Living as a Dutch person in South Africa, what is it like?

Living in another country. A dream for some and a reality for others. What is it like to emigrate and live as a vegetarian or vegan in a country other than the Netherlands? We set out to find the stories of women who eat vega(n) and decided to take the plunge to live abroad. What is their story?


From an international career to nutritionist in South Africa


Today Iemke Janssen-de Leeuw, who grew up in Ede and worked as a trainer and consultant in the field of radicalization. She completely turned her life around with her husband in 2014. Read the story of this fascinatingly versatile lady.

Who are you and how did you end up in Johannesburg, South Africa?

Hi, I am Iemke Janssen- de Leeuw, born in Leidschendam, raised in Ede, studied in Utrecht and Amsterdam. During and after my studies I lived in Amsterdam and my last residence in the Netherlands was Hilversum.

After completing my studies (University Bachelor of History and Master of Islam Studies), I worked for a consulting firm from 2009 to 2014. I worked primarily as a trainer and consultant in the field of radicalization, in both domestic and international settings. In 2011 I married my husband and in 2013 our first son was born. Our expectation was to have more time as a family in this new country, something we didn’t have much of in the Netherlands due to our international careers.

No doubt, just do it!

When we got the opportunity to move to South Africa for four years at the end of 2014, we didn’t hesitate for a moment. In terms of career, I was at a crossroads and the prospect of not having to work for a while and just being a mom was wonderful. I know the country from my childhood, consider it my second homeland. My husband also became very enamored with this beautiful country during his business trips. Our expectation was to have more time as a family in this new country, something we didn’t have much of in the Netherlands due to our international careers. Our growing young family would have peace of mind because I could stay home with the children.


My husband was offered a nice job in which he could gain a lot of experience and I could study and/or do (volunteer) work in due course. As mentioned, I knew the country from my youth and it has always had a huge appeal. Now as an adult, I can experience the uniqueness of this country myself from a different perspective and experience it with my family. Here in South Africa, in our new life, I am first and foremost a mother to our boys, I am also studying to become a natural nutritionist, I love to cook and bake, I blog and I have just started a healthy eating website with vegetarian and vegan recipes for the whole family.


Over the last year, I’ve noticed that my husband is increasingly realizing his impact as a meat eater from the sustainability aspect. That I then also cook more and more vegan he only welcomes.


At home, we eat mostly vegan. My partner eats what’s on the plate at home, but does occasionally eat meat outside, although that has become less and less in recent years. When we got into a relationship 12 years ago, he thought it was ok that I was a vegetarian, but that didn’t change his diet. A year later we lived together and from then on we eat vegetarian at home and he is totally fine with that. Over the last year, I’ve noticed that my husband is increasingly realizing his impact as a meat eater from a sustainability standpoint. That I then also cook more and more vegan he only welcomes.


Why did you start eating vegetarian or vegan?

Since I was ten years old, I have been a vegetarian. In elementary school, I was friends with a girl who was a vegetarian. Even her entire family ate vegetarian. In the 1990s in Ede, that was really something very special. I found it interesting and for the first time I actually just realized that with meat I was eating a dead animal. When during my search about “not eating meat” I also came across a video about a slaughterhouse, the decision was quickly made, I didn’t want to eat meat anymore. As an animal lover, I couldn’t get it over my heart.


Personally, I realized last year that as a vegetarian it is an illusion to think that people are not killing for you.


Over the past five years, my motivations are no longer mainly “feeling sorry” for the animals, but mainly the sustainability and ethical aspect. Livestock and fisheries are wreaking havoc on the world’s natural areas. In addition, I find it very difficult to realize that by growing feed for slaughter animals, much of the world goes hungry. Personally, I realized last year that as a vegetarian it is an illusion to think that people are not killing for you. Because of course there will be, dairy cows will be slaughtered when production is no longer sufficient and male chicks will be shredded because they are worthless for the egg industry. Terrible. As a family, therefore, we are increasingly working to stop buying animal products.

What is it like to live in Johannesburg as a flexinist?


For people who can’t afford it, meat is a luxury item and thus incomprehensible that I don’t want to eat it.


Living in South Africa as a vegetarian/vegan (flexinist actually) has a lot of challenges. This is the land of the braai and fast food. Meat occupies an important place, in the daily menu of the South African who can afford meat. For people who cannot afford it, meat is a luxury product and thus incomprehensible that I don’t want to eat it.

