We at Afro-Vegan Society are familiar with many awesome vegan and social justice activists all over the world, and Eshe Kiama Zuri is definitely one of them! Being from the UK, this freedom fighter sees a different version of the oppression and exploitation we also stand against in the U.S.
And not only are they a fantastic activist, they’re a creative who makes content surrounding food of the African diaspora, self-expression through authenticity, uplifting marginalized communities, etc. Learn more about the multifaceted activist by reading our profile on them!
1. Where were you born and raised?
I am Nottingham through and through! I was born in my family home and haven’t strayed far from there. My work and activism is heavily centered and influenced by my beautiful diverse working class community that is struggling against the tide of gentrification and studentification.
2. What were your favorite foods growing up?
I have always been a big vegetable lover! I can’t go a day without my greens for sure. I love my meals to be really heavy on the veggies. I post a lot of my meals in my stories highlights on Instagram.
My parents are both excellent cooks and so I’ve always been blessed to have a great selection of foods growing up. Plenty of chilli and spice and always healthy and delicious.
I definitely would say though that avocados were my biggest fave growing up, but okra is a close second.
I grew up immersed in cooking, as I started working with a catering campaign and in vegan outreach from a very young age, so I spent most of my teenage years travelling the country and catering at events, so food has always been a really big part of my life.
3. How did your platform begin?
I've just always been chatting loudly about stuff online and in person. My platforms have been born out of that and identifying the need for spaces that prioritise and uplift Black people and disabled, LGBTQIA+, working class, uneducated and other marginalised people.
Vegans of Colour UK Facebook group was set up by me and Jude Coupe in 2016, (was previously his Manchester BAME Vegans group) as we desperately saw the need for a wider safe space away from the white vegan gaze. Then I set up the Instagram and Facebook page in 2018 as a way to showcase and promote BPoC vegan businesses and pages across the UK.
I try to use my Instagram and Facebook to be very much a representation of myself, showing the things that I am passionate about. You’ll find posts on all things from chronic illness, veganism, white supremacy, political activism, delicious food, and more!
On my website you can see more about the work that I do and some of the other platforms that I’ve created such as UK Mutual Aid.
4. What do you do outside of your personal and professional work?
I have the absolute worst work/life balance! I am glued to my phone and working 24/7 as a lot of my work requires constant support as I work supporting marginalised people, crises are always happening and there’s always a million things happening at any one time. I really need to get better at finding a sustainable balance but I’ve not found it yet! Full spectrum community care is my focus and providing support to those who need it.
I love to cook, I have a catering business, Yemoja Foods, and you’ll always find me in the kitchen as much as possible!
I’m blessed to be able to mostly work from home, especially during this pandemic as I am disabled so having to ‘shield.’ I have support with the projects I’d usually be running in person and am able to do most things remotely right now. It’s certainly bringing some new experiences, like hosting Notts Queer Pride online at the end of July for the first time ever, over Zoom and Instagram, which actually went really well!
In between working, you can find me curled up on the sofa with a bowl of tasty vegan food and a birthing book as I’m training to be a doula and it’s absolutely fascinating!
5. What's your vegan story?
I’ve been vegan for a very long time, probably nearing 15 years. Back in the day there weren't vegan options available in shops or restaurants! The closest thing to mock meat you could get was a sausage mix you had to mix with water and shape into a sausage shape!
As I said above, I spent a lot of my time with a vegan catering campaign surrounded by mostly white veganism and seeing how appropriative and toxic those spaces are. This was one of the reasons why creating Vegans Of Colour UK was so important and also why I stood for the role of trustee at The Vegan Society. This is my second year now on The Vegan Society council, last year I was the only Black person on council and it was… interesting. Now there's another amazing Black activist on council, Jay Brave, so i’m looking forward to seeing how this year goes.
I’ve worked in a vegan restaurant and shop previously too and was also the chef for a vegan deli and I’ve been running my catering business Yemoja Foods since 2016. Yemoja Foods was the first Black vegan catering business in Nottingham and it makes me so happy that now we have at least 4 other local fully vegan Black run food businesses now.
6. What's your best advice for helping someone go vegan?
If you are BIPOC, join Vegans Of Colour UK! People are always happy to share recipes and advice and tips there!
But also Instagram, as oppressive as the platform can be in so many ways, it’s also really great for connecting with other vegans and there are some incredible food bloggers out there. Some of my favourites for food that makes me angry it’s only on the screen and not on my plate are @rasgardens, @duchessnena, @taymermason, @sisterwomanvegan and so many more you can find featured on the Vegans Of Colour UK Instagram!
There is a wealth of vegan/ plant-based knowledge in Black communities across the world, we’ve been doing tings with beans, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds for time and having a Google or asking your communities is always a great idea to access this knowledge!
7. How can someone begin doing food access work today?
I’m not really sure how to answer this as food access work is a very broad area.
This could mean anything from cooking food for your neighbours to being involved in food banks to campaigning against food deserts and lack of access for fresh produce.
There are of course limitations on what people can do right now with COVID-19, but food banks and food projects are always looking for volunteers. My parents used to run an independent food bank and that taught me a lot in seeing the importance of food access in my local community.
I currently have a small referral scheme set up locally with my community organisation, Notts Activist Wellness, working with a local charity and local shop to provide people with no recourse to public funds with culturally relevant fresh fruit and vegetables. This is important because not only do food banks often have a lack of fresh produce available but also there are usually not culturally specific options. Having a choice in what you receive and having something that is familiar can be so comforting.
8. Who inspires you?
My communities inspire me. I am blessed to be in spaces where there are people doing incredible and important work. I try not to put anyone on a pedestal, as I think that we need to allow for the real human-ness, the messiness of everyone to be seen without forcing people to be only ‘perfect’ or ignoring people's faults. But there are many people I am grateful for and many people who I love to be working alongside.
9. Why is community important when it comes to Afro-Veganism?
I’m big on community. And I think Black community is so important, and that includes Afro-Veganism. The world is not easy for Black people, and one of the things we’ve always done is created our own communities in the face of oppression. Afro-Veganism is that and more. It connects us to pre-colonial traditions of plant based eating, it connects us to each other and it gives us a space to be free from white veganism and all of the issues that come with white veganism.
Although The Vegan Society created the term ‘vegan’ in 1944, this wasn’t the creation of the practice of eating without animal products. And although white veganism has built an ever growing platform on the appropriation of BIPOC culture’s food and spirituality alongside hosting platforms for vegan fascists, racists and oppressors. Afro-Veganism has still thrived, because it’s for us, by us.
Afro-Veganism has really flourished over the last 10 years and from the long standing restaurants who have been bringing us ital cuisine and education since day, to all the many many new Black vegan businesses across the UK who are leading the next wave of Afro-Vegan education and projects that are working on representation within mainstream veganism and making Afro-Veganism even more accessible to all. The community is beautiful. Thank you to everyone who makes it what it is.
Wow, aren’t they amazing?? Their love of ancestral food, their sense of community, and their passion for their work is incredibly inspiring! Don’t stop your insight on Eshe’s world here, support them further by following them on Instagram @eshekiamazuri and other platforms they contribute to. Thanks for reading!