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Why vegans put me off veganism & the importance of a braai to South Africans

Updated: May 13, 2021

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I was born and spent the first 27 years of my life in Durban, South Africa.

I cannot stress how important meat was to those I was surrounded within those years.

A braai (BBQ, pronounced bry, like fry) was an almost daily event. Durban is a very hot and humid part of South Africa. With the warm Indian ocean meaning winter lows were on average around 11C/51.8F resulting in year-round braai season!

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Steak and chicken on a braai/barbecue

Braai’ing in South Africa is like an art form. Men especially (not being sexist, simply factual) took great pride in being able to cook the perfect steak. That steak often being the size of a dinner plate. But you were pretty shit as a South African if you could only cook a steak.

We would braai pretty much anything and everything, at least once. Sometimes it just didn’t work out. Fish, prawns, lobsters, beer can and butterfly chickens, whole hogs, lamb or sheep, potatoes, corn on the cob, mushrooms even a full English Breakfast!

A braai was common at home after work if for nothing else than it was a pleasant coolness outdoors compared to inside the house, especially so in the summer.

But a braai was also a social event. Families and groups of friends more weekends than not, meeting up for a braai.

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We run a ‘bring and braai’ system in South Africa. What is this nonsense, Elton?! Well, a bring and braai is where someone hosts, ie, provide the venue and the fire and will be acting as the braai master (more on that if you can be arsed to read further below). The guests then ‘bring’ what they would like cooked by the host and whatever they are drinking. In addition, each person/couple/household brings one sharing dish, for example, various salads, snacks and puddings.

It becomes a communal thing with everyone adding to the ‘pot’ for everyone's benefit.

In traditional evolution style, most of these gatherings follow the following format.


the host/s greets and welcomes each of their guests, with kisses to the mouth (true story). The host then introduces the newcomers to those already drinking, sorry, my bad, in attendance!

Initial chit chat

once all expected guests are in attendance, general chit chat ensues for roughly 10 minutes. At this point, the call of the braai is too great for the men to resist any further.

The call of the braai

Upon their escape/retreat to the fire, the men will gather around the braai. Usually, upon their escape, they will acquire alcohol-filled cooler boxes en route.

The tong master lights the fire

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On fire!

As stated, this is generally the host, but on occasion, if the host is unable to safely be in charge of flames, they will assign a braai master for the day. It is the tong masters responsibility to light the fire and cook ALL of the meat that the guests have bought. And god forbid anyone else were to touch the tongs or worse, something cooking on the braai! It’s an unwritten law that you don’t touch a man’s woman, car or tongs!

Roughly 2–3 hours after making their escape to stand next to said braai drinking themselves into becoming hilarious, the braai master will light the fire. This can be far longer, I’ve known some braais where the guests have arrived at midday and the fire is finally lit around midnight! It really does depend on 2 things.

1, how many kids are present? Kids mean the food has to be ready at a more reasonable time, especially so if young kids. If there were no kids present, then it depended on,

2, how much people were nagging or complaining to the braai master about apparent ‘starvation’. Eventually, a bloke has to concede.

The cooking stage

During the cooking stage, it is the duty of the guests, or the braai masters partner to always ensure they have a drink. A braai master needing to leave his station is only acceptable for one of two reasons, a number one or a number 2.

During this stage, the typical setup continues with the ladies either sitting around in the house, typically the living room, home bar or kitchen during the winter. In the summer, the seating area is typically, and some may say, deliberately, a fair distance from the braai. Apparently, because the woman didn’t want to smell of smoke. I call bollocks ladies! It was to have a good old fashioned gossip sesh!

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Cooking with fire

The eating stage

The typical method of eating at the gatherings is to eat the meat as it comes off the fire. Remember, there could be anywhere between 10 and 20+ people at these socials. Keeping this amount meat warm until everything just wasn’t practical. Everyone knows the best meat is eaten straight off the braai. So gradually, as more and more people/couples got their meat served they’d become more sociable with the end result being the braai master being the final person to sit down (along with their partner if they have one).

The getting off my face stage

Following a feast fit for royalty due to all the wonderful contributions, the first phenomenon is the loosening of the belts by at least 1 notch. Most notably an activity of men more so than the ladies.

The rest of the evening would be spent appreciating each others company and sharing laughter until the wee hours.

Not a vegetarian in sight

I can honestly say, that to my memory, I never encountered a single vegetarian, let alone a vegan in my 27 years of living in South Africa.

It was something we knew of but didn’t actually know anyone who was one.

It simply wasn’t a concept during my time in South Africa. Certainly not in my peer group.

I’m hoping that the above has given you some idea of how important meat was during my life in South Africa and to South Africans in general?

Now, what would you think if I said I became a vegan very recently?

Vegan exploration

After 47 years of being a meat-eater, I decided that I was going to change my diet to a plant-based one.

But let me say this very quickly. I make no promises. I have not said that I will never eat meat again. I may even eventually decide to include dairy in my diet. I’m still reading through much science on veganism vs vegetarian vs meat diets.

But for a long time, it was actually vegans that put me off even considering the idea.

You see, over the years, since my arrival in England, I’ve gotten to meet many vegetarians and vegans. Or existing friends have made the decision to change their diets.

Now, in every single instance, all of these people were days/weeks before their dietary change been posting pics of their full English breakfasts, of that perfectly cooked steak on the braai. Within weeks or months of becoming vegan or vegetarian, these same self people were telling off others for posting pictures of meat!?

Or they were getting into heated and very emotional arguments with total strangers online.

And the reason these people put me off is that I tend to get my back up when people attack my personal choices.

Don’t attack me for my choices because you will simply lose my ear.

Hear me out

So some thoughts for the vegetarian and vegan lobbyists out there to consider as alternative approaches.

  1. Simply say nothing. YOU made your lifestyle changes for YOUR reasons. For many years, despite knowing how animals were being treated, you happily ate meat (for the vast majority of people I’ve experienced). You don’t suddenly become judge, jury and executioner because you’ve not eaten meat for a week!

  2. Post about positive results you’ve achieved since making the dietary change. Maybe you have more energy. Perhaps you have lost weight. Perhaps your cholesterol has dropped. Sell the value of becoming vegan WITHOUT selling veganism. Don’t tell people to become a vegan because they too can lose weight. No one appreciates a pushy salesman.

  3. Educate without judgement. The reason I’ve made the switch to veganism is because of watching David Attenborough’s ‘A life on our planet’. Nothing in that documentary was intentionally in your face scaremongering. They didn’t show animals being treated poorly, Sir David just reported on his time on our plant. And how that planet has changed in just his lifetime. As a dad, something resonated with me and I realised I had to do my little bit for the sake of my kids and grandkids (if I should ever have any). I wasn’t horrified into it. I’ve not been naive for 47 years. For at least 40 of those years, I knew where meat came from and how. It’s not that I was insensitive to the plight of the animals, it’s that, like the majority, I chose to not think about the reality. Something about Sir David’s documentary clicked with me which I simply couldn’t ignore without suggesting I didn’t care about my kid’s future.

  4. Be kind! You have made the decision to be vegetarian or vegan for whatever reasons. Some people do it for health, some do it for the animals and others for the environmental impact livestock farming is having. That’s a caring thing to do. Especially so the last two reasons. But when you attack people for their choices, when you’re rude and nasty to people unjustifiably, then that doesn’t show kindness or caring.

Remember, most alcoholics, drug addicts and smokers only successfully quit when it is THEIR genuine desire to do so.

So give it a go, show kindness rather than judgement and see how you get on with trying to convince others the benefits and value being vegan can bring them and the environment.

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