to make some of my favorite vegan meals. Searching for food that I can relate to, what I ate and where I come from, was hard. I didn’t feel like I would lose my cultural identity. Most foods from Nigeria are vegan or easily adaptable. Living in London, I was able to still find most ingredients needed for the meals. The only thing missing were my favorite meals and snacks, but over time I learned to make these and find better alternatives.
Did you worry about how your friends and family would react to your decision to go vegan? And how did they react?
No, as at the time I suffered a huge loss and that was the main reason behind the change. Some people laughed and didn’t think I could do it, as I was a big eater before the change. So it was hard for them to see me just stop.
Did you have challenges finding vegan substitutes to make your cultural dishes? What substitutes did you make?
Not really, as I live in London and there are so many substitutions close by. I went through a lot of mushrooms and seitan to start off.