What we eat and how we talk about food are key parts of our cultural identities. In France, studies show, children are taught to critique food; in Sweden, it’s important that all family members eat the same food as a symbol of egalitarianism; in non-Western places such as Java, meals may be a no-talk zone.1
When we become vegan, we need to find a way to retain what is important to us, while cutting loose the parts that harm us or do not align with our wider beliefs about the world or about ourselves. For example, a person brought up in a family where meat is at the center of every meal will have some mental juggling to do in order to balance that family culture with the fact they love animals and do not wish to cause them harm.
However tricky it seems, many people have crossed that divide successfully. One such person is chef Eddie Garza. Born in south Texas, right on the Mexican-American border, his cultural identity rests very much in the food he ate as a child. But as he got older, he put on a lot of weight and at 310lbs he decided it was time to make changes. He switched to plant-based and found that Mexican food was really easy to make vegan. Simple switches meant he could get the flavor, feel and – importantly – the connection with his roots that were all important to him.2 Animal Hero Kid, Genesis Butler, similarly tells how her grandmother makes a batch of vegan tamales for Christmas or Thanksgiving, and that it really means a lot to have the same traditions as always, but modified to be vegan.
Many traditions are not as old or as romantic as we think. One reason for eating turkey at Thanksgiving is that this is a family celebration and turkeys are a family-sized meal! Another reason is that there has been an awful lot of marketing to persuade people that this tradition belongs to them.
But Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, birthdays, Shabbat and other important celebrations and commemorations in our lives are not only relevant because of the meat we eat. They are relevant because we are with loved ones and sharing food. Whether it is meat or vegan meat makes no difference to the importance of the event, or how it makes us feel. Cultural or familial traditions can easily be given a modern twist and still retain their relevance, significance and importance. Perhaps they become even more relevant because our celebrations come with an open heart and a clear conscience.
As Eddie Garza says: ‘One of my favorite things to do is to show people how everything that’s part of our culture can be celebrated in a much more meaningful way if it’s vegan, if we’re not harming animals and we’re still helping the planet.’3
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