Balancing health with your culture

The 2010s saw a dramatic spike in new health trends. Specifically, more people turned to veganism and vegetarianism as a lifestyle. The biggest food prediction for this new decade is a “plant-based revolution” that will take the mainstream media by storm. It’s no secret that eating less meat can be beneficial for your health while also helping the environment. However, with these popular food trends, it can be tricky to also honor one’s culture. Cuisine is a major part of every culture and it is challenging to try new things while also staying true to your roots.

Since I was a kid I’ve always been interested in plant-based food options and I would constantly drag my mom and sister to the quaint vegan cafes that began popping up throughout Miami. I think it’s important to try new things, especially when they can improve your health and expand your knowledge on the positive impacts eating the right foods can make. Exploring these vegan or vegetarian food trends is especially difficult when your culture’s cuisine is very meat-centric. I come from a Cuban background and one of our main dishes is a bistec de palomilla, or butterflied beef steak, usually paired with a side of rice and beans. As a person who hasn’t had any type of steak in over three years, I can leave people confused.

“You’re Cuban but you don’t eat meat?” is a question I hear a lot, but I think it’s important to separate heritage and culture from health choices because culture can be honored and celebrated in other ways besides food.

My best friend who is also Cuban can relate to this issue, having been a committed vegetarian for almost four years. In Cuban culture, Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, is a big deal for us. The designated dish for this celebration is lechon, or pork, but for a vegetarian spending Christmas Eve with a Cuban family, it can be difficult to balance this tradition with personal choices.

I think the best way to navigate these situations is to remember that food is not tied to your identity, and although it may feel like food is the center of your culture, you can still express your heritage through alternate ways, including music, dress, meat-free food options and other customs that don’t compromise the health-conscious decisions you want to abide by.

While I haven’t cut out meat from my diet entirely, I feel that cutting out red meat was the right choice for me and it has helped me feel better physically. I no longer feel sluggish after eating like I used to when I had massive cheeseburgers every other week. Now I opt for a turkey or veggie burger, and when I’m really craving meat, I’ll order an Impossible Burger, which is entirely plant-based but tastes and even looks like the real deal.

The vegan phenomenon is often criticized because it makes people feel outcasted if they still eat meat, but I think that’s the wrong angle to take. I think it all comes down to respecting people’s personal choices, whether that means having meat regularly or leaning towards a more plant-based life. And these choices don’t define how strong your pride is for your culture, because it is definitely possible to strike a balance between the traditions of the past and the new ideas of the present.

Nicole Macias is a senior majoring in English.