El Gran Diccionario Oxford Español-Ingles, defines vegan as “vegatariano estricto – vegetariana estricta”. (Fourth Edition, 2008, Oxford University Press)
This holiday season was my first holiday as a vegan. It was also my first time going home to Los Angeles since becoming a vegan. The first questions I asked myself were, “How does one say vegan in Spanish? Does that word even exist?” I also wondered what my experience in L.A. for a week would be like. I thought of these as I set off to Los Angeles.
I arrived in L.A. on Dec. 24th, Saturday afternoon. My mom, two sisters, and nephew picked me up. I was so excited to see them after months of being away from L.A. I gave them a warm hug and then jumped on my sister’s fiance’s car. We headed to the San Fernando Valley to visit my currently pregnant aunt and her husband.
Along the way, I told my mom I felt like picking up something to eat in case there wasn’t anything I’d be able to eat later that night. I felt guilty and a little rude at the thought of walking into my aunt’s house with food of my own. But at the moment, the challenge was finding vegan friendly food-on Christmas Eve. Most places were closed. However, there was a Panda Express open so we decided to go there. After drilling the guy working there about the broths used to make the rice and the eggplant tofu dish, and discovering that every single thing on Panda’s menu (including those that appeared vegetarian) were cooked with chicken broth, I found a falafel place across the street. The lady gave me some extra lentil soup and off we went to my aunt’s house. At this point, my family was still coming to terms with veganism, what it is, what I eat, and so on.
A typical festive dish served in El Salvador during festive occasions is “pan con pollo”. Prior to becoming vegan, I absolutely loved it. Anytime I was with my family or in a salvi neighborhood and had the opportunity to buy them, I did. This holiday, my aunt placed a large order of chicken, salad, rice, beans and other sides for Christmas Eve. We laughed, spent time together, saw babies dancing, ate, and all had a nice evening. We eventually said our goodbyes and went home where I finally got a chance to unpack and sleep…mmmm.
I felt this crazy urge to go grocery shopping on Christmas Day. I grabbed my little sister (she’s 17, but still the little one) and my 7 year old nephew and off we went on the 25th in search of food. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s were both closed. Albertsons was closed too! For a second, I felt like I was going insane in my head. If everything was closed, what in the world would I eat that day? After doing some googling, I finally found a Vons open at the Torrance Crossroads Plaza.
Once there, I put my too big for a shopping cart nephew on the shopping cart and went inside. We bought everything we needed for Christmas Day vegan pancakes, some quinoa, veggies, and fruits. After a hefty $75 in groceries, we raced home to make some pancakes.
Now, my nephew is an ABSOLUTE pancake lover and probably the world’s greatest pancake critic. Despite his non-stop “jokes” about him loving to eat pigs and cows and refusing to eat anything I ate because he’s “not a vegan”, he jumped excitedly at the idea of pancakes made from scratch.
At first I forgot to add the baking powder, so the pancakes were stiff and odd looking. We fixed that mistake, tried again, and the pancakes were beautifully transformed into fluffy, soft, yummy goodness. My nephew ate three small pancakes and the extras over the next two days. He definitely loved compassionate pancakes.
Meet the Parents
Two weeks prior to my arrival in L.A., my sister decided to get married on December 30th. I didn’t even know she was dating, and the wedding caught families from both the bride and groom sides off guard. As a dual birthday/pre wedding celebration, the families met on December 26th. My sister’s mother-in-law made dinner for everyone.
The entire day, my sister and her now husband kept asking what I could eat for dinner. We met my sister and her husband at his parents’ house just as the happy couple arrived with a bag from Whole Foods filled with prepared vegan meals. They had carefully read every label and bought fried rice, tofu with lemongrass, tofu with sesame seeds, and falafel. Even now, thinking about their kindness and consideration warms my heart.
I happily filled my dish with everything they had bought and sat at the dinner table. Everyone else filled their plates with breaded chicken breast stuffed with ham and cheese. Again, I worried about appearing rude or prudish, sitting at a table eating my tofu while my sister’s mother in law had spent hours preparing a meal for everyone. Over dinner, my sister’s father-in-law asked me, what’s veganism. Carol Adams writes that most conversations about one’s compassionate lifestyle arise over dinner, and I’ve found this to be true. I told him about it and he seemed intrigued. He listened and kindly said, “Nunca he escuchado de eso.” My mom laughed and agreed with him, since she was also trying to understand veganism.
Over the following days, I ate here and there, this and that. Foods like a vegan calzone during my sister’s bachelorette party that I refused to share with my friend Nadia (she doesn’t remember the exact details), the tortillas and guacamole from King Taco I used to make guacamole tacos, the fake meats from Veggie Grill which made me feel SO gross because of their close resemblance to a meat burger, and sugar tamales I snuck into my sister’s wedding in case I got hungry. The best food was the vegan pupusa.
Vegan El Salvador
I absolutely LOVE pupusas. I was scheduled to fly back to NYC on Sunday night and had told everyone the plan for Sunday would consist of bowling, laser tag, and pupusas (BLP). Along with pancakes, my nephew also loves pupusas. For some reason, my itinerary was made up of everything he loves to do and eat. At the bowling alley, my mom told me a pupuseria called El Metapaneco served vegan pupusas. My little sister confirmed this, “I saw it on the menu,” she said.
Ok, this is the story. A few neighborhoods in the South Bay are ethnic enclaves. They are the neighborhoods were Latin@s feel “right at home”, where speaking and advertising in Spanish during business transactions is a must. Neighborhoods where children like me, can grow up not “needing” to speak English. So, when my sister told me the restaurant had a section on their menu dedicated to vegan pupusas I found it hard to believe.
After a game of bowling that somehow took forever, we headed out to the pupuseria. I opened the menu and there it was-vegan pupusas! I had a pupusa de frijoles and one with frijoles and jalapeno, plus platanos fritos con frijoles. I also ordered 3 more pupusas to go. It was such a perfect meal to have before heading back to NYC.
The experience with the vegan pupusas in Califas Sur was a great conclusion to my first holiday and trip back home as a vegan. At first, it was hard for my family to understand what is veganism and why veganism. By the end, I felt hopeful and realized it’s possible for me to exist and be myself with my family and within mi comunidad y mi cultura.
¡VEGAN LA RAZA!