Mexico: A Quiet Leader in Veganism & Sustainability

Amigos, it’s been quite a while since my last blog. Sorry! I’ve been a little overwhelmed with preparing to move out of my LA home (selling lots of my stuff and donating the rest). As I get ready to move to Mexico City for the next year, I’ve decided to do what a few other Americans have done…reject the concept that you have to own a bunch of expensive brand-name crap to “be someone.” I’ve been there, done that. Interestingly enough, many Americans who’ve decided to live a more sustainable and responsible life have also moved to Mexico. If you’re curious, search YouTube (“why we moved to Mexico” or “living in Mexico”).

We Americans have this obsession with materialism, owning lots and lots of things. This has led us to focus on the wrong things. Check out my article on hyperconsumerism here. I’ve decided to reduce my consumption drastically and am committing to living a simple life and actually enjoying my life. If I can do some good for humanity in the process, all the better! 😉

As I write this blog, I am in Mexico City for a week, getting a feel for the local neighborhoods and planning where I’d like to live. My visit coincided with a monthly vegan “festival” of sorts called “Bazar La Veganeria,” in the Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City (same area where Frida Kahlo lived–her home is now a museum). Here’s a pic…

Over the past week, I’ve learned that Mexico is quietly leading Latin America (and beating the US) on the vegan and sustainability front. I’m watching local news, following CDMX activity on social media and am sensing and observing a “buzz” coming out of events like the Bazar (which takes place every 3rd Saturday of each month) and the upcoming “Gourmet Food Show,” taking place in Mexico City from Aug 30 – Sept 1 (I missed it by a couple of weeks! Grrrrr…).

Many of the artisans (along with many more) who were at the Bazar will also be at the upcoming Gourmet Show. Amigos, Mexicans are some of the most creative, innovative and culinarily gifted people on the planet. I know this because I am Mexican heritage so have a deep understanding of the culture, the food, the methods and I speak the language fluently allowing for deeper analysis. I’ve also traveled the world having experienced (and eaten) the vegan food and products countries like US, UK, Spain, the Netherlands and Germany are cooking up. Here are some really exciting sustainable and vegan food and other products coming out of Mexico:

I don’t have to remind you Mexico is ground zero for Chocolate. They invented the stuff. Chocolate was a drink for the noble classes dating to the Aztecs (and likely earlier civilizations). This is the highest grade and natural chocolate around; completely vegan and sold in “balls” that can be shaved for use in hot chocolate, desserts, etc. I bought two!

Oh, these guys!! The top picture shows the grilling of “setas,” large wild mushrooms that are currently in season in Mexico. The crazy thing is they resemble “chicken” when they’re on the grill (in size and color). I was shocked to see them, so I asked the chef and he clarified. I said, “For a minute there, I thought you were going to tell me it was vegan chicken!!” 😀 We had a good laugh. Okay, back to the tortas. Mexico is also known for the incredible quality of their bread. So, you put amazing bread together with the tastiest grilled mushrooms that are meaty and the size of chicken breast, top them with a gorgeous red salsa (not spicy just super flavorful) and add pickled red onions…amigos, wow! Foodgasm. I had to have one of these. 🙂

This was by far the most colorful booth at the fair. This couple has created their own corn-based pita (not sure if there are other flours mixed in) but they took it a step further adding more nutrients by mixing the batters with beets, sweet potato, spinach and huitlachoche (weet-lah-coh-cheh).

A side note on huitlacoche. If you’re not from Mexico or haven’t traveled extensively through Mexico, it’s likely you have never heard of this. It’s essentially what Americans know as “corn smut.” Huitlacoche is technically a fungus resulting from corn-plant specific disease that sometimes affects certain stalks. Tell me Mexicans aren’t innovative. They figured out this “food for the gods” was not only delicious but incredibly nutritious. Additionally, on the topic of sustainability, when corn stalks in other countries are “infected” by this fungus, the entire crop is burned. Food and land waste!! Not in Mexico.

A great article was written by BBC Mundo (it’s in Spanish but I’ll translate) whereby it was noted:

Pero mientras que Le charbon du maïs , le causa terror a los agricultores franceses y el corn smut hace que los estadounidenses saquen sus armas químicas, en México es el único lugar en el que los campesinos se entusiasman cuando se lo encuentran.”

Which translates to… “But while ‘Le charbon du maïs’ terrorizes French farmers and corn smut makes Americans take out their chemical weapons, in Mexico it is the only place where farmers get enthused when they encounter it.”

Tell me this isn’t innovation and culinary genius?! Other countries can learn a lot from Mexico, especially as it relates to food and agriculture.

