Afya Ibomu B.S., CHHC is a Holistic Nutritionist, Author, Entrepreneur, Yogi, Vice President of YOJO CULTURE LLC, and has been plant based since 1990. Her third book the Vegan Soul Food Guide to the Galaxy, was nominated for an African American Literary Award for cookbook of the year.
Afya is certified in Holistic Health and holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition. She is also the author of 5 books including the Get Your Crochet On! pattern book series, that have sold over 25,000 copies and her newest book, The Vegan Remix.
Afya is a celebrity nutritionist and crochet designer working with hip-hop artists such as Erykah Badu, Common, and Talib Kweli. She founded the campaign Drink Water that promotes awareness of the health benefits of water and helps to increase access to clean water in Africa. So far the Drink Water campaign has installed 2 water pumps in an orphanage in Namitete Malawi.
Afya currently conducts cooking demos and classes, teaches nutrition workshops and counsels fitness competitors. She lives in Atlanta with her husband stic of dead prez, their teenage son, Itwela and newborn Nkosua.
Ama: Afya, congratulations on the new baby. He is doing well?
Afya: Thank you, yes he is doing awesome. He’s a handful, different from my older son was, so we are getting used to that.
Ama: Great. Tell us, what is your diet like.
Afya: My diet is plant-based. I try to eat as whole as possible, greens with every meal. I’m on this new thing where I’m doing three green juices a week now. Juicing that is vegetable based because I need it for energy, because I’m not sleeping and I’m breast feeding and that’s taking a lot out of me. I want to make sure I’m on top of that and have a goal so I won’t just go days and days and days without doing my green juices.
Ama: Did you stay eating plant-based throughout your pregnancy?
Afya: I did eat eggs a couple of times because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. With my first son I was 100% vegan and he ended up with food allergies of soy and gluten. At that time I think it was more based on the fact that I was eating a lot of processed soy. I wasn’t doing any fermented foods, no probiotics, no yogurt, anything like that. I wasn’t really even aware of things like that at that time. Also, this time I didn’t want to do a lot of supplements, so I was eating eggs off and on maybe once every two weeks or less, just for DHA, b-12 stuff like that. But I got over that pretty quickly.
Ama: I know some people say I was vegan before but when I was pregnant I was craving ___ . You didn’t have that?
Afya: No not at all. Really, it was only for the nutrients of it. Even then it was like, eeh, I don’t really want this. I’m plant based. My cravings were more sweets, especially in the beginning. I would want a whole lot of sweet stuff. I would make a batch of vegan rice crispy treats and eat a whole pan. I bought juice. I don’t buy juice ever, and I was buying juice and going to Five Guys and getting french fries. So it was more like junk food to the point that my older son was like “Oh my goodness! Where has this mom been my whole life! I love this!” That was just the first three months actually. Then I went back to my regular diet.
Ama: How long have you been eating plant-based?
Afya: 25 years. I used to be really sick as a kid. I had asthma, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic dehydration. I was really tired of taking medication all of the time. I was taking 8 different medications, 3 times a day, for the majority of my youth. I took allergy shots once a week. And I just felt like the medicine wasn’t really working and the doctors didn’t really know what they were talking about. When I was 14 my mom found an allergy specialist who said it could be the food I was eating that was causing my health issues. I had never thought about food and health and how those things are related.
When I was 14 I stopped eating pork because my sister’s boyfriend was Muslim and he turned me on to pork and how bad it was, how dirty the animal was. Then at 15, KRS-One the hip-hop artist, he had a song called Beef about vegetarianism and the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and I said, you know what? I’m a vegetarian. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time. I wasn’t really a healthy eater. I didn’t eat meat so I ate pasta. I was eating a lot of carbs and I wasn’t eating vegan at that time.
But it did help my health a little bit. But not all the way. When I moved to New York in my early 20’s I heard about Queen Afua, and being vegan. That is when my health really began to change. I used to wake up in the morning all congested, and when I became vegan that stopped. I still had the yearly colds, flu. When I became vegan that stopped. Queen Afua really helped me make that transition. And, Aris Latham, he’s an herbalist and he had his raw food store there and I used to learn from him.
Ama: When you and Stic got together was he vegan at that time?
