In Paris, the restaurant L’embuscade has become one of the ambassadors of Afro-Veganism. Located below the Pigalle district, this 24-year-old Cape Verdean rum distillery has been serving vegetable dishes prepared by Anglo-Nigerian chef Phoebe Dunn for more than two years. “ Cooking is always political. Gastronomy touches on the concepts of transmission, cultural heritage, the history of peoples and individuals.explains The reporter one who has been vegan for three years. Afro-veganism is a way to tell other stories about African cuisine. It’s also a disregard for the aura of superiority that surrounds French cuisine. Through my dishes, I want to decolonize our understanding of gastronomy and restore African pride in their origins. »
Because Afroveganism has a long history. Emeline Pierre is a lecturer at the University of Montreal and a nutritional research – the study of food. In recent years, her work has prompted her to look closely at the origins of the movement: “ We find the first traces of Afro-Veganism as an ideological current already in 1915 in the USA in Adventist churches, then, in the 1930s in Jamaica, in the Rastafarian community. For the African American population, the challenge was to rehabilitate culinary traditions that had gradually disappeared with the colonization of the African continent and the slave trade. »
- Saka saka (cassava leaf dish) and fried carrots from Chef Phoebe Dunn.
If agro-veganism has largely paved the way in the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom, now it is becoming more and more visible in France. Since 2016, after a trip to Brazil and the United States, chef Gloria Cabet, a native of Val-d’Oise, has been promoting it. “ In the United States, there is a real awareness of the dangers of processed foods that black communities are particularly exposed to.she said. Afro-veganism represents a return to the roots towards healthy foods that are an integral part of the African culinary heritage: roots, leaves, vegetables, seeds, etc. While African cuisine is often reduced to one continent and four countries, I strive through my dishes return to the various diasporas a cuisine that as many people as possible can identify with. »
“ Restoring food sovereignty is the basis for fighting racism »
One of the other major figures of French Afro-Veganism is Charlotte Polifonte, also known as Mangueuse d’Herbe. This animal advocate has a vegan recipe Instagram account with over 30,000 followers. An Afrofeminist, she became a vegan seven years ago when she found out about the existence of “ environmental racism ». This concept refers to the fact that polluting facilities, storage sites for toxic waste, are often located near areas where racial populations live. “ Between the scandal of formaldehyde-cured chicken shipped by Europe to the African continent, Chlordecone in the West Indies, or even the prevalence of unhealthy food served to minorities in disadvantaged areas of France, it seemed clear to me that restoring food sovereignty was a pillar of the fight against racism.she said The reporter. Going vegan also meant becoming aware of the violence that is being used against animals, the hierarchy of lives responsible for racist, homophobic, validist thoughts and environmental destruction. »
- Screenshot of Instagram account @mangeuse_dherbe
It is vital to the Mangeuse d’Herbe that Africans have access to an often overlooked part of their culinary heritage: “ Most traditional African dishes are vegan because meat and fish, if present, are usually cooked separately. It was the colonial influence that made the presence of animal products in dishes almost systematic. In the West Indies, for example, the habit of eating cod and lard, products presented as canons of West Indian culture, was introduced by the colonists. » “ Prior to the colonization of the continent, the diet in Africa was heavily plant-based. »confirms Emeline Pierre.
However, in the collective imagination, veganism is primarily personified by white people who are otherwise urban and wealthy. So, veganism “ white people’s things ? »how the creators of the Kiffe ta race podcast pretend to be surprised ? “ I would like to avoid focusing anti-specific or eco-friendly discourse on whiteness. We are imbued with the message that ecology and veganism are things [qui tournent] around whiteness »insists ecofeminist and philosophy doctoral student Miriam Baffou in this episode. “ As with most environmental movements, white people are brought to the forefront of the stage and turned into racists, invisible », protests Instagrammer Charlotte Polifonte. Example ? In 2020, on the sidelines of the Davos Economic Conference, the Associated Press cut Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate from a group photo, leaving the other four activists white, including Greta Thunberg. “ Plant-based food is not a whim or an invention of white people from privileged families who care about the environment and their health. It has existed for centuries in many cultures. »
According to Emeline Pierre, it is precisely because of these generally accepted ideas about plant-based foods that Africans do not always find it easy to declare that they are vegans: “ They must fight to be accepted both in the traditional white vegan environment and in their own community, for whom this choice can be seen as a form of acculturation, a desire to accept the values of the dominant group. It’s like being black and being vegan don’t go together. », explains the researcher. Charlotte Polifonte confirms: “ With the colonization of Africa by whites, blacks were reduced to the status of animals. This traumatic wound makes black communities less likely to fight for animal rights, as their supremacy over them has been hard-won. He can never be defeated, as evidenced by the racist discourse that reverts blacks to their supposed bestiality. Therefore, it is necessary to demonstrate a pedagogy to break down this hierarchy of individuals and show that all living beings deserve to be treated without violence. »
At l’Embuscade, the transition to veganism didn’t happen overnight either. “ At first it surprised our customers »says Patrick Ossie. The restaurant manager spent ten years making the menu vegan after meeting with chef Phoebe Dunn. “ It was quite difficult, because in the usual view, African dishes are necessarily based on meat or fish, fatty and spicy. We also had to deal with the masculine attitude of men for whom meat is a symbol of strength and masculinity. »
- Screenshot of Instagram account @glory_kabe
It also took several years for Gloria Kabe to make a name for herself in African descent communities: “ People didn’t understand what I was doing, they didn’t imagine what the food they always ate could look like without meat. Until recently, there were few black chefs, few role models who epitomized the evolution of African cuisine. Today, this gastronomy speaks to them and makes them proud of their culinary heritage. » Her work is so successful that the chef cooks for the biggest tables. She was recently invited to cook at the Cannes Film Festival with Brazilian chef Alessandra Montagne.
At l’Embuscade, vegans and non-vegans also appreciate this updated traditional cuisine. No one asks where the meat on the plates has gone. Every evening the restaurant is full and in the middle of spicy cocktails, in the aromas of saka saka, yassa and ndole, “ people from all over the world meet and find themselves in this hybrid identity. Here he moves, he pulsates, he is very joyful. We exchange and, above all, have fun »rejoices Patrick Ossi.