I have to admit I was a bit nervous after being tasked to interview someone of Mexican decent, and talk to them about their connection to food. I didn’t know who I should ask or what type of story I should tell. A few days ago, I scrolled through my instagram page, and noticed there was this one girl I know from High School, who was always supporting my taco-gram and realized I have never seen her pictures appear on my page. I figured I must have accidentally unfollowed her page and proceeded to refollow her. I know… exhilarating?! haha but stay with me. So, like the creep that I am haha, I looked through her photos. One that particularly caught my eye was a group photo that Gabriela was in. “Oh I remember her from guitar class, freshman year!” I thought to myself. I decided to follow her and see what she was up to. Through my “insta-stalking”, as many would call it, I found out that, not only was she Mexican, but she had also embarked on a journey exploring veganism. I thought this was super interesting and wanted to hear more about her experience. Now, i’m usually pretty shy when it comes to making friends/ reconnecting with people, especially someone I haven’t spoken to in years! But the sun was out and apparently so was my confidence! So, I decided to ask Gabriela if she wanted to be a part of my assignment and share her story, in the name of Taco literacy. To my surprise she happily agreed! Here is her story as a proud Chicana (female of Mexican decent living in the U.S.) Vegan. Now on to the story:
So, Where are your parents from?
They came here from Mexico.
How big of a role would you say food plays in your life, like in your family?
It’s a really big deal especially for us, because our traditions are easily, ugh, revolves around food. Like for Christmas or like Three Kings Day we usually are around, ya know, traditional Mexican food. We usually get together because of like you know, the food. The food brings us together.
Would you say you were raised as a “carnivore” or a “vegetarian”?
Growing up, I didn’t really eat a lot of meat because it looked weird so i wouldn’t eat it. I was basically a vegetarian before I knew what the word was! Meat just grossed me out. When I was 11… No! 12, I watched this documentary about you know, how our food is brought to our table. And being in a meat eating family, my family didn’t really understand what that meant. So, it was really different because, I was the only one that didn’t want to eat meat they didn’t really understand they were like “why?!”
What motivated you to become a vegan?
Well, you know being a vegetarian I didn’t eat meat or whatever but I still you know consumed dairy and eggs. And I guess growing up being a vegetarian I thought if I didn’t eat meat, I wasn’t contributing to the suffering. So, when I fully opened my eyes to the cruelty that the dairy and egg industry is, it’s just as bad as eating meat. So, I just decided to cut it out completely. I went “cold turkey” and I just never went back. I started it like as a trial, you know, see how long I can do this. I was just so long and I never looked back.
And how long ago was this, when did you become vegan?
It was two years ago, in December.
Okay, so you know, we were talking about before how that especially in a hispanic household, it can be difficult for them to accept such a big decision like becoming vegan. And it’s like you know almost taboo. What challenges have you faced since making this decision?
I never really faced challenges, My only thing with people, is that they didn’t understand what veganism was. They didn’t understand what no eating meat, dairy and eggs was. When we all got together for christmas and stuff it would always be a dinner, food you know with animal/ animal products. So they didn’t understand like, you know ,being from a hispanic community are like food is heavily based in animal and animal products. They didn’t understand they’d say “well why cant you eat that,there’s no meat in it?!” But Im like well you know it’s dairy and dairy is very um cruel. They didn’t understand that part. They have that mindset you know that If I grew up eating it then it’s okay. But they don’t really understand the cruelty that this food is.
So, How do you deal with criticism about your dietary habits?
I don’t like try to push veganism onto anyone but if anyone wants to have like an educated discussion then I do. I try not to get mad at people because there are reasons for continuing to eat meat. My only problem is people that you know… people that attack my life choices. Like they have these excuses like you know God put these animals here for us and you know if we don’t eat them then what else are we gonna eat? You know growing up in this society we have this mentality, we grew up with this stuff, it’s normal for us, but if you really think about it’s not. We live in a privileged society where we go and buy our food. We don’t live in a society where we raise the animals and stuff. And I think that the big stigma around veganism is that we think we are better than everyone else, in fact we are not, we just choose to not eat stuff that has suffering in it.