This stand sold your typical vegan products such as liquid aminos, canned jackfruit, etc. However, they did have one artisanal offering and that was a local sea salt infused with a variety of flavors and spices. In this picture, on the far left you’ll see chopped up cucumbers dressed with a salt that was infused with Nori and other algae. This gave it a very ocean-like flavor and the artisan commented that it would be a great salt for making vegan ceviche. This got me excited because I love vegan ceviche with cauliflower. I did buy this particular salt and I’m excited to go back home and make my ceviche. The second martini glass bowl contained fresh mixed tropical fruit. The salt used here was one infused with turmeric. Not something I would have thought of for topping fruit, but guess what?!! It was delish!! The last one on the right contained sliced green apples. This salt contained the gift from Mexico to the world (well, there are many…avocados, tomatoes, corn, chia…the list goes on)… chocolate! Yes, so she infused Mexican chocolate with local sea salt and sprinkled it on sliced green apple. Genius!! Flavors that combine exceptionally well but are also not something that would have immediately come to mind.

This product was fascinating and I bought a set of these. The artisans use beautiful cotton cloth with designs that are very kitchen-appropriate. They mix these cloths with natural products (including rice) that make them somewhat sticky but give it a consistency of “aluminum foil.” They are gorgeous, #sustainable, #zerowaste and #vegan. The incredible detail is that they mix some type of natural wax into the product so that the heat from your hands acts as a sealant. They demonstrated this live. They’re wonderful for sealing jars, using to create cones for shopping of veggies and fruit and are great for wrapping bread. I kicked myself after I saw this pic because the use that caught my attention was a beautiful loaf of freshly baked bread swaddled using this rice paper. You can see it peeking through on the middle-left part of this image. Again, genius!!

These were the vegan tamale folks. Amigos, I love, love, love ❤ tamales. My Mexican heritage demands it. I have a deep appreciation of the incredible labor that goes into making these, having participated in the “tamale assembly line” during Christmas time at least twice This is a tradition every Mexican-American (man or women) knows well and has done at least once. It’s literally hours and hours of hard work. The challenge with being vegan is that most #tamale masas (corn dough used as a base) contain lard. So, I was super excited to see this vegan option with some really interesting fillings. There’s huitlacoche again! I bought three to bring back to the hotel (I have a fridge) and eat over the next few days. Sadly, I was disappointed. Well, you can’t get it right 100% of the time! I get it. I felt they were lacking in flavor and were very bland. I’m thinking these guys and the salt woman need to get together and make magic!!

This is the last featured product. This is an artisan liquor made from lemon and the actual Stevia leaf itself, which you can see in this image. Amigos, this was such a great liquor. Smooth, not too sweet, and you can see in the samples they offered that they made it into a margarita on the rocks, which was just fabulous! What I love about their offering, is the fact that you can buy dried Stevia leaves to use at home. This takes all of the processing out of this product and you are really just consuming the natural leaf itself. Talk about almost eliminating your carbon footprint (no transport, no power usage to run processing plants and machines and minimal packaging)… this is #sustainability at its best!

About the upcoming Gourmet Show–where many of these artisans will be exhibiting their product–I first learned about the show when I heard a news piece on a surprising statistic: 20% of Mexicans are either vegan or vegetarian. Nielsen (a US marketing research firm) conducted the study that highlighted that finding. Among that group, a whopping 9% are vegan (compared to 6% in the US and 7% in the UK)!!

A few other points on Mexico and sustainability:

  • An article by the US Green Building Council reportes that, “Not only is the Antiguo Palacio considered the first modern building in Mexico City (built in 1527), it is now the oldest building in the world to achieve LEED Gold for Existing Buildings.” It further noted, “Thanks to the collative efforts of public and private sector leaders who are committed to a greener, more sustainable future for their country, Mexico is becoming a world leader in sustainable building.”
  • City express, a Mexican hotel chain that supports innovation related to sustainability, reported on the Top 5 sustainable projects in Mexico in 2017 that hold the most promise. A link to the article is included here to watch the videos, which I really recommend, but the site is in Spanish so I will translate the top five products here so that you have an understanding of what you’re seeing in the videos.

Urban GC1:

    A bicycle made from fully recycled materials. It’s tires will not go flat, because you’re made of solid recycled rubber.

NUJU:

    this initiative collects all wood that is left over or discarded across the country, and creates products with modern designs to reuse the wood in various forms.

Bricks Made from Building Construction Trash:

    this idea was the winner of the 2017 CityExpress and Clean Tech Challenge prize for innovation in sustainability. The bricks made of all recycled materials, specifically the leftovers from building projects. You’ll see in the video that these bricks are not only made up of all recycled materials, but they are virtually indestructible. In the video, you’ll see the comparison between the typical cement brick vs. this brick, in terms of flexibility (very important for a part of the world with lots of seismic activity), durability and flammability. As a result of them winning the prize, CityExpress will partner with them and donate all leftovers from their own building projects.

Festival Rodante:

    The only music festival in the world that is fully powered by attendees cycling to create the energy used to power the entire festival: lights, electric equipment and all other energy needs at the festival. This creates a fully sustainable music festival that does not rely on any form of electricity or fossil fuels to function. Absolutely brilliant!

Power Go:

    this is a line of portable solar panels (that are carried by users like a backpack) that would be used by individuals for charging their everyday electronics (cell phones, potable speakers, tablets, etc.).

And there you have it folks! A quiet leader? In my opinion, I think so. I follow the topic of sustainability quite closely and I’m not sure if come across so many unique sustainability ideas that are really being driven at a grassroots level. Exciting times!!!