Being a Vegetarian in a Meat Loving Culture
When sharing with your Latino family members while being served a plate of food that you are a vegan, you might receive the following reaction: “¿Tu eres vegetariana?” “Okay, since you do not eat meat, I will cook you some arroz con habichuelas y pescado.” “No puedo comer eso.” “¡Pero pescado, no es carne!”
It’s a bit difficult for a meat loving culture to fully understand “vegetarianism,” especially since Latinos show their love through food. Not eating or accepting their food can be taken offensively. It may be tough to even think about becoming a vegan as you wouldn’t want to offend your relatives. But being a vegan will have its positive results for your health.
According to PETA Latino, “50 percent of Latinos in the U.S. are lactose intolerant,” and “Over 50 percent of Mexican-American women in the U.S. are not only just overweight but they’re obese.” Becoming a vegetarian/vegan is not a bad idea after all if you’re looking to decrease your chances of health issues such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension and diabetes. In addition, becoming a vegan decreases the probabilities of obtaining cancer, osteoporosis, dementia, gallstones and rheumatoid arthritis. Being a vegetarian/vegan does not automatically give you a ticket to good health. If you’re eating foods that contain fat, dairy, sodium and sugar laden foods then you might be at risk for diseases.
Former Miss Panama and actress Patricia De Leon, stated in an interview with PETA, that while growing up she was always in and out of the hospital with stomach problems, and no one could figure out what was wrong. She decided to give up meat and become a vegetarian and has not had issues since then. Patricia adamantly expressed, “I love eating healthy, delicious vegetarian meals and the options are endless. No matter where I go, I can find vegetarian dishes that satisfy my hunger and taste for great food.”
Like Patricia, I had a sensitive stomach. Growing up, my mom attributed my stomach issues to being lactose intolerant. Since becoming a vegetarian nine years ago, I no longer experience these issues. Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with hypertension. My doctor at the time suggested surgery because according to his findings, there is an artery pinched and it is causing the elevated pressure to elevate. The surgery was not an option for me and today I am hypertension free.
The decision to change my diet was not instant and was based on articles and clips my father shared with me, whom at the time was a vegetarian for over ten years. I felt a moral obligation to do what was right for me and shortly after I became a vegan. Vegans do not eat or use animal products. My body felt cleaner and my heart kinder. Presently, I’m not a vegan yet, as I occasionally eat foods with eggs and dairy. This categorizes me as Lacto-Ovo (no meat, but consume eggs and dairy.)
Dining out and attending gatherings was frustrating and could be for those Latinos starting the process of becoming a vegan. People think eating seafood and/or seasoning with cubitos de pollo and jamón powder is okay. Seafood is not consumed by a vegetarian. Powdered meat seasoning is no bueno because it’s derived from animals. Unfortunately, restaurants use the same utensils and gloves for all foods so rather than be a drill sergeant when eating out; I eat from home as much as possible.
If you’re cooking for a vegetarian/vegan, please do not use the above ingredients and clean the utensils, as well as preparation area. These small steps will make your guest feel comfortable and less cautious about eating your cooking.
To fully feel comfortable as a vegan I gave away my leather clothing and changed the products I use because many contain animal ingredients. For example, gelatin (ground up animal bones) is found in Jell-O, candies and glycerin (animal fat) is found in toothpaste and soaps. The best suggestion is to look at the label which must state “vegetable glycerin” to be vegan friendly.
Becoming a vegan has changed my health and to live a sustainable life for the benefits of animals, people and the planet.
Sources: PETA Latino – http://www.petalatino.com/en/