So do you feel like sort of isolated or disconnected at family events and stuff?
Yes and no. Yes, because not a lot of my family understands what veganism is. I try to introduce them like you know you are pretty much eating vegan. People will think being vegan is like mock meats, veggie burgers but it’s more than that. They think it’s only processed foods but its a lot of fruits, veggies and people tell you eating vegan is hard but it’s just not eating any animal/ products. And my sister’s like I said are vegan as well. And my brothers will eat it too, they are not vegan but they can appreciate it too.
Oh Okay, so they are like open to try stuff?
Yes, which Im very grateful to. I’m very thankful they are openminded
Have you ever tried to bring some type of Mexican like vegan food to family events or anything?
We have family come over and my sister usually cooks like vegan mexican food. Like tacos, or soups or like um enchiladas and stuff like that. People think we can’t veganize stuff but like we find a way around it you know?
I know there are certain Mexican delicacies that are not vegan and do you miss out on those things or have you found replacements for those things?
Um like i said I didn’t eat a lot of meat stuff. Like you know, mole which a traditional Mexican dish. It’s like chicken or like meat stuff in it, I didn’t miss that too much but like Mexican snacks are easily veganized. Or my sister makes tacos sometimes with imitation meats sometimes
Do you have any Mexican like, “accidental” Mexican vegan snacks like that aren’t intended to be vegan but they just happen to be?
Oh yeah like Taki’s and these Mexican chips that are called “Chicharrons” they come in these shapes and those are usually vegan you can get them at a Mexican store. It’s just flour and salt and thats basically what it is. But you have to be careful because Chicharrons can also be a name for fried pig skin. Taki’s are vegan like the fire ones. And there are just plenty of them.
Would you say you are more so connected to your culture now or at the same level as when you started? Do you feel connected to your heritage through your food or do you feel more of a disconnect?
I feel more connected because um seeing how my sister is also vegan. And when she cooks it is more Mexican oriented. and like I said I was really picky when I was younger, I wouldn’t eat it if it looked weird. And she’ll make like Mexican vegan stuff and they taste really great and it’s cruelty free so I can eat it with a good conscience.
Most people would assume Gabriela is less connected to her heritage due to her dietary restrictions. Yet for her, they haven’t proved to be “restrictions” but rather opportunities. I think it is so interesting that Gabriela mentions she would have never tasted some of the foods from her culture due to her distaste for meat. It’s as though by becoming vegan she is able to appreciate more of what her ancestors’ cuisine has to offer.
What advice would you give to any people from a hispanic background that also want to make the switch to veganism but don’t necessarily have the support system that you have?
So, my advice would be go at your own pace, and do your research if you are willing to cut out animal/animal products at once, than that’s good if not, one at a time is good, like first meat, then dairy and eggs, not necessarily in that order. Everyone has their own process and reasons to go vegan. My reason for going vegan was for the animal/ ethical reasons. But being on a plant based diet has wonderful benefits, and being from a hispanic community where we are prone to diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure, I like that it helps prevent those diseases.
I thanked her for her time and she even agreed to help me scope out some vegan Mexican food! Although I am not vegan, I truly respect those who are. Because it takes a ridiculous amount of courage to join a movement that many will mock you for. I commend Gabriela for not only standing up for a cause that she believes in wholeheartedly, but also staying true to her roots. She is definitely a great example of a chicana that takes pride in her Mexican culture and is a positive influence throughout the community.
Looking for fun, new recipes to try out but maybe wanna ditch the animal products for a bit? Well from tacos to tamales and even conchas, This girl has found a substitute for you! If you wanna see more of Gabriela plus pics of her delicious veganized Mexican food, be sure to follow her on instagram, @veganaf_everyday_harugrey, (link also in my latest insta-post) “Taco literacy (unintentionally) bringing people together one taco at a time!” New slogan? No?! I guess we’ll tacobout’it some other time…
Happy Tacobout’it Tuesday Everyone!