Haters Gonna Hate: Vegan Mexican Restaurants Are Opening Up And The Backlash Is Next Level
It seems like vegan food is everywhere these days. From the fast food menus at Taco Bell, Burger Kind, and Carls Jr., to the grocery store shelves, it’s never been easier to try eating less meat.
For many people, veganism has seemed to be a diet of the privileged. It tends to have a reputation has being a bit more expensive and a little more difficult to follow than your typical diet – especially for Latinos – but from New Hampshire to Arizona and California, Latinos are embracing veganism with new restaurants.
And apparently, not everyone is happy about it.
First, what exactly is veganism?
Veganism is based upon eating a diet free from all animal products – typically this means no meat, no eggs, no dairy. Many people go vegan because of animal rights or to help the environment. But the largest reason cited by many people recently is because of their health.
Adults in the U.S. have a 40% chance of getting type 2 diabetes, but Hispanic and Latino adults have more than a 50% chance, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Latinos also are at greater risk of developing diabetes at a younger age and getting complications like kidney failure and vision loss. The CDC says some of the factors contributing to this are genetics and the cultural value in eating meals high in fat and calories.
Ok, but like what does vegan Mexican food look like?
While most American vegan restaurants offer a few basic Mexican-inspired items, this new wave of Mexican-driven restaurants is reimagining classic Mexican recipes, the foods they grew up on, with plant-based ingredients.
Las Vegas and Austin, Texas, each have at least a few eateries or food trucks that are exclusively vegan Mexican. Across Southern California, there are a slew of options, including a vegan panaderia peddling traditional pastries.
The vegan Mex wave now seems to be sweeping Arizona.
Mi Vegana Madre expanded into a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale last year. It offers vegan takes on carne asada, al pastor and nachos with a cashew cream-based cheese sauce. Another restaurant offering vegan Mexican and Mediterranean dishes opened in January a half-mile away. In September, a third place opened in Phoenix, also led by a Mexican American family.
But many people don’t realize that pre-Hispanic Mexicans – our Indigenous ancestors – ate a diet that was largely plant-based.
While some may say veganizing is misappropriating Mexican food, the country’s indigenous natives actually ate mostly plant-based foods, according to Arellano. Colonizers from Spain irrevocably altered the food culture with introductions of beef, lamb and pork.
“They don’t realize, if you’re real Mexicans, you’re not supposed to be eating this meat in the first place because colonizers brought it over,” Gustavo Arellano said in an interview with KTLA. “I eat everything, but I’ll eat vegan Mex if it’s good.”
And books like Decolonize Your Diet by Luz Calvo, while not focused on veganism, help connect Latinos with their Indigenous roots through their diet. Many of the ingredients and recipes popular among Latino cultures today actually originated during Colonial times. So many are turning to the diets of their ancestors and many of those diets happen to be overwhelmingly plant-based.
Vegan Mexican food definitely seems to have its haters among the Latino community.
“That’s not real Mexican food,” ”My grandma would slap you” and “sellout” are just some of comments Jose and Leticia Gamiz received when they started their pop-up vegan Mexican food business, Mi Vegana Madre, four years ago.
People saw them doing something new and took it personally, Jose Gamiz said. “We even had somebody write (online) in Spanish, ‘They’re probably not even Mexican.’”
Despite the haters, the couple’s meat- and dairy-free endeavor has built a following. It’s part of a growing vegan Mexican food industry in the U.S. that has seen Latinos take control of the kitchen and plant-based Mexican cuisine increasingly plant roots in areas with large Latino communities.
Yet for some Latinos, going sin carne can still feel like a sin.
Linda Sepulveda, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, which has virtually no all-vegan Mexican restaurants, would find it hard to give up an omnivore’s life. Her house is always stocked with ground beef, tortillas and salsa.
Telling KTLA News, she said “I’m intrigued by (vegan Mexican), but I think a part of me knows it won’t taste the same,” she said. “We are always trying to find where we can add veggies, but there always has to be a main meat and everything else dresses it up.”
But all despite the haters, veganism seems to be on the rise all around the world.
Veganism is a rapidly growing movement – from just a few million in the early 90’s to around 550–950 million world wide as of last year. The search term for veganism has gone up by 550% according to google and veganism in the UK has risen over 300% in the last 5 years. But it’s not just limited to the US and the UK.
Even in Mexico, which many consider to be a country that loves its meat, veganism is on the rise. According to data collected by the Gourmet Show, a major Mexican food festival that showcases new products and highlights the latest trends in the gourmet food and drinks space, 20 percent of Mexicans identify as vegan or vegetarian. And, according to Maria Fernanda, manager of Villalobos Vegan Inc., the majority of these people are women, representing between 60-70 percent of this vegan demographic.