Vege- que?

by Raul Colón

I used to love carne frita, pernil, and my dad’s “Carne Mechada” as a carnivore. I decided to experiment with meatless cuisine for several weeks. I had to ask myself, would I return to eating meat again? I am a vegetarian since 2006. Upon my return to Puerto Rico, I thought my biggest challenge would be finding options to eat. The real challenge is educating people on what being a vegetarian means. The following factors stop my friends, family, and strangers from understanding the reason why I chose to become vegetarian.

Tradition

For our ancestors meat was a valuable item that it was not eaten every day. I have heard of how people would offer meat to their guests as a sign of respect leaving family members with little or nothing left over. I asked Chef Wilo Benet, Puerto Rico’s authority when it comes to Puerto Rican Cuisine, the following question:

Q: In your opinion what ingredients keep most vegetarian plates from being traditionally Puerto Rican?

Wilo: Probably Pork is the greatest obstacle followed by chicken and chicken broth.

I agree with Wilo. I stay away from Puerto Rican food because almost every plate has either chicken or pork.

Family Treason

Eating traditional food is interpreted as sharing quality time with loved ones. When you are vegetarian it is impossible to eat traditional meals. Puerto Rican traditional dishes contain meat. When refusing to eat what was prepared, you might offend many loved ones.

Definition

Many people don’t understand what being vegetarian means.  Adding more confusion to the lifestyle are those that eat seafood and call themselves vegetarian. I go by the Vegetarian’s Society definition.

Animal Welfare

Living on the Island you see animal cruelty everywhere. Seeing this everyday reinforced my commitment to being a vegetarian. From abandoning dogs by the street to mistreating horses by tying them up along the highway to eat grass. We have a huge stray dog population in which little is done by government authorities and the private sector. Our current government has decided to ignore the situation completely.  There is a very interesting documentary on the current Stray Dog problem in Puerto Rico named “100,000”.

Island Hospitality

“Bendito, comete el Lechon. Si es solo una vez mas no te va hacer daño.” This is a phrase I have heard one too many times. Hospitable people who love meat are really trying to share their meal with you. The problem is that most Puerto Rican’s have a hard time just leaving meat outside of one meal and they also expect you to act the same.

So I invite you to try a Vegetarian meal with some Latin flavor. To break with the stereotype of Vegetarian Food not having “Sabor” my good friend Wilo Benet has offered to share this great recipe of “Piñon Vegetariano” so you can make at home.

Have you encountered difficulties with being Latino and vegetarian? What happens when you don’t follow the norms and traditions of the Latino culture?

To learn more about Raul, visit http://raulcolon.net.

______________________________________________________________

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

______________________________________________________________

facebook twitter youtube images

______________________________________________________________

34 Comments to “Vege- que?”

  1. Great article Raul! It’s really true how sometimes no matter how many times you tell people its nothing personal, they still take it personal when your diet stops you from eating one of their dishes.

  2. I can definetly relate to this article. I was a vegetarian but I went back to my carnivore habits for certain reasons. It is extremely difficult being of latin culture and vegetarian. Latinos are neither welcome nor tolerant to vegetarianism. I was constantly ridiculed by family and friends for my choices (they are not the reasons I went back). I plan on becoming vegetarian again but it will definetly take some time.

  3. Eric,

    I appreciate the feedback. The problem is that people have a direct link towards what they eat in many cultures. In ours it is difficult to make them understand that what you eat has nothing to do with the affinity you have towards your culture, nationality or the love you have towards friends and family.

    Mil gracias por el comentario.

  4. Great read. Question, do vegetarians hate the people who call themselves vegetarian even when including seafood on their diet?

    • Gabriel,

      I think hate is a powerful word. But the problem is that those people confuse even more the general population. If you the only type of animal that you eat is seafood then you should not call yourself a vegetarian.

      It is great that you decided to spare the lives of most other animals but the definition vegetarian serves a purpose.

      I encourage healthy eating..

