My Vegan Story
By Andrea Cañizares-Fernandez
Andrea Cañizares-Fernandez is an artist, actress, writer, and organizer. She is a redhead Ecuadorian-American who grew up in many places, but mostly Austin, Texas. She now lives in LA. Follow her at @byandreacf for her most recent visual art work. www.andreacf.com
I became vegan basically overnight. I remember sitting on the couch at my Papi’s house over summer break during college, reading How Not to Die by Dr. Michael Gregor and realizing: WAIT, most of our society’s emphasis on meat, dairy, and other food products is led by the desire for profit? Our planet is going to sh** because of these industries?? AND most chronic illnesses and premature deaths can be prevented by following a majority plant-based diet?! It felt so clear as to what I should do: I went cold turkey, entirely changed my diet, and six years later have never looked back.
Even though I was committed, the first year was still challenging. A secret part of my transition into veganism was that I was struggling with disordered eating. Even though I wouldn’t admit it at the time, becoming vegan was more about having another way to restrict myself. Though in retrospect, these were the facts: I wasn’t eating enough of the correct nutrients, I felt faint all the time, and I was working out so much that my new uninformed diet couldn’t keep up.
It took over a year for my stomach to get used to digesting broccoli and beans all the time (s/o to Bean Zyme pills for saving many ppl from my gasses). Eventually I figured out how important it was for my digestion & energy levels to NEVER eat beans/legumes WITHOUT some sort of grain. I started adding avocado to my meals to increase the amount of fat in my diet. I fell in love with meatless meatballs from Trader Joes and non-dairy yogurt. I figured out how to sustain veganism in a way that works for me. Is it perfect? Nooooope. Do I still struggle with disordered eating? Yuuuup. It’s an ongoing process that has many layers for me.
One complicated layer of becoming vegan that I didn’t anticipate was how these changes interacted with my family and culture. As a first-generation Ecuadorian-American, I grew up in and out of Quito, visiting my Abuelitas and extended family.
There is still so much for me to unpack about the body shaming that exists within our culture, and how that manifested for me in my family. Having opinions about each others’ bodies and health habits is such a norm in my home country. Growing up, I watched my mom be criticized for what she ate or didn’t eat, and the women in my family greeted each other with things like “te delgasaste” or “te ves más gorda.” My Abuelita celebrates my veganism, but also often unknowingly positively reinforces my disordered eating habits by telling me que soy tan diligente con mi dieta, subconsciously implying to me (and my mom, who isn’t vegan) that it would be bad if I weren't so diligent with my diet.
For a while, I remember feeling stressed whenever I would go to Ecuador to visit family. I felt like a burden and like I was being ungrateful since all my life I had been taught to eat everything on my plate and ONLY appreciate the food given to me. All of a sudden I was turning down my Abuelitas’ classics: locro, chicha, batidos de leche, estofado, ceviche con canguil, empanadas de morocho, or any of the other dishes I ate growing up. It was hard not to feel guilty when the underlying subtext was: I put all this love into this meal, and you're not even going to eat it? Eating out was challenging as well. Until recently, the only option seemed to be una ensalada, which in Quito was tres pedazos de lechuga and dos tomates. Enough to fill me up for about 15 minutes, perfect!
My family was generally supportive, but they didn’t exactly understand it. To this day, they still hold up various food items to me and ask: puedes comer esto? I always respond with: Does it come from an animal? Then no, thank you!
Thankfully, while still difficult sometimes, many of these challenges are things that I’ve worked through. Now, I see my vegan efforts as a helpful practice for me in standing by my boundaries. Inherently my dietary restrictions pushed against the notion that you should be grateful for whatever you’re given, even if what you’re given is not what you want. Advocating for my own veganism was like advocating for my own boundaries in a way that I didn't know how to vocalize before. It has been good practice for me in setting boundaries in something that I care about and want to do for myself and my body.
What’s the point of this story? Maybe it’s to say that you can be fully committed to and excited about being vegan, but it can still be challenging. Perhaps it’s to hopefully resonate with any Latines out there who have dealt with similar things in their own families and cultures. Maybe it’s to say that veganism is a journey with many phases, and in my opinion, the ride is absolutely worth it.