Jose and Leticia Gamiz received many insults when they first opened their mobile Mexican food business four years ago.
Their business, called Mi Vegana Madre, is entirely vegan. In other words, they only serve food made from plants.
“That’s not real Mexican food,” some people said. ″My grandma would slap you” was another comment.
“We even had somebody write (online) in Spanish, ‘They’re probably not even Mexican,’” Jose Gamiz told the Associated Press.
But even so, the couple’s meat- and dairy-free business has built a following. And, it is part of a growing vegan Mexican food industry in the United States.
In cities like Las Vegas, Nevada, and Austin, Texas, at least a few eateries or food trucks sell entirely vegan Mexican meals. Across Southern California, there are many choices, including a place that sells traditional sweets that do not contain dairy.
Mi Vegana Madre is based near Phoenix, Arizona. It expanded into a physical restaurant last year. It offers vegan versions of carne asada, al pastor and nachos -- made with a nut-based sauce that tastes like cheese.
Not far from Mi Vegana Made, another restaurant offering vegan Mexican food opened in January. In September, a third vegan Mexican place opened in Phoenix.
Nineteen-year-old Keren Aguilar and her sister, Keyla Aguilar, 22, opened Earth Plant Based Cuisine, also in Phoenix. Other family members, including their mother, also work there.
The sisters and their parents have eaten only vegan for nearly five years. It was Keren’s dream to open a vegan restaurant. Luckily, a space became available and a family friend was willing to be a financial partner.
Most American vegan restaurants offer a few basic Mexican-influenced foods. But the Gamiz and Aguilar families are trying to include all kinds of the foods that they they grew up eating.
“We didn’t want it to have a ‘vegan taste’ or be bland…So our spices are very important to making it Mexican,” Keren Aguilar said.
Gustavo Arellano is a Los Angeles-based reporter. He wrote a book called “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America.” He says restaurants like Earth Plant Based Cuisine are bringing traditional methods to the increasingly popular plant-based diet.
“What blew up the vegan Mexican movement was these pop-up vegan food fairs where you have not just Mexicans, but Central Americans,” Arellano said.
Yet for some Latinos, eating no meat seems impossible. Linda Sepulveda lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there almost no all-vegan Mexican restaurants. She says she would find it hard to give up an eating whatever she wants.
“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 [vegetables], but there always has to be a main meat and everything else dresses it up.”
However, Gustavo Arellano notes that Mexico’s native peoples actually ate mostly plant-based foods in the past. Spanish colonizers greatly changed the food culture when they brought over cows and pigs.
“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,” Arellano said. “I eat everything, but I’ll eat vegan Mex if it’s good.”
I’m Pete Musto.
Words in This Story
slap – v. to hit someone or something with the front or back of your open hand
dairy – n. milk or food made from milk, such as ice cream, cheese, or yogurt
restaurant – n. a place where you can buy and eat foods eaten or prepared for eating at one time
cheese – n. a yellow or white solid food that is made from milk
bland – adj. lacking strong taste
spice(s) – n. a substance, such as pepper or nutmeg, that is used in cooking to add special tastes to food and that comes from a dried plant and is usually a powder or seed
intrigue(d) – v. to cause someone to become interested
dress(es) (it) up – p.v. to make something more appealing, impressive, or fancy
realize – v. to understand or become aware of something