      • It is one thing to encourage vegetarian activism, it is another to encourage healthy eating. Two different things altogether. Ever heard of the Paleo diet? Yummm!!!

        I will start calling those vegetarians who eat seafood, vegefishies.

  5. Thank you so much for this article!! I don’t know how many times I’ve had to sit through a “We need meat to survive” lecture. My family, after 11 years has accepted the fact that I do not eat meat! some now prepare a meatless dish for me at family gatherings. Back when I stopped eating meat, there were so many, “why would you do this? Don’t you miss eating pernil?” “Oh I could never stop eating meat” and then some. People always seem to want to defend their decision to eat meat. They taunt me with stupid jokes about eating animals and so on. It gets annoying because I don’t preach about why I stopped eating meat. I dont tell people to stop eating meat. I just want people to let me live.

  6. Hi Raul! Nice article with good information related to the puertorican culture. I have to agree with the difficulty of keeping a vegetarian diet here, but its not impossible. I was vegan years ago and still love the veggie food and recipes, but had to go back to the “dead animals” eventually… Still like to return to vegetarianism, but as a ovo-vegetarian (I get rid off completely the cow milk from my diet!).

    Great to read from you again, and take care!

    • Hernan,

      Thanks for commenting it is great to see someone close to home commenting on being latino.

      Thanks for visiting Being Latino and thank you for always supporting what I do.

  7. May,

    I think we all go through that struggle it becomes very repetitive when you hear the same story place after place. But after a while I have learn to tune it out.

    When it gets a bit out of hand then I just poke a bit of humor so they can actually picture what they are really eating.

  8. Raul, I could only imiagine the grief you get on the island. Pero m’ijo, estás bien, estás enfermo? Nice piece, mano

    • Julio,

      Gracias… tengo ejemplos a seguir como tu.

      Jaja si lees algunas de las historias que he publicado cuando me enfermo se lo achacan a que no como carne. LOL

  9. Great article! I was raised a vegan by a Mexican mother and a Costa Rican father. Growing up was not easy, especially when being a vegeterian was not “in” or “hip” amongst Hollywood. Everyone would look at us weird especially when we moved to Mexico for a couple of years. Our family, neighbors and friends thought my mother was crazy. People would think we would only eat grass and would make fun of us in school.
    It was hard trying to explain what we could or couldn’t eat, we would just give up, my mother would always pack a meal for us.
    I have heard all the jokes and excuses on why you shouldn’t be a vegetarian, people would tell my mother we wouldn’t grow or that would get sick, etc.
    I cook a lot of traditional food minus the meat, might not be “authentic” according to my ancestors but it does the job. I am glad my children are growing up vegetarian wouldn’t do it any other way.

    • Cynthia,

      I really appreciate your compliments. My Sister-in-law is Mexican and she easily modifies my food to taste very authentic and still stay meatless. It would be great if you wish to share your recipes and more stories.
      🙂

      Thanks again!

  10. I’m not full-time vegetarian, but I’ve been consuming less meat. It’s partially health and partially laziness. My wife’s vegetarian and I got tired of cooking a meat dish and a veggie one, so now I go full vegetarian every other week.

    When we visit PR, she gets the weird looks so I totally understand how you feel.

    Great post!

  11. Great article Raul! Although it does not come to mind, vegetarianism has been a part of Latino culture for centuries prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Native people of Latin America did not consume as much animal flesh as the Europeans. For example, there are some accounts that the Aztecs of the Valley of Mexico would harvest sea weed that grew along the sides of Lake Texcoco and the surrounding lakes. Can you imagine, a sea weed taco?! Native people of Latin America maintained a very seasonal diet, meaning that most animal-flesh protein sources were only available at certain times of the year since domestication was minimal, leading to more consumption of vegetable based dishes. Because of this, some certain cuisines have more vegetable-based dishes and dishes that do not contain meat. However, ever since the blending of the two worlds, meat has become an important component of Latin American cuisines, but there are still some dishes that offer that Latin American flare and taste without any animal flesh in it. Not to mention, you can always alter some dishes and recipes to make them vegetarian/vegan/etc. You just have to dig deeper for it. It is not easy being a Latino vegetarian but it is possible. Kudos to you for the vegetarianism!

