Mexican vegan restaurant breaks boundaries

An employee at La Vegana Mexicana serves up vegan favorites in the first vegan Mexican restaurant in Santa Ana.

While plant-based food is now everywhere in Orange County, it’s often a challenge to find ethnic vegan cuisine — because for many cultures, the most authentic meal is the animal product itself.

Loretta Ruiz, who opened the area’s first vegan Mexican eatery named La Vegana Mexicana in February, is hoping to change this. Located in the Fourth Street Market in Downtown Santa Ana, the restaurant is introducing a new way to look at Mexican culture through delicious plant-based items such as tamales, tinga and ceviche while spreading the message of veganism.

“I like feeling as if I’m doing something for the planet,” said Alejandro Sierra, Ruiz’ son and an employee at the restaurant, about promoting veganism. “This is my form of community service.”

In Mexican culture, most dishes consist of meat, cheese and more meat. It’s hard to find traditional meals that don’t include animal products, yet after years of testing recipes, La Vegana Mexicana developed a tasty menu of traditional Mexican fare.

“A lot of the people who come here to eat are trying something new and asking questions. They are becoming aware of the regulations (of veganism) and are starting to be educated,” Sierra said about the Latino community he comes across during his workday at the restaurant.

Studies have shown that vegan and vegetarian diets may encourage weight loss. Plant-based diets are also associated with a lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.

It’s been known for years that Latinos are prone to heart disease and diabetes and because of that, many are turning to a diet that can help reverse those illnesses. But when doing so, they are often met with discrimination from their peers and family.

Many assume that becoming vegan means turning your back on your own heritage. So often just as quickly as they jumped into veganism, they fall right back out due to peer pressure.

Still, many restaurants on Fourth Street in Santa Ana have noticed a rising demand for vegan meals and have started to provide them. Alta Baja Market, which is famous in the Fourth Street Marketplace, has vegan options such as banana pancakes, pozole and champurrado.

These strides in veganism allow Latinos to find comfort in their culture as well as their food.

Other customers at La Vegana Mexicana are passionate about veganism and are ready to educate their friends and families.

“I’m a trifecta vegan — I do it for the environment, health and feminism,” said Renee Hatten, who said that a plant-based diet also means taking a stand for her health and animals.

The greenhouse gas emissions of livestock surpass the transportation sector. And according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), it takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of cow meat, compared to only 180 gallons of water to produce a pound of whole wheat flour.

If you find yourself interested in veganism, get educated. There is a whole community out there ready to welcome you with open arms.

Start by having “meatless Mondays” and switching out your milk for dairy-free options.

Every little switch of habit makes a big change in the world.

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