Ahimsa. It’s one of the most important words for yogis. I interpret the one word, packed with meaning, as “do no harm,” to yourself, or to any other living beings. That pretty much sums up why I’m vegan, too. I don’t want to harm animals, or myself. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 16 years old. I chose to eliminate all dairy and other animal products, later, realizing I needed to go the extra mile to better health. When I saw the way that the factories treat the dairy cows and chickens nowadays, it was easy to say No Mas.
“The way we get our foods now, compared to 60 or 70 years ago, is totally different,” says FredAnthony Garza, (former) owner of Vegeria, San Antonio’s first vegan restaurant. “The practice of hunting and growing or raising animals, like chickens, was more humane and a lot cleaner than now,” he adds.
Having lived in Mexico and South America, I was used to seeing people raise their own chickens, goats, and other animals. They roamed freely, were fed, and treated fairly well, and when the eggs and milk were made into yogurt or scrambles, they were done with care and respect for the animals. That’s not the case with lion’s share of animal-based products you buy at the grocery store.
“I always try to work on being a beautiful person. How are you going to be beautiful if you eat food that was filled with fear and adrenalin (before slaughter),” says Garza. “My idea is to keep food as fresh and pure as possible.”Garza’s comments also support the concept of prana, the life force. My yogic foundations expounded on the virtues of prana as another reason to follow a vegetarian diet. We receive prana from the sun, water, earth, fresh air, and plant food. A can of peas or beans, although plant-based, has lost its prana. Likewise, if we put a cup of herbal tea or a baked sweet potato in the microwave, modern technology will deplete those otherwise healthy food sources of their prana.
Home-cooked vegetarian meals, made with organic, fresh ingredients are highest on the prana scale. Garza follows that principle. Even his faux cheeses are made from scratch from fresh ingredients, with a minimal amount of allergens and GMOs. No peanuts. Not even cashews, but sunflower seeds.
Bonita is a vegan who frequently eats at Vegeria. “You’re supposed to get energy from food. When I wasn’t eating healthy, I was feeling sluggish. When I walk out of here (Vegeria), I feel on top of the world,” she says. “All the greatest thinkers in the world were vegetarians. It (a meat-free diet) keeps your mind clear and body free from toxins.”
Garza strives to serve tasty prana-rich food. “Every culture has healthy options and prepares them with loving ways. Our menu is our response to make healthy foods part of new traditions. I feel like my family would be proud of the way we’re going to try to do things in the future.”
People may associate Tex-Mex food with white flour tortillas, queso (which is a dairy cheese product, but not cheese), and plenty of pork and beef. In all the time I spent living and traveling in Mexico, I never ate a flour tortilla, queso or meat. Granted, Tex-Mex is different from Mexican food, but the roots are the same. Those roots are connected by the seasonings and spices. Not the actual ingredients.
Garza credits his grandmother, Rosalie, for turning him on to cooking. “A lot of dishes I created here are reflections of time with my grandmother.” Constantly creating new dishes with a twist, the rising chef decided to go back to his roots. “We want to share the love we have for Latino cuisine. We share our passion, our family, our culture, and our hard work.”
Teresa lives in Kerrville but eats her vegetarian meals frequently at Vegeria. She likes the tacos de nopales with spicy red cabbage slaw, saying, “It reminds me of my grandfather’s nopales.”
Jerry likes the nopales, too. Visiting from Ohio, he had never had nopales before, nor did he know what they were. He simply trusted they were vegan, healthy, and flavorful. “To me, the new flavors are welcome. I surely didn’t think they were cactuses, that’s all I can tell you. I’d order them again. They were like comfort food. You eat it before it drips away.” Jerry chose the vegan lifestyle after his brother reversed heart disease through a plant-based diet. “I want to live a long, healthy life. I know too much about the food supply of the Standard American Diet.”
Garza isn’t really preparing the Standard Mexican-American Diet, either. What’s different from the way he prepares his foods, versus the recipes from his grandmother, is that he substitutes meats, cheeses, milk, eggs, and gluten for healthier alternatives. Back when his grandmother was a child in Corpus Cristi, she had a fairly healthy, GMO-free balanced diet. Rosalie’s father was a grocer. She also grew a lot of her own herbs and fresh fruit, tomatoes, and jalapenos and chile piquin. Living on the coast, she would buy seafood directly from the fishermen. She always talked about buying fresh.
That preference was instilled in her grandson. At one time, he had an 800-square-foot garden. He was fairly self-sufficient, except for store-bought dried beans, grains, and pasta.
“The push is understanding of the culture behind where we get our food,” he says. “I want to teach my kids to be proud of their heritage. We chose Tex-Mex because it made sense. I have to stick to what I said I was going to do. I want to learn more about my own culture.
Read more about Ahimsa, nutrition, and diet on my previous posts, or visit www.TheNamasteCounsel.com/articles.