ULIMWENGU: Maybe it’s time we tried to eat plant meat as the doctor recommends

Friday November 15 2019

The Impossible Burger 2.0, the new and improved version of the company's plant-based vegan burger that tastes like real beef is introduced at a press event during CES 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 7, 2019. PHOTO | ROBYN BECK | AFP


We will soon be 9,000,000,000, we are told, that is nine billion souls on earth, and we will have to continue finding a way to fill all those stomachs. It will not be an easy task, and it never has.

Humanity has always struggled to find the wherewithal to sustain its alimentary needs, only the burden gets heavier with every single mouth added to the swelling numbers.

The increase in the number of human beings has been on this inexorable march, partly because we have not only managed to do away with many killer ailments that used to decimate populations but also discovered ways to grow the food that we consume.

So, in a way, our progress on some fronts has engendered problems in others, such as this one of how to feed growing populations. We are all too aware of the battles fought on a daily basis, especially on the African continent, to keep our people fed.

But there are other concerns as well. Apparently if your diet consists mainly of meat, you are more likely to be affected by lack of something to eat than if it doesn’t, and you may want to blame climate change for that. Land required for raising animals will keep diminishing and losing productivity.

Now, it looks like we are all being called upon to become vegetarians and heed the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi, who famously said that the human body should not be made a cemetery for animals.


Some people are already suggesting that meat does not have to come from animals only. It can also come from plants, which has me thinking of how this could be done.

Plants for meat? Or, meat from plants? These are perhaps natural questions for many of us who have been raised to understand that meat has to come from animals, birds or fish.

Such are our alimentary discriminations that there are some who eat beef but cannot think that bird, fish, snake can be meat too. (Here I am not even talking of our cannibalistic brothers and sisters wherever they may be).

Honestly, I find the idea of plant meat rather odd. I love beans of all types, because I was taught somewhere that they constitute a wholesome meal, comprising protein, starch, fat, fibre, sugar; and they are chewable even when one has a toothache. But to think of bean-meat is another kettle of fish, if you see what I mean. Or carrot-meat; or eggplant-meat; or spinach-meat; or okra-meat.

Just think about what makes some of us crazy about nyama-choma, or chiza-nyama, as they say in the South.

Beef or goat meat roasted on a charcoal grill emits a certain appetising aroma that tickles your nostrils and causes your palate to salivate. It makes for great company and camaraderie, especially when irrigated with a pint or two. Many of us are used to this, and I wonder whether that could change any time soon.

What shall the Maasai think when they are told that meat grows on trees?

What will the Batswana believe, or the Herero, or the Somali, or the Dinka, to mention but a few of our carnivorous tribesmen?

Evolutionary trends work themselves through millennia, so we should not expect too many vegans among these communities in our lifetime.

Two thousand years hence will be another matter altogether. At the pace of climate change that we are experiencing today, it should not be difficult to foresee a future with radically modified community diets.

For now, however, the new movement from animal meat to plant meat seems like what doctor ordered. For one, it will certainly save millions of animals from unnecessary slaughter, and that should surely please animal lovers as well as the spirit of Mahatma.

Secondly, it will wean all of us from eating habits that are known to cause obesity, hypertension and a host of other disease that we so conveniently call ‘life-style’ when we should properly call ‘death-style’ because that is the style of our death.

This should be more pertinent in our countries, where we have had the misfortune of harvesting the nefarious effects of affluent societies in the middle of our crushing poverty, much like the man who suffers from a terrible hangover when he cannot afford even the price of a keg of beer.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]