“Mija,” my mother said, “do you want to eat?”
“Yes, mother. But just to remind you, I’m vegetarian.”
“Let’s go to McDonalds! They have chicken nuggets and
you can eat it because it’s not red meat,” my sister said.
While my sister’s idea may seem like a reasonable Latino perspective, the reality is that a vegetarian avoids eating all kinds of meat. I surveyed 83 Latinos to see what they thought of vegetarianism and what a vegetarian diet consists of. Over a quarter of respondents identified seafood as an acceptable part of a vegetarian diet. Others thought vegetarians could eat red meat and chicken.
I became a vegetarian during the 40 days of Lent, meaning that my diet had no meat and no seafood. But I found that, despite the Lenten tradition of giving up meat on Fridays, this radical lifestyle is still foreign to many Latinos.
When deciding what we should have for the family dinner, my tío Ramón suggested ceviche, because it is a meal he thought everyone could share. Case in point.
One reason my uncle may have suggested seafood is that the meatless Lenten diet may include fish and seafood on Fridays. For many Latinos, the 40 days of Lent are the closest they have ever come to being vegetarian. Perhaps this is why my family cannot fully grasp the concept of vegetarianism.
Being vegetarian, is not part of the Latino cultural logic. Nearly 60 percent of Latinos I surveyed indicated that vegetarianism was not part of Latino culture.
I recently visited Carnitas Michoacan, a 24-hour Mexican restaurant in East Los Angeles, the heart of the Latino population in LA. I ordered a cheese quesadilla, mentioning to the cashier that I was vegetarian. She asked whether I wanted carne asada, carnitas, pollo, or chorizo.
I repeated that I am a vegetarian. She looked surprised. After I placed my order, I heard her yell to the cook. He responded, “¿Con qué tipo de carne?” (What type of meat?) She responded, “Sin nada.” (None.) The cook said, “¿De verdad? ¿Sin nada? ¿Cómo puede ser esto?” (Really? None? How can this be?)
My family members are clearly not the only ones who do not understand what it means to be vegetarian. My experience with vegetarianism shows me how little Latinos know about the vegetarian lifestyle.
It has now been over a month since I broke my Lenten vow of vegetarianism. But I found that I did not miss meat that much. Despite my family’s initial shock, they have come to a different understanding of vegetarianism.
If you were to give a title to the Latino diet what would it be? Email your response to [email protected]