Vegetarian in Mexico

I know a lot of people with special food considerations in their diets for a variety of reasons. There are those who cannot tolerate gluten, dairy, or nuts. Others must alter their diets according to weight loss plans or because of diseases like diabetes. Some choose their diets based on environmental and compassionate reasons, becoming vegetarian or vegan.

When I moved to Vallarta nineteen years ago, I was transitioning to vegetarianism because of a goal I had made for myself when I was a very young girl trying to save all the animals, one stray dog at a time. I had done some reading that summer that helped me make up my mind. One of the fiction books that I had picked up was absolutely pivotal in my decision to make the year 2000 the one in which I stopped eating meat. That’s because the plot involved a nation-wide killer plague spread through a bad hamburger slightly undercooked at everyone’s favorite fast food joint.

But the non-fiction reading helped some as well, mentioning very real concerns such as water and land use, environmental impact, world hunger, and animal welfare. I figured that, since I was already changing my entire life, this might be a good time to make the transition from casual carnivore to a meat-free veggie eater.

At the time, Puerto Vallarta had very few restaurants that catered to my needs, but my favorite part of Mexican cuisine has always been the beans, corn tortillas, fresh produce and salsas. It wasn’t hard to find food that satisfied, but I did wish there were a few more places that I could go and order freely off the menu, or a couple of grocery stores with a few products that I recognized as vegan or vegetarian.

However, I stuck to it, and really enjoyed my new lifestyle. So when I had children, I thought it would be a good idea to offer them only a vegetarian diet. This was less popular in the general opinion of other people than my own change was, because (say it with me, fellow veg heads) “How will they get their protein?”

Nah, you probably don’t want an essay about how protein is by the far the least of my worries (especially once my kids turned into adolescents), but I will say that this has not been an issue. What has been an issue is that many birthday parties only offered chicken nuggets and hot dogs. If cheese pizza was ordered especially for my kids by the kind parents, all the meat-eating kiddos wanted was cheese pizza, and my own shy kids would end up at the chip bowl for dinner.
However, my kids have been pretty gracious about that sort of thing, although they pretty much refuse to pick off pepperoni from a pizza as they’ve been instructed to do many times by well-meaning party hosts… because, according to them, it still tastes like a pig’s behind. I can’t disagree, and I’m grateful that they (nearly) always save these comments for home.

Nowadays, Puerto Vallarta offers a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options in stores and in restaurants. My own children rarely ask for any of these items, because they love their beans and tortillas and eat pasta and pizza anywhere they can get it. They like vegetables about as much as any other kid, but they eat the bare minimum and only because I’m their mother and I said so.

If you are in Vallarta and have particular dietary needs, allow me to suggest a few places from our own list of favorites:
1. River Café – ask for their gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan menu. They prepare the dishes separately to prevent cross-contamination. Say it with me: coconut quinoa. Yum.
2. Planeta Vegetariano – a delicious, fresh food buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is a casual, economic choice, and you cannot go wrong with the soy ceviche.
3. Veggitalia Pizza & Osteria Vegetariana – if you crave Italian food (as our family does on the daily), you have to try this place. There are options for gluten-free diets and for vegans. The hand-made pasta is melt-in-your-mouth delicious.