From Carne Asada to Kale: How a Latinx Meat-Eater Became a Healthy Vegan

A Story About My Vegan Journey and Why I Went Vegan

(Me as a kid. )

I’m a first-generation American who grew up in a Guatemalan and El Salvadorian household. If you know anything about Latinx culture, you will know the food is delicious but full of meat.

Growing up, there would be barbecues at my house practically every weekend with piles of carne asada (grilled meat), salty sausages, salsa, rice, and potato salad. My diet as a child was like 40% meat, 30% sugar, 20% carbs, and 10% fresh fruits and veggies. Needless to say, I was a fat kid!

Vegan carne asada taco made with mushroom “meat”

But my heavy meat-eating meals weren’t just from Latinx food, American food isn’t the healthiest either. McDonald’s was my favorite restaurant and I loved Big Macs, chicken nuggets, and Filet-O-Fish. I also loved KFC chicken and chicken from Pollo Loco and Pollo Campero. On top of that, I ate loads of frozen food and packaged food daily. I had the worst diet imaginable for a child.

Growing up, no one I knew was vegan or vegetarian, or even a healthy eater. So how did I go from Big Macs to quinoa burgers? In short: because of the animals.

Rooster and hen in Thailand. Most chickens don’t have this much space.

While I was destroying my body with unhealthy food that I had no idea was unhealthy, I was also really empathetic towards animals and wanted to be around animals more than people.

Back in the day, I had no idea zoos were animal jails and very cruel, so I loved going to the zoo because I felt I could connect with animals that way. I also loved nature shows and seeing wild animals while going camping. Every time I’d see an animal, I’d get excited and feel this deep connection to them that I still feel to this day.

I also had lots of animal companions but unfortunately, they were taken from me or put to sleep by a pair of twisted assholes that society would refer to as my parents, but I refer to as the wardens since they don’t deserve to be called parents.

Before each of my animal companions was taken from me or died mysteriously, I had a real bond with them and felt more connected to them than I did to any human.

Movies like Bambi where the mother died would devastate me. If I saw animal cruelty on the news or in a documentary, or even in a cartoon, I would cry.

The female warden had an equally toxic and psycho sister who married a Mormon hunter who loved to shoot animals, eat them, and decorate his house with them. This Mormon hunter family used to babysit me and they would enjoy feeding me rabbit but telling me it was chicken, wait until I ate it, and then tell me it was a rabbit to see my face fall. They did the same with bear and deer. They’d feed me these woodland creatures and would enjoy not telling me until after I ate them. When I was disgusted and sad that I ate Bambi and his friends, they’d laugh and make fun of me.

I think being babysat by a sadistic, hunter family is what helped me make the connection that a deer and a cow are the same. Both are living beings with feelings who don’t want to be murdered. Same with rabbits and chickens and wild boars and pigs.

By nine years old, I decided to become a vegetarian. At that time, I had no idea about factory farming and the horrific living conditions that millions of animals are put through every single day. I still thought animal farms had green meadows and clean water, and the animals had room to roam before they were slaughtered. I was so wrong but even with my thinking that cows, chickens, and pigs had a life like in Babe or Charlotte’s Web, I still thought killing animals for food was wrong and I wanted to stop eating meat altogether.

At first, I was met with a lot of resistance from the wardens since they hate to see me happy and independent. The male warden got really pissed since he has no chill and loves getting pissed off about everything. He tried to intimidate me into eating meat again but my desire to not hurt animals was stronger than my fear of his explosive temper.

Despite the lack of support and even getting into arguments over it, I started my journey as a vegetarian. At first, it was difficult because I was so used to eating meat and all the food available around me had meat. Back then, you didn’t have rows of vegan options at the supermarkets like there are now.

I think there were one or two vegetarian hamburger brands at the market, one tasted like cardboard and the other tasted like an overcooked tuna casserole, but I ate those veggie patties happily. With enough sugary, chemically, barbecue sauce on top, it was fine.

The weaning method is what worked for me and I recommend trying that for anyone transitioning from an omnivore diet to a vegan one. I first stopped eating red meat, then chicken, then fish. I also found ways to make my favorite meals meat-free which wasn’t that hard to do, even with the limited meat alternatives at the market in the early 90s.

There were times early on when I would “cheat” since I would get hungry and the only thing available was some chicken, but I eventually figured it out and was fully vegetarian by ten years old.

I enjoyed being the only vegetarian at school since I loved standing out and getting attention. Eventually, the wardens stopped bitching and accepted my new lifestyle and even made vegetarian versions of their food for me.

