Food & Drink

The Latinx Organization Decolonizing Veganism

Veggie Mijas founder Amy Quichiz on why starting an organization dedicated to educating women of color about veganism is also about decolonizing Latinxs diets.

Veggie Mijas | Photo by Amy Quichiz
Veggie Mijas | Photo by Amy Quichiz

For many Latinxs folks, getting into veganism could be a decision that separates us from our cultures, or at least that’s what we think. It’s part of our traditions to cook whenever someone visits our homes. Abuelas always have their pots ready to cook for la visita, so not wanting to eat their food is basically an insult. Imagine telling them you’re vegan and can’t eat her carne asada. (I can feel the chancla coming.) For Amy Quichiz, it’s about decolonizing our diets.
 
The Peruvian-Colombian started to become a vegan in college when she learned about how animals got hurt. But, after she joined a vegan club, where she was the only person of color, she understood that there were even more issues in the industry that she needed to advocate for.
 
“When I learned about [the food industry] through a point of view where it affected folks of color and marginalized communities, it finally clicked to me why I wanted to be vegan,” Quichiz say. “So instead of like being super god only because of species, there were so many other reasons as to why I wanted to be vegan.”
 
That’s why she, alongside her friend Mariah Bermeo, started an online collective to connect with people like them —queer Latinxs of color— around the world to share vegan recipes on a budget as a way of supporting each other. That later evolved into Veggie Mijas, an organization dedicated to educating women of color about veganism through justice and animal liberation.

Veggie Mijas | Photo by Amy Quichiz

Quichiz believes that there’s no need to give up your favorite food to be vegan. It’s about “seeing what you can do [to the recipes] differently” and finding vegans from your same cultures to share them with. “That's going to make you feel like home, that's going to make you feel like nothing has changed,” she says.
 
But contrary to what we hear, our ancestors' diets were not necessarily heavy in meats and dairy. Quichiz underlines an important point: “Colonizers made us think that way!” So, what does this really mean? For her, it is about questioning things like “where our food comes from, why certain fast food chains are all around your hood —that wasn't made by accident, right?— and what really is a choice and what's not.”
 
Gentrification has made us believe that being vegan and organic is something trendy, which is why we also think that eating healthy is something new. Back in the 1920’s, the Americanization program wasn’t only policing the language of immigrants, but its melting pot idea of imposing their beliefs that also included erasing their traditions at home. Mexican women were criticized for giving too much rice and beans to their children and were told to replace them with foods that American households were consuming like bread and milk.
 
Even today, many families who migrate to the United States are manipulated by the system to change their diets. “Some families eat more meat or dairy when they come to the U.S. rather than what they were eating back home,” shared Quichiz. That was the case with her parents which, like many immigrant families, started to get health complications because of meat overconsumption that started some years after they moved to the U.S.
 
“I think we're questioning what traditional even means,” she says. “[Capitalism] is making us think that eating pig for a week or whatever is keeping our traditions when it’s really killing our people.” But she also acknowledges that other things like fruits and vegetables are damaged by capitalism, which is why— for her—it’s more important to educate people about the food industry overall than be policing each other about what we eat.
 
Even with her vegan lifestyle, she’s not opposed to eating eggs from time to time, and she encourages people to eat what makes them feel good at the moment. This breaks the stigma of what people think being vegan is about, which Quichiz says that comes from white veganism. “That is what makes people push away from the word vegan already, because there is already so much stigma,” she says.
 
And that’s where Veggie Mijas comes in. “The whole point of Veggie Mijas is that we're not here to police each other,” she says, “we’re here to bond over food justice, what's happening in our communities, how to make change, help community gardens, help people know more about their foods and the transportations, and overall food education.”
 
For Latinxs like us, it’s not about sacrificing what we think our cultures are rooted in, but to change our perspective and revisit  our ancestors’ lifestyles. Even our abuelas would be proud when they see us devouring their elotes, quinoa-based dishes, or frijoles refritos with such satisfaction. 

Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Andrea Devoto is a journalist and content creator born in Peru, raised in Puerto Rico, and currently based in New York.