The Complicated Identity of Latinx Vegans
I had a wonderful conversation with a fellow Latina vegana after one of my yoga classes. We went to have a yummy vegan meal and just talked. It was great to have someone understand the struggle of being vegan, from both sides. I felt it so relevant that I decided to write about the complexity of being a Latina Vegana. I obviously know that it is a complex identity which is the whole reason that I started my blog and then my public identity online with Latina Vegana. But I've never really put it into words and then shared it. My thoughts are ever evolving as I learn more and more about food culture, including veganism, and Latinidad. And this is obviously not an in-depth analysis but my own personal experiences. This intersection could be a whole doctoral thesis. This is just the tip of an iceberg.
The Latina Side
Food is culture. There's nothing more than being connected to your roots than through food. You may not speak Spanish or have stepped foot on your ancestral land but you can cook a mean Nacatamal and Gallo pinto. Every major event in your life had food being served, from birthdays to graduations. And if you grew up, like I did, every meal had some kind of animal meat in it. Whether it was bistek con cebolla, milanesa or arroz a la Valenciana, the meats were EVERY WHERE. When I went vegetarian over a decade ago, my mom's first thought was "y que vas a comer?". The thought of not eating meat was so foreign that she worried that I wouldn't have anything to eat. That's how central meat was to every dish in my family. I've obviously not just survived but thrived on both a vegetarian and now a vegan diet. But it says something that it was her first reaction to worry.
Plus, no one chooses to NOT eat meat. In our home countries, our families are forced to not eat meat because of economic reasons. To live in poverty is to eat what you can. Our families may have eaten predominantly vegan or vegetarian diets but it wasn't by choice. It was because they couldn't afford anything else. So to come to this country, where meat is cheap and accessible, I can understand the desire to have as much of it as you can. It isn't just about being connected to your home country, it's also a way to show that the sacrifice was worth it. That you've made it and that now you can provide for your family when before you couldn't. This also doesn't include the inaccessibility to fresh produce that our communities face, even if there was a desire to make healthier food choices.
The Vegan Side
I've loved animals and the planet for as long as I could remember. My first rescue was a black kitty that I named Blacky, cut me some slack on the name originality. I was like three. I think we only had him for like a few days but I was hooked. I would beg my mom to let me bring home every cat or dog until we finally got our own puppy that I promptly named B-I-N-G-O. Again, cut me some slack. I was like 6. And since then I've had a dog in my life. We also had other pets like a parrot, which bit me and started my fear of birds that I still struggle with, and other dogs.
Beyond the usual companion animals, I felt a deep unease about eating animals. I didn't know what being vegetarian meant back then, I knew something was up every time I tried to eat meat. I hated eating meat off the bone. I hated eating the fat, cartilage and any other parts that I considered too close to the original state of the animal. I thought that I had to eat meat and so I tried to distance myself from the fact that this was a living, breathing, sentient being that was killed so that I could eat it.
But really, I didn't know anyone that was vegetarian. And everyone in my family ate animals, and still do. Also, everyone that I saw who was a vegetarian didn't look like me or wasn't a part of my culture, i.e. was white, which made me feel like being vegan or vegetarian wasn't for me, which still happens today.
Not seeing yourself in a community is a major deterrent for taking the steps. Health and compassion has been equated to whiteness when, in reality, we all deserve to live healthy lives, full of compassion.
Being Latina and Vegana
And this is where the complexity lies. At the intersection of these two identities. One is of culture and rooted in my identity. The other is seen as opposite, seen as whiteness or reaching for it. But the idea that people of color who are also vegan are turning away from our culture and that veganism is rooted in whiteness erases our pre-colonized identities.
The reason that we eat cows, or any cattle, is because of colonization. The Colonizers not only brought violence but brought their way of life including their food culture. Indigenous peoples hardly ate meat. I'm not trying to romanticize this history because the reasons are not because of a higher consciousness. It's because they hunted when they ate animals and hunting is hard when you don't have a rifle so it was purely logistical. So many of their meals consisted of grains, squash and other local fruits and vegetables that were gathered with possibly some animal meat that had been hunted like bison, quail or wild boar.
This colonized thinking of our indigenous past makes us think that we've always been eating cheese, cows and pigs. But these foods are part of our colonized history. We were made to eat these foods, add them into our already rich culture and then pass them down. To start to understand and unpack this, is to move away from colonization and whiteness, and move towards our ancestral identities.
One of my favorite books on this is Decolonize Your Diet, which is a book written by two amazing professors in the Bay Area. This book, which is also a cookbook, breaks down the history of food and food culture within the context of colonization. Pick it up, if you don't have it, because it's worth the read. I've mentioned it before if you've ever read any of my other posts on my previous blog.
But it's not always about looking back to find our future but moving towards a future that encompasses a piece of our past. I know that veganism is the future and more than anything that healthy communities are our future. And a way to do that is recreating our traditions to include health. Being healthy isn't a white people thing nor should it be. That, to me, is colonized thinking. Latinx deserve to be healthy. We deserve to live full lives without disease. We also need to build a world with more compassion and not just for humans but also non-human animals as well. Being compassionate is also not whiteness and again, to think that is to be colonized.
Compassion, health and love are deeply rooted in Latinx culture and tradition. Being a Latinx vegan just helps us to continue that legacy.