The popularity of a vegan diet is growing, but how does it work when meat is such a big part of your culture? We talked to Cabo Verdean fitness professional, Armando Lopes of Pawtucket, Rhode Island (who has been eating a vegan diet for 4 years now) to see how & why he chose this diet. – By Jess Evora
As leaders, we must remember that we are what we eat.
Don’t get me wrong. The purpose of this article is not to tell everyone they should transition to a vegan diet. In fact, the woman pictured in our feature photo (me) was waiting on her order of catchupa (traditional Cabo Verdean meat & corn stew) with a side of chorizo (pork sausage) when this photo was taken.
However, I’m eager to learn more about the vegan diet, and I’m definitely keeping myself open to it. We have to absorb all the information we can in life, in order to make or own informed decisions, right?
Now, the vegan diet is just one perspective on a healthy diet. However, I do think it’s important to share how Armando, as a Cabo Verdean, transitioned to this diet because meat is a staple in so many of our cultures, not for just Cabo Verdeans.
(Check out our suggested reading list at the end of this article, which includes a blog post about how culture influences our meat consumption.)
The Decision To Go Vegan
Armando Lopes was born on the island of Brava in Cabo Verde, and moved to Pawtucket, Rhode Island at the age of 6. It wasn’t until Armando was in his late 20s that he began to consider a vegan diet.
“A lot of people around me were dying,” Armando said. “Diabetes, colon cancer, and all of these types of cancer. Doctors tell you that a lot of health problems are genetic.”
“They are passed down from generation to generation. However, I’ve come to realize that so are diets,” Armando said. “Your grandmother teaches your mother her recipes. Your mother teaches you. We’re passing down recipes, not just our genetics.”
“I educated myself on the food I was eating,” Armando said. “And the more and more I read about these things I was putting in my body, the less and less I wanted to eat it.”
“When you’re born, you don’t choose what you want to eat. You just follow it because that’s what everyone is telling you to do,” said Armando. “Growing up I never questioned anything. You’re not taught to question, but then I started to read books and started thinking differently.”
“Now when I read something, I don’t run with it,” Armando said. “I’m going to make sure the fact is right. I make sure it’s coming from multiple sources.”
“I’m glad I made the decision to go vegan,” Armando said.
Being Cabo Verdean & Vegan
Many, if not most, cultures place food at the center of social gatherings. Cabo Verdean culture is no different. Many of the traditional dishes include meat. Catchupa (pictured here) often contains pork. Bacalhou, a traditional Cabo Verdean casserole, includes fish and eggs. Chicken Liver is a common appetizer at gatherings. Bitoque (a Portuguese dish that Cabo Verdeans have inherited) contains eggs and steak.
The dishes we eat are a large part of our culture. This is not to say that Cabo Verdeans frown upon vegans. In fact, restaurants in Cabo Verde are beginning to place vegan options on the menu. However, this diet is simply not a mainstream trend in our culture.
“At first my cousins would make fun of me at cookouts,” Armando said. “My niece and nephew would call me ‘Mr. Vegan’.”
“In the beginning it wasn’t really hard for me personally,” said Armando. “It was just that I felt bad for my family, so I started educating them on it.”
Armando has been intentional in being sure not to force his dietary beliefs on others. “I educate people, and let them make their own decisions,” Armando said. “I’m still learning myself. But what I know, I share, and I just hope some people get some good information from me that they find helpful.”
The awareness Armando has brought to his family has not fallen on deaf ears. “My sister is pretty much plant-based now, and my mom and three brothers are as well,” Armando said. “They are seeing that I’m serious about it, and I still have my good size.”
“My mom makes catchupa with no meat, and a vegan pastel. She’s makes canja with no chicken,” Armando said. “I definitely still eat traditional Cape Verdean food.”
Changing His Mindset
“Your mind is the most powerful thing,” Armando said. “It wasn’t as hard for me mentally. I’m pretty much re-wiring my brain. What I learned in the past 3 years is more than I’ve learned my entire life because I’m teaching myself.”
Armando talks with a lot of people who say they just can’t imagine going vegan after eating meat their whole lives. His response: “Picture yourself in a relationship with a woman who you are in love with and can’t live without. You think you know this woman.” Armando said. “But then you find out that she’s been cheating on you, and you want nothing to do with her.”
That has essentially been Armando’s relationship with meat & dairy.
“The only thing that was hard was cheese,” Armando said. “I get a Veggie pizza and there’s cheese. I did research that showed me that cheese is more addicting than crack.
“At one point, I had given up everything else for my vegan diet, but I was still eating cheese,” Armando said. However, even cheese lost the battle in the end, and Armando is now 100% vegan.
“If you’re going to transition to vegan, do it gradually,” Armando said. “I first stopped eating pork, then chicken, then seafood, and like I mentioned before, eventually dairy, including cheese.”
The Biggest Misconception about the Vegan Diet
“People say that you can’t get protein from a plant-based diet,” Armand said. “I say, just think of the animals we eat and what they eat. Cows eat grass. Horses – one of the strongest animals in the world – eat grass. Bulls are plant-based animals. We feed these animals plant-based diets to make them meatier. Think about that.”
“We in turn get the secondary protein from these animals,” Armando said. “I’d rather cut the middle man out.”
“Yes, I worked out on a meat diet for almost 10 years, and built a lot of muscle. However, now being on a plant-based diet, I feel lighter and my reflexes are crazy,” Armando said. “I feel more energized and happy. I feel different.”
Armando explained that this new diet has had a large impact on not just his body, but his mind. The new diet has cleared his head, and he looks at things differently. He finds himself extremely calm in situations that would have otherwise frustrated him.
So then what does Armando eat to keep his great shape?
“For my morning routine, I get up and make a fruit shake,” Armando said. “Fresh is better, but I use frozen fruits. I buy a vegan protein for the shake, and that’s my breakfast. If I have time, I’ll make a dairy-free pancake. Then I’ll have some mixed nuts with berries for a snack. Then, if I’m home, I’ll make maybe a veggie pizza for lunch.”
“Mushrooms are actually a common source of protein for me,” Armando said. “It’s like the steak for vegans. I put mushrooms on my pizza, or I make a mushroom sauce with some pasta.”
Some of Armando’s stable food items:
- Fruits – a lot of Mango & Dragon Fruit
- *No soy or Tofu
Cheat Meal or Nah?
“I haven’t eaten fast food, soda or juice since I was in my early 20s,” Armando said. “So for me a cheat meal would actually be something like a processed veggie patty, something I would only eat when I’m in a rush for convenience, but not often.”
Thanks Armando for sharing your journey to a vegan diet. This is something I have been thinking of for sometime, and something I hope to pursue seriously in the near future. However, for now I’m just going to enjoy this catchupa.
Follow Armando on Instagram at: @fit_ness_god
- Hooked on Meat: How Cultural Beliefs and Attitudes Drive Meat Consumption
- More African Americans adopting vegan diet to combat health problems
- The Pros & Cons of Going Vegan | USA Today, July 1, 2019
- 24 Mouthwatering Fourth of July Dishes | VegNews.com, June 30, 2019
US & OUR CULTURE
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