Buddhist temple in Loei, Thailand

I hadn’t met any other vegetarians or vegans until 6th grade when we went on a field trip to a Buddhist temple and I talked to the monks who were all vegetarian. After seeing the beautiful temple, we ate at the temple cafeteria which was all vegan.

It was the first time I saw that much vegan food and it felt liberating to be able to put anything on my plate and not have to ask about the ingredients. I also began to look into Buddhism and saw that my beliefs connected a lot with Buddhist beliefs.

The part about showing compassion for all living creatures really resonated with me. I never became fully Buddhist, but I now live in a Buddhist country and feel a deep connection to Buddhism.

Buddhist monk at Haad Rin beach in Koh Phangan

So once I became a vegetarian and started doing more research on animal rights, I realized that farm animals don’t have a life like they do in movies and commercials. Quite the opposite, most chickens, cows, and pigs have the most horrific living conditions imaginable. Their life is worse than any hell anyone can ever think of. From the time they are born to the time they are slaughtered, they live in constant panic, fear, and pain.

Cramped, filthy living conditions, no sun, no outdoors, no fresh air, sickness, and seeing your family and peers slaughtered horrifically and hearing their screams is what millions of cows, chickens, and pigs experience all over the world.

Free-roaming chickens in Koh Phangan, Thailand

I also learned that being a vegetarian wasn’t enough. The dairy industry was even worse than the meat industry since female animals are raped, have their children stolen from them and slaughtered, and are forced to produce milk until their bodies give out and they are slaughtered.

Imagine being forced to get pregnant by being raped, having your child taken away, having your milk for your baby sucked out of you, and then doing that process over and over again until you are too weak and are discarded like trash. This is where cow milk comes from and I knew I needed to become a vegan.

Transitioning from a vegetarian to a vegan was a lot harder for me than going from an omnivore to a vegetarian. I hated cow milk and switched to soy milk while I was still just a vegetarian. I also hated eggs but I did eat stuff that had eggs in it. Eggs were easy to give up, but dairy was much harder.

The thing that made it difficult to give up dairy completely was cheese. Americans eat a fuckload of cheese and I was no different. I made the common rooky mistake of replacing all my meat consumption with cheese consumption. So my diet was cheese-heavy and it was difficult to give that up.

But eventually, I decided to go for it. I knew that I did not want to contribute to animal suffering and that cow milk and chicken eggs come from suffering. By the time I turned 22, after twelve years of not eating flesh, I decided to go fully vegan.

Cheeseless pizza is actually good!

It was like a switch went on in my brain one morning. I woke up ready to be vegan. I remember my very first meal as a vegan was cheeseless pizza from Dominoes. I thought it still tasted good and I was happy that my food did not harm any living creatures.

From there I did a lot of research on nutrition and what vitamins I need since even now, people think vegans are malnourished and are going to die if they don’t mainline protein every day.

Protein is not that difficult to find. Americans eat too much protein and it can lead to health risks. Beans, nuts, seeds, and nutritional yeast have lots of protein. The main nutrients that vegans need to be mindful of are iron, b12, and omega 3. I take iron and b12 supplements and also eat a lot of dark leafy vegetables and nuts. I also take flaxseed oil for omega 3. I also make sure my food has many natural colors, so a mix of different colored veggies and fruits. Different plants have different nutrients so having a colorful plate means you’re getting a bit of everything.

Summer rolls from Pure Vegan Heaven in Koh Phangan

As I became vegan for longer, my diet changed considerably. My diet as a child consisted of lots of pre-packaged, genetically modified food full of salt and sugar. I had no idea how unhealthy drinking kool-aid every day and eating frozen food was. It sounds obvious but if you grow up eating that and no one tells you it’s super unhealthy, how will you know?

When you become vegan, you learn what’s in your food to avoid animal ingredients. But I found as I was reading labels with huge paragraphs of ingredients I couldn’t pronounce, that not only did I need to look out for animal products, but harmful chemicals as well.

The American diet is pretty unhealthy, especially for those who can’t afford to pay hundreds of dollars for a bag of organic groceries at Whole Foods. Even though I was fully vegan, I wasn’t a very healthy one since I was still eating a lot of sugar and processed shit.

In Marrakech, Morocco.

It wasn’t until I moved to Morocco with no vegan processed shit at the market and not even tofu, that I learned to cook natural, whole, foods. I also lost a lot of weight!

Moroccan food is delicious and naturally organic. Their spices are incredible. Just a pinch of cumin from Morocco is more than enough flavor for your food. When you have natural food not sprayed with chemicals, it tastes so much better and you don’t need to add extra chemical sauces to make it taste better.

I still remember eating vegan tagine at an animal rescue in Marrakesh. The workers at the rescue made a vegan tajine for me that included veggies pressure-cooked with bay leaves, and a light sprinkle of cumin and salt. It was incredible!