Meat and South African food culture

South Africans who can afford meat sometimes give me the idea that I am denying their culture by not eating meat. Even medics here have a completely different view of eating meat than in the Netherlands. Meat is really seen as a must for children to grow up healthy and strong. For example, one health agency indicates that infants can eat chicken as early as five months, and from six months, liver and steak are especially good sources of iron. Billtongue, a dried piece of raw meat, is often given to infants who are teething.

Little knowledge about vegetarian food

It amazes me how little people often know about vegetarian food. When you say you don’t eat meat, they often automatically think I do eat chicken and fish. But at the same time, I have always been able to eat well and good food in this country for the past 20 years. We have lived here for two years now and now know exactly where to get everything, actually mostly the same products as in Holland. The only product I miss in seitan. There are an increasing number of restaurants in Johannesburg and Cape Town that offer delicious vegetarian and vegan food. Actually, I find nothing difficult and find my vegan ideals challenging again. Vegetarianism in this country I have been doing successfully for about 20 years.

How do people within your hometown or country react when you tell them you are vegetarian or vegan?

As I described, I often get the feeling that people feel that I despise their braai/meat eating culture. Besides, most ( and I’m talking about South Africans, not expats) think I do it only because I feel sorry for the animals. The environment and ethics are often unknown to them. I did see a slow shift over the past 20 years. Now I am not looked at oddly as a vegetarian in a restaurant. So in addition, there are more and more places where you can eat meatless.

What does it cost to eat healthy and varied food as a vegetarian or vegan in South Africa?

Last year, food prices in South Africa soared. Besides, in Holland we were two adults and now we have two sons who both eat well over half a person. So it is difficult to compare with the Netherlands. But I don’t think it will make much difference in terms of cost. I now know well where to buy some, where the quality/price ratio is best. Although sometimes I have to go all over Johannesburg to get what we want.

What tips do you have for other vegetarians and/or vegans to when they come to South Africa?

There are more vegetarian and vegan options than you might think in restaurants and stores. Besides, here in restaurants they are always willing to flip an entire dish to adjust it to your liking. The collections of nuts and dried fruits in the supermarkets here are always great, and the local vegetables are also worth trying. This makes the country unique. Without most South Africans realizing it, they are very “vegetarian/vegan” friendly themselves.

  1. Fresh Earth Shop, Emmarentia, Johannesburg. Super nice restaurant and organic store. Everything in the restaurant is vegetarian and there are also lots of vegan options. A buffet is served every day; you pay by weight.
  2. Bryanston Organic market. A relaxed organic market in Bryanston Johannesburg every Thursday and Saturday. Lots of nice food stalls with mostly vegetarian and vegan options.
  3. Tip: Johannesburg hosts regular vegan food festivals.


What did you find most difficult about your emigration? And what did you like best?

Our emigration was fairly spontaneous and short term. In terms of country, we didn’t really need to prepare, it was more the practical things like moving and visas that took a lot of time and energy. But for us, it all went very smoothly and really have nothing that I would do differently now.

Do you plan to return to the Netherlands someday?

The future is actually still completely open for us. But for now, we are very happy in South Africa and the Netherlands does not attract us (yet). This country offers us so much space, freedom, nature and tranquility, we enjoy it immensely. Because of this experience, we are definitely more open to living in other countries as well. It enriches our lives by being allowed to live in another culture. It offers us challenges and at the same time it gives us peace and a nice family base. So for now, we’re still totally comfortable here.

Has foreign countries changed your view of the Netherlands? How do you look at the Netherlands now?

Yes, of course I would almost say. Living abroad allows you to look more remotely at the Netherlands. What I now appreciate more about the Netherlands, and previously took for granted, is:

  • freedom in public life
  • being able to ride a bike
  • hiking
  • public safety: you don’t have to be on your guard

Although the recent terrorist attacks in Europe also put that picture in a different perspective. Also, of course, the distances in the Netherlands are wonderful, nothing is far away, here the distances are greater. In the Netherlands you don’t so quickly bring your children to a school for which you have to drive ten minutes by car, by the standards here it is still relatively close.

Rules, rules, rules

What I look at with mixed feelings is the regulations in the Netherlands, everything is fixed in laws, ordinances, rules etc. And the space, in Holland everything is so close together. This is nice on the one hand, but now that we are used to more living space I do realize how cramped it is in the Netherlands and how many Dutch people we are in a small part of the world.

For a year now, I have been blogging about my personal wonderment as a Dutch mother in South Africa. It would be super nice if you guys would come and take a look. I also started my website on healthy veg eating in June 2016. I will fill my website Amazien Foodblog with recipes (both vega and vegan) supplemented with information about certain foods and background information.


UPDATE: Iemke is going back to the Netherlands and is going to work as a food coach! read all about this decision on Iemke’s blog.

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