Story collected by Sarah Hernandez
I spoke about how it’s interesting because I’m a vegetarian too and I’m also half Puerto Rican and then also half Cuban, so being a vegetarian in those cultures is very weird. It’s like there’s no knowledge - it’s sort of like, ‘Why are you doing that you’re going to make yourself sick from not eating meat’ and eating only vegetables, and so there’s just a huge misunderstanding.
It’s central to the culture. Meat eating and the food that is typically consumed, the traditional food, is sooooo important to maintaining their identity because, and I then again I’m gonna go back to this because I just think it’s very central to why things are the way they are now, being a colony for so long and struggling with cultural identity and preservation of who Puerto Ricans are as a people, as a culture, as a nation, whatever it might be. Food in a sense is one very tangible way that they can hold on to those values and that sense of community and that sense of what their nationality or culture is, and when you try and change it or veer away from that, it’s just beyond the comprehension, you know? So yeah, everything they eat is meat, every meal has some kind of meat.
Then we spoke about specific kinds of foods. She told me that when she is home, she focuses her food intake on tubers - root plants, because that’s very typical.
Yucca, there’s mamey, there’s all sorts of different ones that are delicious, I absolutely love them. Batata, which is sweet potato, similar to sweet potato, and they’re delicious and you can have them boiled. They like to fry food.
We spoke about the importance of rice as well.
Lots of carbs! Rice is very – and it’s curious to me though because rice was never grown locally. So at what point did rice become such a staple item? And why has it never occurred to anyone to produce rice locally? Because in the Dominican republic they eat a lot of rice, but they have for a while now been producing it. I think they might export a lot of what they produce, and that whole dynamic is interesting to me. But everything is rice and no vegetables really, besides the root plants, not at all really.
I told her how my grandmother, after growing up in Puerto Rico, she started developing a lot of stomach problems, and that changed her whole idea of food - she always have to have things fresh and she has to have vegetables in all of her meals. Nicole told me how every time she is home and she is at the dinner table or out at a restaurant, it’s always such a challenge because everyone is trying to fatten her up or feed her.
What I took away from this conversation is that many times, people tend to make assumptions and judgments about a person’s practice moving through their life because of their culture. I think my friend Nicole showed that even though she feels connected to the Puerto Rican culture, the meaning she makes for her own life is her own unique experience.