Mexicans and Vegans are Not Friends

In my house, meat is always on the plate


Growing up in a Mexican household and not eating meat is a sin. The cultural background of Mexican food is an important part of the Mexican identity. Mexican cuisine began about 9000 years ago, influenced by the agricultural and indigenous communities such as the Mayans which centered around dishes involving ingredients native to the land. Corn, chili peppers and of course meat have deep-rooted significance in our culture.

I love meat. When I was younger I would ask for a Happy Meal as a reward, double cheeseburger with a boy toy. At home, my mom has always cooked seven days a week. Every day, it was delicious meals that always featured some kind of meat. Meat marinated in her own concoctions of spices and herbs, meat used in soups, meat with veggies on the side, and of course, rice and beans were the staple side dish. When the weekends came, it was carne asada with the family. When someone grows up in this lifestyle, they never really realize how much meat is being consumed.

I remember going grocery shopping with my parents, pausing in the frozen meat area. I would look at the bloody gushy meat and squeeze it down with my fingers. I was never disgusted by this because it is my culture. My views didn’t change as I aged — in high school, it was the same thing because our school’s demographic was predominantly Latinx.

Our commonality is our culture, and that culture involves eating meat. We celebrate our holidays with double servings of the good stuff. Christmas is my favorite because the dishes are delicious — warm tamales with meat gushing out of their corn husk wrappings, hot thick pozole with hominy dimpling the surface and accompanied by the chef’s choice of chicken or beef, roasted pork leg, turkey, and any animal that could be cooked in the traditional Mexican way. Which means lots of spice, colorful salsa, and slow-cooked marinated meat, of course. As I take a bite out of the roasted pork leg, my mouth feels complete. It is like heaven in my mouth. It is incomparable and it is delightful. Forget the Christmas presents— for me it’s about the savory seasonal dishes that come but once a year.

And then in college, I learned about vegans. One of my classmates, Travis, is a vegan. After hearing he was vegan, the first thing I did was Google, “what is vegan???” and “is vegan safe???” Learning that vegans eat no animal products, no cheese, no eggs, no honey, was the biggest shock ever. In Mexican culture, meat is a necessity, along with dairy and other animal-based products. Vegan Mexican food sounds like an oxymoron. When the word Mexican food pops up, people do not think about a salad or vegan. People think tacos. Tacos loaded with al pastor, asada, lengua (tongue). My grandma would faint if she ever sees me eating anything that is not considered meat, like the new fake meat.

And as naive as it sounds, it really isn’t my fault.

I grew up with the idea that everyone eats meat and Ricky Martin isn’t gay.

The more that I learn about vegans, I understand that there are many reasons why people choose to be vegan. For Travis, it’s the abuse of animals and the effect meat production has on the environment. But for me, not eating meat is like abandoning my culture. It would also give my mother a heart attack.

This doesn’t mean I won’t eat vegan food. The first time I tried vegan food was in a small place called Boregitas in Pomona. I ordered vegan tacos, and I enjoyed it, but I was honestly expecting something terrible. And although I finished all four tacos, I did notice I was still hungry after. So I went to get real tacos.

Although it may be a challenge for me to enjoy vegan food, meeting vegans has opened my eyes. I care about animals and the environment but it’s hard when you live at home. It is hard to have a stomach so used to meat. I do not cook for myself nor do I know how to, so my diet choices are not entirely my own.

I mentioned veganism to my mom and she told that veganism is something we cannot adopt. When asked why she said that she learned how to cook with lots of meat and that she does not have time to learn how to cook vegan. She also said that it is a tradition that has been passed down for years now and doesn’t want to lose it.

Although my mother has kept this tradition for years now, her health complications might change that. Doctors have told her her sugar is high and she needs to change her diet. She admits that excessive meat consumption has contributed to health problems. After this incident I asked her what she thought about veganism: “ If I knew [then] what I know now, I would adopt veganism in a heartbeat” she said.

When I move out and start a family, I plan to learn how to change my lifestyle to moderate my meat consumption. My family will be healthy and will be aware of other lifestyles instead of living in a bubble like I did. Yes I am Mexican and a whole culture of meat is in me but as I grow, I learn. My next breakup will be with meat, but that is until I start a family… so maybe in ten years.

Until then, comete la carne!