Afya: I became vegetarian when I was 15. We didn’t meet until I was 19. We met one time. Then he saw me at this jazz event. They had a reception afterwards. You know, how they have the chicken wings with the carrots and celery and the ranch dressing. He was like, “You're not eating chicken or the fish?” I just had the carrots and celery on my plate. And I said “Oh no, I’m a vegetarian I don’t eat chicken.” So, that made him feel like “Ok, this is the girl that I want to be with.”
He didn’t become vegan until we moved to New York. He had developed a case of gout when we were about 21. At the time he was drinking and smoking and I was vegetarian. When he got gout, I had heard about Queen Afua, so I said, “Now were vegan.” I made us become vegan to heal him naturally. He got rid of gout without all the medications. That’s how he became vegan.
Ama: What tips do you have or someone who is just getting started on the path to veganism?
Afya: First, think of any kind of unhealthy habits that you have already that you know you should change. Whether that’s stop eating fast food, or stop drinking soda, stop eating candy. Start there. Even before you say you are going to stop eating meat. If your thing is meat then stop eating one kind of meat at a time. Give yourself 3 weeks to a month to take one thing out of your diet. Sometime people go too fast and try to change everything at once. The have a tendency to take everything out and don’t add things back in and then they say, “Oh it didn’t work for me.” So it’s all about adding greens with every meal, making sure you’re drinking your water, eating fruits and vegetables first, and then taking things out here and there over time.
Ama: Tell me about your new recipe book.
Afya: The Vegan Remix is a soulful remix on world cuisine. It came out of my son's food allergies. He's allergic to soy and gluten. We are such foodies, that we eat out all the time, even though I cook all the time. But, because he’s allergic to soy, a lot of restaurants use vegetable oil which is soy oil, so we weren’t able to go to eat in some of our favorite places anymore. I started experimenting more with some of our favorite cuisines like Indian and Ethiopian. This book came out of my kitchen of making sure my son was getting the food that he loves and the food that we love. That was the inspiration.
The Vegan Remix is also a mix of food and music, because music is such a big part of our lives. My husband is a hip hop artist, my son plays the electric guitar. I always cook and listen to music at the same time. It helps me be creative and be in the zone of bringing love and good energy to the food that I’m making. So I included play lists of the music I was listening to while I was making the book. People can make their own playlists or look at the songs that I added to the book to cook with.
I also remade some classic album covers and put a little health spin on them. I redid Ice-T’s Power cover to Plant Power. I redid Roy Ayers Everybody Loves The Sunshine cover. I redid 8 classic album covers with a healthy spin on them.
The book is pretty comprehensive, there’s breakfast, soups, snacks, main dishes, side dishes, desserts and drinks. So there’s a lot in the book as well some of my favorite brands that are allergy friendly.
Ama: Tell me about your yoga project.
Afya: I’ve been doing yoga for about 5 years and really enjoyed it. I did it throughout my pregnancy. It was really helpful for problems that you can have from back aches to headaches to nausea. I felt like it’s not so popular in the black community especially during pregnancy. So I wanted to do a video to help people and to share what I felt was so helpful during that time for me and I know it was for others. Vanya Francis of Cherished Life Yoga and Wellness was my instructor. I asked her if she wanted to do a video, and she said yes. I am hoping to have it out by the beginning of 2016. I wanted it to be intermediate so that people who were already pretty fit would feel a burn and people who are beginners would be able to do it and then work their way up to the intensity. We also have a section specifically for asanas or poses that are for pregnancy symptoms. So, if you have a headache there are poses for that, or a backache we have poses for that.
Ama: I’m looking forward to seeing that. I won’t be needing it, I’m done with that part of my life, but I’ll be sure to watch it. Tell me also about YOJO Culture your new website and business.
Afya: YOJO is a business my husband and I started together. We are both entrepreneurs, we both are into health and fitness and holistic healing. We thought it would be great to come together instead of having two separate sites, two separate businesses in one household.
Yojo comes from an ancient Asian, Chinese and Japanese term. It is actually Yojo Ran and that means regimen. Yojo Ran was about holistic health and how you take care of yourself besides just your diet. It's your exercise, your community, your spirit work, your meditation. As the world wars began and they started introducing more western medicine people weren’t that focused on holistic health to that degree anymore.