  12. JNR,

    Any thing that can improve your life-style and goes with your values is fine with me. One of the main things that bothers me is that I don’t tell people to stop eating meat but I get the part of why don’t you eat meat…

    What did you think of the recipe? Maybe you can make it with your wife.

    • I looked at the site, and sent the link to my wife. It looks great as we’ve been trying to keep our food culturally loyal but vegetarian at the same time; we’ll definitively try recipes, the Piñon looks interesting. Do you run VegLatino? Maybe we can share some of our Veggie Mexi-Rican inventions.

  13. I love the promotion of less meat among Latinos! It can be done!

    I’m a Flexitarian…No chicken, beef or pork at home. Just seafood and vegetables and we have not suffered at all. I haven’t given up meat completely when we’re out or visiting in Miami. But, we’ll see.
    Y no estoy enferma. LOL.

  14. YES! I have been a vegan for a month and when I first decided to do it everyone freaked out! My sister especially but its been great and I don’t see me ever going back to meat. I do miss the flavors of mexican cooking but I am going to experiment with tofu and I will let u know how that goes!

    • Jessica… There are many ways to cook vegetarian and mexican without having to miss the flavors. Will talk to my Mexican Sister-in-law to see what recipes we can find for your.

      Thanks for commenting!

  15. I’ve been a vegetarian since 97, and to this day still have to explain, though not as much, what that means to my Puerto Rican and Dominican family. To be fair, I am still asked by other Latinos and non Latinos alike, it is after all, still an attention grabbing decision most people don’t understand. But, man, the look on Latinos faces when they first find out. You ever notice when they literally freeze, especially if they have a cucharon in their hands and are about to serve you a large mans portion of habichuelas con carne? Priceless. By the way, why must there be one type of meat in the rice, another in the beans, AND then a big piece of yet another meat on the side? Overkill anyone? I also find it funny when I say “No, gracias, no como carne,” and they respond with “Ah, pues toma, comete este chibo or pescado, eso no es carne!” Sweet like plantains, but no thank you. I had one man, who after offering me the chicken, beef, pork, and fish he had on hand, put his hands on his lips and with a sincere befuddled look on his face, stared blankly into his backyard and finally said “Ay, pues, comete le grama si quiere!”

    • Inti.. de comete la grama y el Pasto joke has been so overused it should be illegal to use it.

      Funny how they want you to eat meat but you can’t dare to force them to stop.

      I think many of our stories are much alike!

  16. I have not had that experience yet and that is because I live in a community which most of the people are very conscious with health, animal rights as well as environment issues and that is what made me look for more information in the first place. I do get get all kinds of comments over the phone and I know that a lot of people think that I just do it to get attention or to make myself look like a “Hippie” because all the things that I have changed in my life, from not having a car to not eating meat…it is really a no brainer for me because I know that I am helping myself (because I feel great and I look better than few years ago) and I am also helping that planet. I will be interesting to see what happens when i get to visit my family in Puerto Rico, I know it would be a challenge, not because I want to eat the meat and I can’t, is because that I have to turn down the plate of food, I think that i have to be very clear in the first place and even offer to cook…hahaha

    Great article Raul!!!

    • Ana,

      Thanks for reading the post and commenting. It is great that you and Hernan people who I know from home have commented on the blog.

      The best way is educating them you can get some of what you can read above but don’t take it personal. You will eventually stop tuning it out.

      We have to prepare a meal when you come and visit for you guys!

  17. I HEAR YOU! I’m Cuban so I’ve faced the same thing. I get the whole cultural guilt trip all the time. I choose not to go too deeply into the conversation and try to remain as diplomatic as humanly possible with a gentle smile on my face.

    Thanks for sharing,
    YRM

  18. Raul,
    I would love to share recipes

  19. That was some communicative blog

%d bloggers like this: