The food writer challenging bias around race and veganism

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The food writer challenging bias around race and veganism

Bathandwa Nkambule, a.k.a. The Earthy Cook is a food influencer to follow whether you’re interested in veganism, want to eat more plants or just love beautiful food (hello, pie made to look like floral foccacia!) Bathwanda shares her feelings about lockdown life, vegan comfort food, plus answers some big questions about what it means to be vegan and African.

1. How have the past few months in lockdown been for you? What have you been doing to stay busy and inspired?

Lockdown has been quite a great experience for me. I realized after the first week that I was almost slipping into a depressive state and slowly heading towards a breakdown. The days before it, I had friends come over to ask what my problem was because my energy was so low and I was constantly exhausted. I was really glad I had the time to sleep for more than four hours and not be woken up by an alarm. Lockdown gave me plenty of time to reflect and redirect my energy and question my intentions with the kind of work I have been creating. I told myself that I’m not going to try and learn a new skill or sharpen my photography or come out of the quarantine with something that I have improved. My mental and emotional wellbeing was my only focus and I just wanted to see colour in my life again. I wanted to be able to say “I’m fine” and not feel like I’m lying. To stay busy, I went back to finding my hobbies again, which include gardening, writing and playing the piano. I stayed inspired by taking up a 21-day meditation course for manifesting abundance because it had a lot to do with dealing with trauma, identifying aspects of happiness that I have been denying, etc. I thought it would just be about attracting more money but, oh boy, it required a lot of healing, which helped me become closer to myself and feeling like I’m at home with my body.

2. How have you been seeking comfort recently? What’s your ultimate comforting vegan recipe?

I love experimenting with food and that is no secret, but going back to classic traditional food for me gave me comfort. I love flavours that are new to me because they give me a sense of adventure, but nothing quite hits the spot like pap, spinach and a sugar bean curry. Food that I grew up with gave me comfort because when I felt nervous and uncertain it felt like a hug and it was a beautiful way to connect with my son. I taught him to knead ujeqe and carefully stand guard over idombolo (dumplings). It was a way for me to cement our heritage for him so that he grows up understanding just how meaningful our own food is to us.


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3. Can you talk a little about your food journey to veganism? Have you found there is a perception of veganism that you would like to challenge? What was the reception from your friends and family like?

I must have been doing grade 10 in high school when I turned vegetarian. I was angry, so against “the system”, and was rejecting a lot of ideals that I grew up with that I felt were not serving me. I was beginning to question and doing a lot of research into African politics, our history, living off the grid, consciousness, spirituality and the like, and I bumped into the idea of going meat free.

My friends at the time thought I was doing it to lose weight, but for me it was deeper than that. I hated the animal cruelty and I was afraid of what it was doing to the environment and my body. Slowly over the years I decided to go vegan even though I had no idea what that even meant. I just found myself not wanting to consume anything that came from an animal and that made me go through a mini identity crisis. My friends and relatives believe that veganism is a white thing and I was often made to feel like I was not black enough because rejecting meat is apparently unAfrican, which is what I want to challenge. Plenty of our ancestors were pretty much living a plant-based lifestyle as we were agriculturalists, and meat was only consumed on certain occasions, and sacrificing animals was for certain rituals. A lot of our history has been filtered and this caused so much confusion for me because I wanted so badly to connect with this piece of who we were at a time when I would be teased for being a coconut. And felt like I didn’t belong with my own people. That term “coconut” still makes me feel unsettled because I feel like a lot of times when people don’t understand something, they reject it or believe it’s a foreign concept. I feel like we allow this mindset that black people are not multifaceted to grow, as if we are one-dimensional.

If my blog can give more insight and educate at least one person, then I feel like I will have achieved a lot. My aim is to help people who want to transition into veganism or want to introduce more greens into their diet. I aim to showcase the versatility, colour and flavours of veggies and to change the narrative that it is expensive, bland, boring and a European concept.

4. You also do events and pop-ups; can you talk a little more about these? How can people keep up with your events?

My pop-ups are inspired by the Seven Colour Sundays we had with my family growing up. We would be wearing our best Sunday clothes or coming from church, together as a family with no TV or distractions allowed. Seated at the dining room table in a room filled with laughter, love, colourful dishes, easygoing conversations and a laid-back way to unwind from a busy week. I felt that a lot of us grew up this way but somewhere along the line we forgot or could not keep up. So, the idea came to me to give people that childhood experience but with a funky element. Dress Up and Dine Sundays and Brunch in the Garden Retreat are intimate settings created to give us a chance to relive our childhood experiences of food, but with room for a bit more imagination. To keep up with the coming events, please head over to my blog and book your seat.

5. As a food stylist and recipe developer, what is the kind of food content you most enjoy creating?

I love making food using everyday basic ingredients that most people have in their fridge and pantry and creating a dish packed with creativity. I enjoy showing people that every recipe can be an expression of your personality and how you can bend the rules when it comes to cooking. This makes the cooking experience so much more fun and it’s also less intimidating when you allow yourself to play with your food. Using chickpea brine to create vegan chocolate sandwich meringues, or taking pap and making crumbed pap kebabs with toasted pumpkin seeds, or taking flowers from the garden and making floral shortbread cookies. I love the part of me that feels absolute freedom to flow and create when I’m in the kitchen.

6. What can we look forward to seeing you do next?

Lockdown has given time to pause and reflect about the intentions I have and where I would like to see myself grow. I have an apron line that I would like to launch soon as people were interested and questioning me a lot about the apron my friend Sammy Vundla created for me. I would love people to have fun and be adventurous and turn the cooking experience into something of their own. Who doesn’t want to look ultra-chic while serving a veggie cottage pie during the week?

I wrote an article for an international magazine that allowed me to express my thoughts regarding inclusivity and diversity within the food space so I would like to use my voice more often to address issues that concern me and highlight aspects I’d love to see being celebrated. I plan to become more fearless and unapologetic because my growth has taught me to stop trying to play small and own up to my love of creating food.

Keep up with Bathandwa by following her on Instagram and find her website here. Plus, look out for Bathandwa’s recipe for mielie bread in the October issue of TASTE magazine.

Jess Spiro Article by: Jess Spiro

Jess Spiro is a freelance food writer, chef and restaurant critic based in Cape Town, who can often be found in search of the next great plate of food. Follow her on Instagram @jess_spiro to see what she's eating.

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