So Yojo Culture for us is just our remix of that ideology of holistic health. We have eight basic principles called the YoJo Goodlife. Many ancient cultures have some type of wheel that they use to represent their philosophy. Ours it based on that. We have eight different principles with Yojo: Natural Health & Fitness; Self Development / Emotional Wellness /Learning; Helping Others / Community Activism; Resourcefulness / Financial Management; Fun & Enjoyment; Loving Relationships; Career & Purpose; Spirituality / Interconnectedness.
We are really right now in the process of redefining how we want Yojo to be and we are creating a curriculum. It’s going to be more like a University. So that’s where we are with YoJo.
Ama: Do you think eating plant-based is important for us as people of Afrikan descent?
Afya: I do. Especially in modern society. I think we have a tendency to focus on unhealthy foods. Those foods effect our bodies differently then it does other cultures. It's obvious with our high rates of diabetes and heart disease and cancer. Being plant-based is very helpful so that you don't even get those diseases. It's also important on a global scale by keeping the earth in balance from industrialized farming and things like that. And actually, we as Afrikan people were the original farmers. You know? So it’s in our blood to eat mostly plant-based anyway. I think it would be going back to our ancient diet and would defiantly help our health as a whole.
Ama: I know for some people, black folks feel that it’s hard to find other plant-based black folks. But you get around. What do you see?
Afya: I think that it’s definitely all over. But in the hood it’s not that popular because there are food desserts and there’s nowhere to even get fresh food. It depends on your income level. It depends on the community that you associate with. But, it’s definitely in every major city in the United States. There is a black holistic, vegetarian, plant-based community. But it’s just, are we looking for those things? I search for that when I travel. But if that’s not a priority for you, or something that you think about, then you’re not searching for that.
That’s one of our goals for our business as well, is to promote plant-based holistic urban organic farming. All of those things are all over the place, it’s just where do you find it? And how do we promote that it’s acutely available? So I would say it’s definitely growing. But it’s also been around since the Panthers and the Black Power movement. A lot of people at that time were vegetarian and it was part of the culture in the black community as well.
I think farming is becoming way more popular in the urban cities. That is also helpful. They are also doing farming in poor communities, urban city communities, and they promote eating more plant-based. So it’s out there. It’s just, is it your priority to look for it?
Ama: I noticed you say plant-based and not vegan. What’s your opinion of the word vegan.
Afya: I think I go back and forth as I am growing and as I'm evolving. I don’t really love stereotypes. I don’t love being put in a box. My book is called Vegan Re-Mix because that’s a familiar term and people know what that means. Plant-based in my opinion is 90% plants, 90 or above and then the rest is organic eggs or wild fish or something like that. Some type of animal products. So I’m really in the process of evolving and deciding what I think about it. Because I’ve worked with so many clients who have extreme allergies and can’t have soy or can’t do gluten. They can’t do nuts so the protein based foods of a vegan diet don’t really work for their bodies. I’ve seen them work a little bit better if they add a little bit of organic eggs. So I’m evolving. I think that a 100% vegan diet can be healthy and useful. I like that best for my body. But I’ve also seen people who it doesn’t work for. At least not 100%. I don’t mean that they need to be eating fish everyday, just very sparingly. I’ve learned that there is no one diet for every single person. Everyone’s body is different. I’ve learned that too in my practice. And I’ve seen vegan diets and I’ve seen raw food diets that reversed disease serious disease like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, so it’s very helpful and very healing. I just know it’s not for every person.
Ama: Where can people find out more about you reach you?
Afya: They can go to the website www.yojoculture.com. They can follow me on all social media at afyaibomu. I’m on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter all a that same name. Check out my books The Vegan Soulfood Guide To The Galaxy and The Vegan Remix on our website. I think both of them together are a great combination of information from the kitchen to dining out, grocery shopping, as well as a variety of recipes that will defiantly satisfy you and your family. Check us out. There is more to come. So please go to our website yojoculture.com and sign up for our free The Yojo Culture blueprint.
Ama: Thank you for the work you and Stic are doing. The more of us that are spreading the word the better.