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- Is Latin America Friendly to Vegetarians?
On my first trip ever to Latin America, it involved going to visit some indigenous village area in rural Chiapas of Mexico that you can read more about here.
The trip involved traveling with a group of other Americans that I knew.
We first arrived to Villahermosa where one of the members of our group happened to be a vegetarian.
Being guided by a man named Peter who knew Chiapas and the group we were going to visit well, we look for a place to eat at in Villahermosa.
For some reason, someone in our group picked out a random restaurant but Peter realized where we were and had us get up from our seats because "this place will give you all food poisoning."
Given we had a vegetarian in the group also, it took Peter a second to think about what to have us eat.
But he ultimately found some spot that sold a variety of tamales with some having meat inside them and others having non-meat ingredients.
Though I hated the tamale and thought it was disgusting first time I tried it (I eventually got around to being OK with it later on in life).
In hindsight, I don't remember well if the chick who was vegetarian had a tamale or not or if they gave her something else. I think she had it though.
Still, later on in our trip, she often found it difficult to eat anything.
Like when we stayed at a certain hotel right before getting to Chiapas and they supposedly didn't have great options for vegetarians.
I remember the chick complaining about being hungry for a tiny bit by that point but she got past it.
Finally, we arrived to Chiapas where you could argue was more "vegetarian friendly" to her.
The reason why?
Because meat (or at least beef) was a bit of a luxury for the people in this small indigenous village that we were visiting.
I only remember that because we ended up cooking for them one night a large meal of meat that they normally wouldn't eat except on some infrequent basis (it was either once a week or once a month but I don't remember).
Either way, a lot of the meals before then at this village did consist of non-meat options.
Unfortunately for me because every meal I eat is meat.
But fortunately for her, I suppose!
That was, from what I can remember, the first time I think I ever witnessed a certain issue that some gringos have in Latin America.
That issue being that some are vegetarians and seemingly have difficulty eating most meals.
Of course, it depends on where you are, no?
If you are going to a normal city like Villahermosa, you got options but they are more limited as most Latin Americans tend to have more meat heavy diets (especially Argentines and Uruguayans).
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But if you plan on going to any small indigenous villages where certain types of meat are more of a luxury, then you might be in luck!
Due to the greatness of poverty, you FINALLY found your special place in Latin America where your diet can be better accommodated to!
But I think it's true in the opposite case also: places that are wealthier also tend to have more vegetarian options too.
Let me show you what I mean.
A Vegetarian Experience in Mexico City
Over a year ago, I knew a vegetarian from the US named Alex.
Young guy from Florida who moved to Roma Norte area of Mexico City.
From what I remember, I think he did try meat though a few times while down here but tried to stick to a heavy vegetarian diet.
Though, on a few occasions where the group of people at our apartment went out to eat, he'd find it difficult obviously to eat with the group without eating meat.
Mostly because any place we went to only had meat options.
However, on a few occasions, he did opt for the elotes on the street instead.
Otherwise, when going out with people, he'd either have to not eat at all, go for a small snack like an elote or just suck it up and have some meat.
It reminds me of a time when he went on a date with a Mexican chick and took her out for tacos.
Unfortunately for Alex, there's not many vegetarian options for street food tacos these days.
So, with this gal also, he had to have some meat.
But, whenever he wasn't going out, he always cooked in the building kitchen some vegetarian option.
He complained a few times before how "this city isn't very good if you try to avoid meat" and mentioned the times he had to eat meat when going out.
But, like I said, stuck to the vegetables at home (which likely consisted of most of his meals anyway).
Having said all that though, he did remark how "there are some vegetarian spots in this city" but that "few folks down here want to go out to them."
Meaning anyone in the building whenever we went out for a bite.
Which, in short, probably summarizes how it is in Mexico City.
As a non-vegetarian, I can only speak from what I have heard and not from personal experience because I don't go out of my way to not eat meat.
In fact, if a meal doesn't have any meat, I often feel like it wasn't a real meal to begin with!
Unless I know FOR A FACT that an animal had to suffer and be slaughtered for my pleasure, I am not satisfied with the meal.
But, going back to Alex, I think what he said summarized it well.
When it comes to going out, not eating meat can be tricky because 1) most places don't have many good vegetarian options and most of your friends aren't going to vegetarian spots anyhow and 2) from what he told me, sometimes cooking practices can make it difficult for a vegetarian even when ordering a non-meat dish.
For example, he remarked one time going to a restaurant somewhere in Roma Norte where you watched the chef make the food.
After ordering a meal without any meat, he watched before his own eyes the chef put his meal in the same pan that was used to cook meat with.
While I have no idea what the meal was as I wasn't there, it supposedly gave it a more "meat like taste."
Reminds me of this video here funny enough.
Head Chef Doesn't Know What A Pescatarian Is | Kitchen Nightmares
Which, as a side point, what he said is very believable.
As I wrote here, people who cook your food in Latin America are not always very conscious of certain cooking practices or health practices when preparing your food.
It's one reason why some gringos can find themselves sick when trying the food down here for the first time.
So, even if you are a vegetarian and you managed to get a meal without any meat, you could STILL be left with a little surprise in the taste that isn't much appreciated.
Having said all that though, I do think that a place like Mexico City is going to be more favorable to the vegetarian than a smaller city like Villahermosa.
I'm sure vegetarians exist in Villahermosa though.
But the reason why I say that is because, if I had to guess, a capital city with more people is going to have more demand for vegetarian options.
Also, because capital cities tend to be more liberal, I just feel that alone is going to drive more demand for vegetarian options in select few neighborhoods as a more liberal atmosphere is probably going to produce more vegetarians if I had to guess.
Not to mention that you'll have even more supermarkets and street markets than in a small city (which has those too) and so you should be able to more easily find what you are looking for to cook at home.
Which leads us to the last point.
Which Latin American Country is Most Favorable to Vegetarians?
Ultimately, what it comes down to is local demand.
The most locals who are vegetarians, the more places that will try to provide a service to that demand.
Therefore, you as a vegetarian, should be able to find more vegetarian options in theory.
So which countries in Latin America have more vegetarians?
Well, according to this article here, Mexico is actually the country with the most vegetarians in Latin America with supposedly 19% of people declaring as such in a survey.
Personally, 19% seems a bit high from what I notice in real life but I also don't go around asking people what they eat normally so who knows.
Then we have this article here that says that Mexico is #1 in the region and that Brazil is #2 and Peru is #3.
So there you go!
Anyway, hope you found that helpful.
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Thanks for reading.