Food

We Talked to Vegetarian Latinos About How They Handle the Holidays

Lead Photo: Art by Alan López for Remezcla
Art by Alan López for Remezcla

The holidays are here, and for many of us, it means being surrounded by family, lots of tradition and perpetual questions about the “novio/a/x.”

Despite all the things that make the holidays, food is often at the center of these gatherings. With our tables full of pernil, birria, nacatamales and more meat-heavy dishes, vegetarians can feel left out. Of course, there are many vegetarian side dishes we can enjoy (tostones, arroz con gandules and elotes, for starters), but it’s hard to believe that our dietary restrictions aren’t an afterthought. It certainly doesn’t help that our family members will still offer us chicken or another meal that has been cooked with animal byproducts. And if our families are strict meat-eaters, then there can be little to no options for us.

Knowing that this time of year takes a little extra planning for some of us, Remezcla decided to tap several Latino vegetarians and vegans to ask how they cope with the holidays when meat reigns supreme. Read on below.

“You kind of have to lean heavy on the appetizers.”

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

“Well, my immediate family…embraced [vegetarianism] fully. My mom actually learned recipes for vegan tamales, vegan champurrado, just anything that was a traditional staple she learned to make a vegetarian version for us, because it was two out of three kids that were vegetarians and the third one didn’t mind eating vegetarian food.

“As far as my extended family, there’s a few scattered vegetarians, so there was always a vegetarian dish but usually, it was just sides or something carby like rolls. You kind of have to lean heavy on the appetizers, as opposed to the main meals. The game plan was usually to order ahead from a place we knew had vegetarian food, and it was almost like we were having a second dinner. It was almost like an exclusive club [where] the vegetarians hung out in a certain table, where we would bring our own dishes in solidarity like the kids’ table for vegetarians.” -Pablo Hernadez

“It is a lot of pressure to just kind of eat what’s in front of you... You almost want to do it.”

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

“We made empanadas for my Friendsgiving and [my mom] helped me make them with veggies only. She’s also learning, which is nice. She’ll taste them and she’s like, ‘Yeah, they’re good but you know would be better with meat.’

“She’s more interested in making sure that she makes stuff for me to eat, which is nice because I was starting to just make my own dishes and I think she’s trying to [ensure] that I can still eat the traditional food. Even with arepas, I love those…she purchased the Daiya soy cheese and made arepas from them, so little by little she’s starting to come around, but I mean it’s taken six years for her to finally give in. I think there’s ways, but it is a lot of pressure to just kind of eat what’s in front of you because for the sake of tradition, you almost want to do it, you know you’re like, ‘Oh, the holidays [are] fine,’ but I don’t like the taste anymore.

“So the previous years, I would [make] cookies or I would make something that still involved animal products. I would even offer to cook regular dishes that I was used to cooking, but I wouldn’t eat my own stuff… I was spending time and money on stuff that I didn’t even eat. I would get there, sometimes eat before or I would eat a little bit of whatever side dishes I could eat. I was more so thinking of the full party rather than, ‘I’m going to be hungry.’ That’s why this year, I’ve taken side dishes…sweet potato mash, mac and cheese that didn’t have dairy…I almost didn’t want to take it because I knew people would say something or comment, ‘Oh, this is vegan?’ That’s why I would just cook the regular dishes because I rather everybody eat whatever and then just leave me alone.” -Carolina Montenegro

"I’ll recreate that dish and just ‘veganize it.’"

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

“For the holidays, I usually make my own food. I kind of find out what my family is eating, like if they’re making tamales or pozole or just different food, so then I can recreate that certain dish and ‘veganize it,’ just so they can kind of see, ‘He’s eating the same thing we’re eating without any meat or milk products.’ Just little by little I’ve noticed that my family taste my food. Last year, I made tamales and my grandpa, now that he’s getting older, he’s not able to tolerate beef as much, so he tasted my tamales and he’s like ‘¡O estaban bien sabrosos!”…He even took some home.” -Adrean Rodriguez

"I’m just there for the moment."

Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla

My family is so big that this year we’re throwing Christmas in a hall because we don’t fit in someone’s house, there’s just too many of us…like 100. It is tough because everybody’s bringing meat, but I’m just there to enjoy the moment with my family, I’ll eat rice and beans. On days like that, I’ll have the moro or the salads that they bring and just limit myself. Unfortunately, I don’t really get to indulge in all of the amazing things that they cook, but I’m just there for the moment. I appreciate that they’re not forcing it on me. They’re just like, ‘I mean that’s great but what are you going to eat?’ That’s always the question, but I can deal with that. -Maria Brito