A few months ago I came across a peculiar website – “Vegan Friendly Products” in Harare. Immediately I emailed the contact provided on the site, and got a reply from Louisa Ndlovu. She explained to me that what they have is a multiple parts juncture: part wellness centre and lifestyle change coaching, part health shop, part restaurant (V Delights) and an organic garden. We were very intrigued and decided to change our plans to include a stop in Harare to meet up with Louisa and her family, and to interview our next vegans: in Zimbabwe!
The compound they have is beautiful: there is a large garden with shade and a few tables, and in the back they have some vegetables growing, such as tomatoes, cabbage, spinach, beets, and so on. They have a small shop with all vegan products, such as flour, nuts and seeds, gravy powder, cereals, dried vegetables, a few oils, and many others. They also have a restaurant with various menus, and a health clinic in the back as well. Their clients include many of Harare’s high profile people who want to change their life around with a plant-based diet, which is the primary drive for being vegan for Louisa’s family. Vegan Friendly Products is a relatively new business, but it already has a lot of clients and the people involved seem very passionate about their work. We were received with lovely pies, smoothie and tea (the tea was so good we ended up buying a whole packet for the car), and we chatted to Louisa and her sister Sicelesile about them becoming vegan, their passion for healthy living, and even an idea to have the world’s first vegan police force. We also met another vegan, Morathi Howie, who is originally from North Carolina in America, so of course we had to have a quick interview with him as well.
Katana: How long have you been vegan?
Sicelesile: This is my ninth year that I’ve been vegetarian. Initially I became a vegetarian, then I became vegan, I went back to vegetarianism, now I am vegan.
Louisa: As for me, I became vegetarian in 2008, and by the end of 2011 started being vegan, and by the end of 2011 my whole family was vegan.
Katana: You said you have three children?
Louisa: I’ve got three children. A seven year old, three year old and two year old. The two year old was already born when we were vegan, the three year old was semi-vegetarian then vegan, and the first one we transitioned between meat and vegetarianism.
Sicelesile: She used to eat KFC!
Louisa: “You are the one who taught me meat!” but it happens with kids. My husband is vegan also.
Katana: When did you start the business?
Louisa: We started this business in June this year, that’s when we moved into this place. Prior to that we had a shop, moving around, like a moving shop in our car with the healthy food stuff. Then we decided, as a family, me, my husband and my sister, to grow out this passion into something we believed could serve the world. We realized that many people are suffering from lesser diseases that come from appetite. If you control appetite, control the taste buds, and educate, at the end of it all we will be in a position to deal with certain things that even the medical field is trying to deal with but by giving people drugs. Drugs to just suppress symptoms but leave someone with another bad condition. So you’re talking about blood pressure, cancers, diabetes, weight loss, obesity, asthma.
Sicelesile: You name them! I refuse to call them diseases.
Louisa: They are lifestyle conditions.
Sicelesile: They come from negligence of the laws of nature. What we do here is to reverse that process. We don’t treat symptoms, like my sister has already said, but we do root-cause analysis, look at the whole lifestyle, including not just food but exercise, if you have clean air around you, if you drink the correct types of drinks, if you rest enough. It’s a holistic approach to treating diseases.
Katana: Sorry to backtrack a little, how did both of you decide to become vegetarian and vegan?
Louisa: For me, first of all, my husband was obese as I said before, and when he did his lifestyle change, because I am the one who spends time in the kitchen cooking, I was supposed to cook three different meals, one for him, one for the kids, and one for myself, because we all had different needs. In the process I developed a problem, I couldn’t conceive at that time. And as I interacted with many health reformats, I was also educated to believe that if I change my lifestyle, I would get rid of those problems. One day I said I am going to go this route, I am not going to cook separate meals for anyone, I am going to eat what he eats and the kids will eat what he eats. It will save me time and everything else, and if it works, then it works. And apparently for me it worked, I am a mother of three, I would have just been a mother of one then, if it wasn’t for my lifestyle change. Doctors told me my ovaries were destroyed and I couldn’t conceive, but once I did my lifestyle change, it worked for me. My husband was obese, you saw him, now he is skinny. Because this thing worked for us as a family, we stayed with my sister’s choice. Initially when she came from the UK, we didn’t support this thing. We thought she was weird.
Sicelesile: They hated holidaying with me! They complained every single moment, like “you’re so weird, we’ve paid so much money just eating these leaves.”
Louisa: What happened was that we thought we had one common ground. We understand how we should eat and how we should live. Why not come up with a business model that will help serve the world. Since it has worked for all of us, then we decided to take it to greater heights. For me and my sister, we already abandoned the former employment, so we are full-time here. Our passion is here, our life is here. My sister used to work for a big company, but she left. I used to be the head of IT, and I left. And it’s working out for us, many people come through here, through the wellness center, we have clients which give us repeat business, and people give us good testimonies.
