Moroccan vegetarians and vegans are a minority community that faces discouraging societal pressure.
In a world where the overwhelming majority of people consume meat on a regular basis, some communities have chosen to eliminate it from their diets either for religious purposes, such as some within South Asian societies, or for health, environmental, or ethical purposes. Experts estimate that approximately 5% of people worldwide are vegetarian or vegan.
In Morocco, where society deems meat fundamental in a dish, the practices of vegetarianism and veganism are quite rare. Those who choose to become vegetarians or vegans in Morocco face numerous struggles.
In an interview with Morocco World News (MWN), Moroccan vegetarians and vegans explained their reasons for changing their diets and voiced the challenges they face as a result.
How a love for animals encourages vegetarianism or veganism
Taking care of a pet for an extended period of time may change one’s perspective on consuming the meat of animals. In the case of Hanane Hajji, a Moroccan vegan activist and blogger from Agadir, the amount of love she feels for her cat caused her to develop a soft spot for all animals.
“I started asking myself questions of this sort: What difference is there between Oggy and a cow or a goat?”
Upon conducting research on animal cruelty, Hanane decided to eliminate all animal products from her diet. She stopped eating meat, dairy products, honey, and eggs.
The activist emphasized that veganism is not a mere diet, saying that “it is a lifestyle.” The young vegan’s closet does not contain any items made out of silk, leather, fur, or wool, and she also makes sure to buy makeup that has not been tested on animals.
Hanane’s blog, VeganHanane, is the fruit of research and experience. She uses her platform to promote veganism, explain it to those who still see it as a blurry notion, and help those wishing to join the vegan community. Through lists of dishes, vegan recipes, cruelty free makeup brands, and vegan-friendly restaurants in Morocco, she guides her audience to a healthy vegan lifestyle.
While living with a pet was an eye-opening experience for Hanane and the flame that fueled her passion for veganism, others transition for environmental reasons.
Aya H., a French-Moroccan teacher currently residing in the United States, transitioned to veganism because of the meat industry’s effects on the natural environment, including air and water pollution, especially the release of methane into the atmosphere. For Aya, animal cruelty also factored into the decision.
“The meat industry represents one of the worst sources of carbon emissions in the world. A lot of factories and slaughterhouses don’t respect the procedures in terms of animal care and end up torturing them,” Aya told MWN.
Aya further condemned the meat industry for its tendency to waste significant resources. She explained that the “unsold meat is wasted and thrown in the trash.” Aya also mentioned that livestock requires significantly more land than growing crops.
According to the US’ Humane Party, “plant-based agriculture grows 512% more pounds of food than animal-based agriculture on 69% of the mass of land that animal-based agriculture uses.”
Living in a society that does not understand vegetarianism and veganism
Those who choose to transition to vegetarianism or veganism have a difficult time adjusting in Morocco. Meat is seen as a crucial element in Moroccan cuisine, which is why becoming vegetarian or vegan is frowned upon.
When Hanane announced to her family that she became vegan, they responded with shock. “What are you going to eat now?” “What are you going to eat during Eid-Al-Adha?” “This is nonsense!” “This is haram!” are only some of the comments that Hanane’s family members made.
Hanane’s confidence helped her overcome the societal pressure. “I am confident that the lifestyle I chose is worth dealing with the negative comments I receive from my surroundings,” she said.
Eid-Al-Adha is an emotionally-daunting time for Hanane, and she finds herself a target of hateful messages and jokes on Instagram. “I feel a lot of pressure and sadness during the Eid,” she lamented.
In order to escape from the societal pressure, Hanane takes part in trips with fellow vegans during which she rids herself of technology and strengthens her connection with and passion for nature.
Aya also confirmed that vegetarians and vegans are targets of bad jokes.
“People make fun of you at first because they don’t understand. Once you explain your arguments and stand your grounds they usually approve and admit they should consider it too, even if they don’t do it all the time,” Aya said.
Aya’s experience announcing her veganism to her family was different from Hanane’s in the sense that Aya’s family was more understanding.
“My family was very supportive when I explained why I stopped eating animal products and they helped me go through it. Now they cook vegan tajines, soups, salads, everything fresh,” Aya continued.
Evolving slowly but surely
It is incontestable that vegetarians and vegans still face many difficulties in Morocco. Many in the older generations cannot fathom that some people choose not to consume meat and other animal products. Despite this social reality, there have been some positive changes within the Moroccan society over the course of the past few years.
Thanks to social media and the increasingly efficient means of conducting research, many Moroccans have evolved from opposers of vegetarianism and veganism to supporters.
Hanane expressed optimism about the situation. When she became vegan five years ago, most people responded poorly. She mentioned that recently, many Moroccans have started taking a pro-vegetarianism stance, mostly for health reasons.
“Now, people are aware that red meat is not very healthy, that white meat is very rich in hormones, etc.,” Hanane told MWN.
Within an increasingly understanding society, Moroccan vegetarians and vegans seem destined for a future where stigmas and misconceptions surrounding their diets and lifestyle are not only less present, but also where evolving social norms may encourage their ranks to grow.