Being a vegetarian and a Latina seem to be completely contradictory terms, placed together in a sentence sounds confusing and comical at the same time. Try going to a Puerto Rican restaurant, being a Puerto Rican yourself, ask for arroz con habichuelas (rice and beans), tostones (plantains) and a salad sans meat and you’ll get a very confused waiter or waitress. But why?
You’d think that in a place like New York City, where you can find a restaurant for all kinds of diet fads out there at any hour, raw, vegan, gluten-free, you name it, people would be used to hearing the term vegetarian. More and more restaurants are introducing vegetarian meals into their menus to please a much wider range and consumer oriented crowd. So why not embrace vegetarianism in Latin cuisine.
In the scenario described above, the waiter gives the customer meat on the house – don’t worry about it vegetarian this one is on us. True story! Now if you’re reading, please don’t try to use this as a strategy to get free meat at a Latin restaurant, let me make my point. As Gossard and York 1 suggest, social class has a substantial influence on meat consumption. So the waiter giving me this meat on the house was simply a gesture offered from the restaurant in case I couldn’t afford to buy meat.
In my most recent visit to Puerto Rico my family expressed a lot of concern over my diet. First, they didn’t understand what I was talking about so I explained and they proceeded to offer me “Jamon con queso” No, that’s meat too. It didn’t take too long before they asked me one of the most exhausted questions out there, how do I get my protein! People are obsessed with protein, not just Latinos, so much that the over consume it. I know people who eat meat at every meal of the day. According to Debra Wasserman, author of ‘Simply Vegan’, a high ratio of dietary animal to vegetable protein increases the risk of osteoporosis and kidney disease. The protein answer is a very simple one, the real question should be where do I get by vitamin B12 which is a nutrient found only in animals.
Yes, the road to vegetarianism is paved with many road blocks for Latinos, so you’re probably wondering why become one, why complicate everything. Well for me, becoming a vegetarian began not so much as a moral decision which is not to say that I don’t care about animal rights. My decision came as a result of a weak digestive system. For a week, on two months end, I started tweaking my diet in the hopes I’d find out what was going on and it was just a matter of time that I discovered that the problem was linked to meat so I just let it go. Afterwards, I began researching and absorbing all the nutritional data on vegetarianism to make sure I was getting all my essential vitamins and nutrients. The result is that I am. If you’re planning on making the switch this year do it, but don’t do go cold turkey.
If down the road you realize you can’t live without meat try being a flexitarian, and consume meat on occasion. There is an overwhelming amount of literature on the subject so to keep it simple I leave you with Michael Pollan’s author of ‘In Defense of Food’ words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Being Latino Contributor, Leslie Pasante
1 Marcia Gossard, Richard York, Social Structural Influences on Meat Consumption. Human Ecology Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2003