Entrepreneur, Safiya Robinson, is using her role as a creative cook, writer, and speaker to nurture communities and encourage educational conversations surrounding ancestral methods of healing and systemic structures. Fervently championing the world of women, Safiya uses her personal identity and social media platforms to inspire a new way of thinking.
'sisterwoman vegan' is Safiya's plant-based social enterprise, providing supper clubs, food education, and private catering, with a focus on the richness of knowledge found in African diaspora culture and traditions. Safiya continually serves up a healthy dose of profound and engaging content through online resources and regular events fostering safe, communal spaces, for critical thinking. By tapping into her own experiences of mental health and body positivity, Safiya provides an earnest alternative to the way we approach wellness in modern day societies.
We spoke with Safiya about her reasons for starting sisterwoman vegan, and her journey into reestablishing what beautiful and honest conversations can look like.
Hello Saf, could you tell us what inspired you to start sisterwoman vegan?
sisterwoman vegan is a result of me coming into myself and all the experiences that I’ve been through along the way. It’s about wellness, food justice and injustice, critical healing conversation, and health.
I launched sisterwoman vegan in 2018 a couple of weeks before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It was around this time that I was looking into my ancestral ways of healing through food in relation to mental health and so the birth of sisterwoman was very much linked to that experience and journey of acknowledging all parts of myself. I was first introduced to veganism six years ago when I came across a page on Tumblr called YoungBlackandVegan, prior to that I hadn’t really seen anyone who looked like me who was vegan. I wasn’t aware of the many pre-colonial African diets that were plant-based.
How has your relationship with food changed over time?
Growing up I had a terrible relationship with food and my body; I spent 15 years trying to lose weight and punishing myself. My mum is an ex-model so it was very difficult to develop a healthy sense of self-esteem in our household; food became a coping mechanism which I used as a way of dealing with my problems. Going vegan was the first time I felt positive about a diet change, I didn't feel restricted, it allowed me to relearn what food is and what it can provide.
Society doesn’t encourage us to love ourselves as we are, particularly when it comes to body image
I think about teenage Saf often, how she didn’t love herself and how that was never discouraged. Society doesn’t encourage us to love ourselves as we are, particularly when it comes to body image. And I think that has a lot to do with capitalism - people who love themselves spend less money on changing themselves. Capitalism needs there to be a mindset of lack otherwise we wouldn’t buy and consume in the manner in which we do. Thinking that we are without is our default state, when in fact we arrive on this planet whole.
How do you feel about your body today?
I’m currently at my heaviest, (quarantine eating!) and my connection and relationship with my body and with exercise is in the best place it’s ever been - I see it in such a different way. I modeled for a swimwear campaign earlier this month, for @you.swim and when I was looking at the photos, and looking at all my “flaws”, I thought how there are women half my size who wouldn’t post something if it had one dimple. And in that moment I realised I really have come a long way. I’m modeling a swimwear campaign at my heaviest. 14 year old Saf would have laughed me out the room just for suggesting it.
What sources of encouragement have helped you embrace this sense of self-worth and love?
Fundamentally Black women have helped me so much to see myself and be represented in spaces that I’ve been able to create, observe, and be a part of. It’s a beautiful, healing experience to be around Black women, and to know that anything in my life is possible, that I’m not alone in my journey and what I’m going through is not unique. Community is necessary for growth, seeing who there is and following in their direction, being able to share pain, share trauma has been a key part.
As a Black woman, I have a responsibility to talk about the rights of other Black women. If I have a platform to represent women who don’t have that space, then I’m going to use it.
I spend a lot of time thinking about who or what younger me needed. I have been able to use outlets like Instagram, which are famously known for being toxic spaces in regards to body image, to curate a space to champion people who look like me and represent for people who look like me. When I see someone doing something great, my first instinct is to shout them out loud, to give them their flowers.
It excites me finding images of Black women’s beauty being celebrated, Black women being loved out loud, Black culture and creativity being championed and developed. My Instagram stories are full of Black women, women who are curvy, images that you are not necessarily seeing in the mainstream but who are representative of what I find beautiful. It brings me joy.
What role has religion and spiritual practices played in your life?
My parents are both spiritual, but I rejected it for such a long time. All the things I was taught faith was for, like goodness and kindness, I was unable to see in them. I thought to myself 'it doesn’t work, these people are still able to cause pain and not empathise'. It took a lot of hard work to understand the context and conditions of my parent's life. My Mum is African American and my Dad is mixed Jamaican English; they were raised with realities, seventies racism, serious economic hardship, being an immigrant in a different country. I’m now the same age (26 years old) that my Mum was by the time she had two kids. Really understanding what that means and the sacrifices and pressures that impacted my relationship with my Mum and Dad has helped me understand that they were doing the best that they could.
I use spirituality to understand myself; astrology, tarot, checking in with source, spirit, and your own personal gods. It is wonderful!
Today, I like to use spirituality for guidance. I do a lot of work with my ancestors and the orishas, and I received the Hand of Ifa, which is a part of the religion of the Ifá, a Precolonial African religion. My Dad likes to refer to Ifa as a wisdom tradition; a way of looking at the world and approaching life, rather than a set of rules to live by. For Black people, there’s lots of negativity wrapped up in the histories of organised religions, for example, religion being used to justify slavery. There's a lot of knowledge that’s been cut off from us, so looking into pre-colonial ideas of how our ancestors thought about and understood the world is really powerful.
How did being diagnosed with bipolar impact your approach to life?
It was a powerful moment being diagnosed because I had spent my whole life questioning why am I like this, thinking there was something wrong. Before I was diagnosed, nobody knew that I was struggling with my mental health or my physical health. As a fat Black woman ‘Mammy' is something I hear a lot - the stereotypical desexualised maternal figure. I never really shared my pain with anyone and nobody would think to ask me. I was hyper-aware of the way I present, and the identities I harness have affected the ways I have had access to, and received, treatment. When I was sectioned, I was treated as if I was a violent threat because I’m six foot one and a Black person. But that's not my temperament, I'm actually very gentle. It made me think about how we view mental health and how ableist society is in terms of not allowing us space to be different.
Discovering I had bipolar was a beautiful transformative experience. A key part of my experience with bipolar has been figuring out what it’s there for and how best to use it.
Bipolar is not what people think it is, it's not Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Personally I think, when treated properly, it isn’t a negative thing. It’s a different way of processing emotions, moods, and ideas, yet it’s not deemed compatible with the way society is set up. I think that is the problem.
What does the future of sisterwoman vegan look like?
I have goals for sisterwoman! Short term, I’m putting out a cookbook, a small Ebook version with some recipes and personal stories and tips - I’d like to manifest a publisher because I have a lot to say and I want to write it down.
Long term, the aim is to form a community centre, one that has been designed by millennials because I think community centres aren’t fit for purpose. They’re not a place people want to be and that’s due to a lack of understanding of what they are meant to be used for. Culturally, in Britain, community is very different, community centres aren’t seen as an achievement to need one or use one. Community is everything and I want there to be a space where people can connect. I want there to be a community garden, to have events, for there to be a kitchen (obviously), a cafe, art and music, a special club and creative hub - that's a 10-year goal but I’ll stop talking about it because I don’t want to jinx it!
Visit the sisterwoman vegan website for resources and event information here
And keep up to date with Safiya's work via her IG @sisterwomanvegan