My cooking improved greatly while in Morocco. I learned to use veggies, herbs, and spices to flavor my food instead of chemicals.

When I lived in Morocco, there was only one vegetarian restaurant in each city and town I visited, but it was really good and I was still able to make delicious food even without tofu.

Vegan Khao Soi, a delicious spicy noodle dish from Northern Thailand

Living in Thailand has been a lot easier. Thailand is very vegan-friendly. New vegan products and restaurants are popping up all the time. You can go to any Thai restaurant and order vegan food since there are a lot of vegetable-based dishes like fried morning glory, spicy papaya salad, Tom Yum soup, pad thai, and spring rolls to name a few. Just remember to ask for no fish sauce, “ma sai nam pla.” They will use soy sauce instead.

A “je” restaurant, complete with yellow flags and cheap, vegan food.

Also, in most cities and towns in Thailand, there is at least one “je” restaurant since even locals who are not fully vegan, will eat vegan regularly. “Je” in Thai means “vegan.” Every year during fall, there is a ten-day Je Festival where restaurants, markets, and food stalls serve vegan food even if they normally serve meat. All of the vegan food is marked with bright, yellow, je flags and is my favorite time of year.

Because of Buddhism, veganism is very respected here. I have never had to deal with any negativity about being vegan and restaurants always know what “gin je” (I eat vegan) means.

Somtam is a spicy Thai salad made with green papaya.

It’s also nice to be near loads of delicious restaurants in Bangkok that serve vegan food from Thailand, India, Italy, the Mediterranean, the U.S., Japan, Vietnam, Myanmar, China, and Malaysia with new restaurants appearing all the time.

Koh Phangan, Thailand

There’s even a vegan island in the South of Thailand called Koh Phangan. I used to live on that island for three years and was within walking distance of three beaches, dozens of vegan restaurants, and vegan stores, as well as yoga and mediation centers. Check out Srithanu if you are ever on that island and you will be in vegan paradise!

One of the many, delicious vegan restaurants in Koh Phangan.

The world has changed so much since I first became a vegetarian at ten and a vegan at twenty-two. It’s great to see so many omnivore restaurants have a section for vegans and so many more vegan products in stores. I am also seeing a lot more vegans sharing their journey on social media which is awesome!

With plant-based meat options like Beyond Meat and even local versions here in Thailand like More Meat and Let’s Plant Meat, I think we are heading to a completely vegan world soon.

Plant-based meat is doing well globally, as are plant-based milk and other dairy alternatives. Vegan cheese has gotten really good since I first became vegan. I’m pretty impressed by the options now.

Decadent, berry chocolate waffles from Veganerie

If you are interested in becoming a vegan or eating more vegan food I recommend learning to cook if you can’t cook yet, trying different vegan food from different countries, and also going to different restaurants in your area and trying different vegan dishes.

You might think something tastes weird when you first try it but then you might end up craving it all the time. That’s how I was with falafel and hummus the first time I tried it. I didn’t hate it but I thought it tasted weird, now I love it!

There isn’t a wrong or right way to start your vegan journey. I am totally against guilting and shaming people and just want people to at least eat more plants and less meat. Just don’t call yourself a vegan until you are fully vegan. Just like you can’t be sort of pregnant, you can’t be sort of vegan.

If you are transitioning into veganism but still consuming animal products, then you can say so. If someone is shaming you for that, then they are just being a prick. What made me miss animal products less was discovering new vegan ingredients I had never heard of before and love. That’s why exploring different food from different countries is so important, you don’t know what you’re missing out on and if you are exposed to more variety, you won’t miss animal products and will see ways to replace them with vegan options.

I became a vegan because I love animals and didn’t want to see them suffer. I went from eating lots of meat and unhealthy food to eating healthy, natural, vegan food. I didn’t shame myself, I wasn’t hard on myself, I just did my best and eventually, I became a vegan without thinking about it. I’ve learned so much about food and nutrition and my cooking is way better now than it was when I was a vegetarian.

Wherever you are in your journey, whether you just want to add more vegan meals to your diet, want to go completely vegan, or are already vegan, just know that eating more plants is not only healthier for you and better for the environment, but it’s also good for the animals.

(Chicks crowded in a small cage but still living in much better conditions than chicks in factory farms.)

Everyone’s story about their journey to veganism is different, I hope you enjoyed mine! You might enjoy Pete and Toni’s too.

We’d love to hear your comments and stories too, just pop them below!

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Fashionista. Film-maker. Digital nomad.

1 thought on “From Carne Asada to Kale: How a Latinx Meat-Eater Became a Healthy Vegan”

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