Sicelesile: As for me, I became vegetarian when I was in England. I’ve always been small-framed but I’ve always had a problem with a big belly and I had terrible skin. I had acne, and I used to spend so much money on make-up. When I decided to become healthy, I was a McDonalds and KFC addict. I had a loyalty card for Nandos! I loved my meat and I worshiped it. But I realized that the direction my life was going was not good, and I started learning more about healthy living. Growing up I always learned about healthy principles, but I thought “That’s just for the religious people, not me.” At this point in my life I decided to try it to see if it worked. And when I did, my life changed. I used to hit the gym every morning and evening and run 3-6 miles a day, but it wasn’t really registering in my belly. But when I became vegetarian, things changed, and when I became vegan, it became even better. Now I don’t even wear any make-up, and I don’t spend so much money on it, instead it goes to the nuts and fruits and vegetables that I enjoy eating. Being here for me is like a dream come true. I love being a software engineer, but this is my passion. This is one of our fundamental beliefs, that we treat our body as a temple, so when we are here, it is first a health ministry, only then a business. We enjoy seeing every single person that walks through this gate, showing them the love and seeing them recover. This is priceless, it’s a hobby, it’s a passion, it’s a calling for us.
Jonathan: Does Zimbabwe produce most of its own food?
Louisa: It’s kind of small-scale, so it’s not sufficient for everyone’s needs. We basically depend mainly on South African products, for example take sunflower seeds. We grow them locally, but because of the economical situation, we don’t have the equipment to process them. What happens is we farm the seeds here locally, then they send it over to that side, then we buy them from that side, because we cannot process them on our own. Things like sesame seed, now some local farmers are doing those for us, so we can get those locally, the moon bean, they are growing it locally, but it is probably an issue of educating people, what they need to farm. People have the mindset to farm more profitable crops, because it will give the farmers more money, but now as we educate many of the people who are visiting our center, they are willing to partner with us in farming what we think is the right things to grow.
Jonathan: Growing things that people can eat straight away. What happens in Europe and America is the land is used to grow huge amounts of corn, only to be fed to farm animals, instead of growing directly food for consumption.
Katana: What would you hope for in the future for the people of Zimbabwe in terms of what they eat?
Louisa: What I realize is that the world has become so fast these days. People like chasing money, but one thing that can bring down a business man is sickness. Once you’re sick, you can’t continue to chase that money. So because of that love for money, people are willing to do a lifestyle change, to reform and to see their enterprises grow. Like I said before, we don’t have ordinary people coming here, so because we have those influential people here, one of the guys was even saying he would invite us to their spheres of influence. Once you get through the “big bodies”, the message will spread on a larger scale. One of the projects we are looking at currently, although it is still in its infancy, is driver fatigue. Because we were both in IT, we can partner with other people in IT and look into reducing road carnage. According to Zim statistics, 85% of road carnage is linked to driver fatigue and human error. We are saying, as vegan friendly, we know certain foods trigger tiredness, fatigue, dizziness, and all those kinds of things. We are coming in with the mindset that if a driver follows our dietary requirements, they can be free from fatigue. The companies of those trucks transporting between Zimbabwe and South Africa would rather have their drivers on a vegan diet than be involved in putting in special gadgets that get triggered by driver’s fatigue and get sent to the central system, and it becomes a criminal offense. We are hoping to get a breakthrough.
Sicelesile: The part she left out is that we want to be the ones supplying those meals to the drivers, so that we can deliver them at strategic points, a meal that’s full of vitality and that will actually keep you awake.
Jonathan: That is an argument for going vegan I haven’t heard before.
Sicelesile: The first thing we are hoping is to start with the police vehicles, suppose like this December. Let them be on the program, have the drivers eating our meals. They could have two samples, the people on the program, and people that are not, and evaluate afterwards.
Jonathan: So we have the world’s first vegan police force!
Louisa: Hopefully! We believe in this, and we’ve put so much effort into it.
Sicelesile: It should change the nation.
Katana: What about you, Morathi, how long have you been vegan?
Morathi: I’ve been vegan since I was 20 years old, about 17 years. I turned 37 on the 22nd of October.
Katana: How did you become vegan?
Morathi: I became vegan when I went off to college in North Carolina Central University. It was the path that chose me. Some friends grabbed me up and they said “Hey, did you know that you can eat a better way, did you know that this is not good for you?” Of course, I denied it at first, and then the truth hits you once they teach you about it, so then I learned, as I was with my friends, how to transition into being a vegan.
Katana: How do you find being vegan in Harare?
Morathi: It’s excellent. Basically all the food is organic, mostly. It’s better than any food that you can get outside or any other country that I’ve experienced so far. I love it, and they (pointing to Louisa) made it so much easier, as they opened up a new restaurant (V Delights). I think that once you put it in your mind that you don’t really need the food supplements, you can do the fruits, everything that comes out of the ground, and you can lead a very good vegan life here.
Katana: And have you travelled a lot around other African countries?
Morathi: Yes, I’ve been to Zambia, I’ve been to Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt, a little bit of Dubai, and of course Zimbabwe.
Katana: How do you think Zimbabwe compares in terms of vegan eating to other countries in your experience?
Morathi: If Zimbabwe could get the fresh squeezed juices like Egypt has, then they’re going to be amazing, but we are going to help Zimbabwe to get to it. But especially the living here, it’s the most peaceful country that I’ve been in my whole entire life. Very very peaceful people: people make the environment and this environment is heaven on earth, I love it.