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Interviews with Vegetarian/Vegan Activists
August 2008

Interview with IVU Regional Coordinator for Africa 

Emmanuel Eyoh - - is IVU’s Regional Coordinator for Africa. Here is an interview with him. The next item in this newsletter asks for your support for Emmanuel’s efforts.

When and why did you become a vegetarian?

I studied Religious Studies in school in Nigeria, and in our classes on Eastern Religions, we learnt about such concepts as vegetarianism, karma, and reincarnation. As someone brought up in an entirely Christian environment and family, I was surprised to hear about others’ religions, and I was fascinated by these new teachings and concepts.

While reading more about Eastern teachings, I came in contact with the Hare Krishna movement. I visited their temple to obtain some publications. As fate would have it, my visit was during a festival period, and I was served vegetarian food for the first time in my life. I had never seen such a wide variety of food. I later joined the Hare Krishna organization and started the Food For Life programme - - in Nigeria and West Africa. That was about 23 years ago.

You are the IVU Regional Coordinator (RC) for Africa. How were you involved in vegetarianism before that?

While I was organizing the Food For Life programme in Nigeria, two leading newspapers in Nigeria contacted me to ask if I could contribute articles on vegetarianism to their papers. That was how I began writing on vegetarianism for various publications in Nigeria. Soon, I began receiving enquiries from members of the public wanting to know more about vegetarianism. That was when I thought of forming the Nigeria Vegetarian Society.

How did you first learn about IVU?

When I was writing for newspapers on vegetarian issues, I needed some materials to back up what I was writing. I had a copy of the New York newsletter of the Hare Krishna Centre, and there were some addresses on the back of the newsletter; so, I wrote to the Boston Vegetarian Society and the Vegetarian Times for help. I think it was Vegetarian Times that directed me to IVU in 1991. I wrote immediately to Mr. Maxwell Lee, then the IVU Honorary General Secretary and he promptly replied. He told me there was already a vegetarian society in Eastern Nigeria, that I should contact the group and that he had written to the leader of the group to contact me. I wrote to the group, but there was no response.

A little while later, a magazine did a feature on me and vegetarianism. I posted a copy of the article plus my other write-ups to Mr. Lee. He wrote back to say that if I could organize a vegetarian society in Nigeria, he would support my efforts. I told him I would try my best. So, the Nigeria Vegetarian Society (NVS) was formed with encouragement and support from IVU.

Do you do your RC work full-time, or do you have a regular job, too?

I spend much of my time working for the vegetarian/animal and related causes. I am also in publishing and marketing, which I use to support the Vegetarian Society, the feeding programme and the Society’s office.

Please tell us something about some of your projects?

When NVS was started, we soon discovered that just holding meetings and annual events was not enough. There was the criticism that vegetarians isolated themselves from the larger society. Also, some people felt that the vegetarian way of eating was strange, secretive, expensive and not possible for the common person. Since I had some experience in organizing Food For Life events, I started the SEVA Vegetarian Feeding Project, a project of the NVS, as way of rendering some service to the community, as well as strengthening the vegetarian cause in Nigeria. The project serves free vegetarian food to needy and homeless persons. ‘SEVA’ is an Indian word meaning selfless service. We felt the name was catchy and would broaden NVS’s base of support, which it has done.

A few years ago, we extended the programme to other countries in Sub-Sahara Africa, especially the Niger Republic. Sub-Sahara Africa is home to the largest concentration of poor and hungry people on Earth. We hope to have a bus with kitchen equipment that can travel around Sub-Sahara Africa to serve free vegetarian food.

Can you relate some of your experiences in serving free vegetarian food in Africa?

The common people are not keen on eating meat. All they want is food, because they are hungry. Meat eating is actually a status symbol. That is why in some places when people eat meat, they make a big show of it to indicate that they are rich. The common people get to know us. As soon as they see us, they know we are bringing food to them. When they ask for meat, we tell them that we don’t serve meat because it is not good for their health. The people are more interested in the food than in thinking of meat.

How do you raise funds for events and projects?

Initially, I was funding everything by myself. Later, when I began the SEVA Vegetarian Homeless Feeding initiative, I began getting some support from the Indian community in Nigeria. In recent years we have been getting support from organizations such as HIPPO - - Sabina Fund -  and Food For Life Global - Our major supporter has been HIPPO. And, of course, IVU sponsored the 1st Vegetarian Congress in Africa which we organized in 2007.

What are some of the challenges vegetarians face in Africa?

I think the two major challenges are lack of facilities and weak vegetarian organizations. There are very few vegetarian restaurants and outlets in Africa, and this creates lots of problems for vegetarians, including vegetarians visiting Africa. Most hotels don’t have sufficient information on how to cater for vegetarians. There is also the problem of lack of availability of vegetarian food products, and when they are available, they are very expensive. Many vegetarian societies in Africa are very weak and some have no programmes and activities.

What is the way forward?

I think there is the need for vegetarians and vegetarian groups in Africa to step up their activities and for people to come forward to help by volunteering their time and resources to advance the vegetarian cause in Africa.

Can you share a vegetarian joke or food for thought from Africa?

This is a real story. Two families in Lagos are embroiled in a serious legal struggle over the ownership of a python. About 15 years ago, a trap caught the python in the bush. The python escaped, only to be killed by a village chief. The chief gathered other elders in the community for a celebration to eat the python. As they were about to slaughter the python, the owner of the trap came and arrested all the elders, accusing them of stealing his python.

Since then, the two families and their elders have been in and out of court. Though the two principal characters and some of the elders are dead, their children and other family members are still in court over the matter, which has gone before seven different judges. And each day when they go to court, they carry the skeleton of the python with them. No one knows when the case will end. At vegetarian meetings, we now joke that those that love animal flesh will be bound to carry the skeleton of that fellow animal to court as a punishment for his greed.