This post was written by Jessica Steinbach, MPH, RD.
Veganism can contribute to personal connections with yourself and others but how do you navigate veganism impacting your cultural connection? This blog will share some ideas of how to utilize veganism as a way to connect with your ethnic and cultural roots.
Taylor and I recently spoke on a panel held by activist group The Raven Corps called “Zoomers to Boomers” on the health implications of dairy. During this panel, I spoke about how when I first connected with veganism, I lost some connection to my Mexican heritage.
Like many cultures, food is a HUGE part of familial connection. Much of our days before Christmas are spent preparing to make tamales, family gatherings always include food, and connection to late family members is maintained through passing down their recipes. When I stopped eating animal products for ethical reasons, I was no longer able to eat the tamales my family made, participate in family gatherings without needing to bring my own food, or make tortillas with my abuelita (great grandmother). This was not only hard on me, but took a toll on my family members as well.
The decision to become vegan was followed by tears, long conversations, and some heated discussions. Eventually, my family and I were able to use my veganism as a learning opportunity and found great joy in “veganizing” family recipes, which we continue to do!
Here are some ways that I incorporate my culture into my veganism:
Explore culinary alternatives
My mother, grandmother, and I spent hours one year trying to perfect vegan tamales, and now we have it down! We researched alternatives to manteca (lard), ways to make delicious vegan fillings, and how cooking times need to be adjusted. This was such a fun and meaningful experience.
Explore plant-based cultural foods
What are the staples of your cultural foods that are plant-based? For example, traditional Mexican cuisine is often centered around the Three Sisters: squash, corn, and beans — foods I now regularly incorporate. Nopales (cactus) is a great filling for tacos, burritos, etc. Have fun with learning!
Talk with your family about how your veganism feels for them
Though these conversations can be hard, they are helpful for understanding why your veganism may be hard for your loved ones. If they are worried about missed connections, find other ways to connect like taking a vegan cooking class together, exploring art from your culture, or speaking in your native language at meals.
Connect with local vegan chefs
With the growing popularity of plant-based and vegan eating, cultural vegan foods are becoming more accessible. Can you find vegan versions of your favorite foods near you? One of my favorite traditions is eating vegan pan dulce from the farmers market every Sunday, something I used to do with my family growing up.
Learn about how your ancestors respected animals
Veganism and plant-based eating are not new. Do some research on how animals have been cared for and respected over the years within your culture. You may be surprised by what you find!
Veganism can be a wonderful way to find deeper connection with your culture. When we exist outside of the norm, it takes more effort to find points of commonality. Taking time to prioritize your ethnic roots when deciding to become vegan (or even after years of being vegan) can also be a way to develop deep personal connections.
- How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food as a Vegan
- 5 Things to do Before You Go Vegan
- 10 Strategies to Help You Go Vegan
- 10 Non-Food Ways to Advocate for Animals