Monday, April 16, 2007
Land of Manteca
Deep South Texas in the McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville area is where two cultures meet. This is the center of Hispanic culture in a state increasingly Hispanic. More than 90 percent of the people who live in this Rio Grande Valley identify themselves as Hispanic. Besides Mexico, there are numerous immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Cuba. As a gateway to the United States, there are even a sizeable number of Chinese immigrants who pass through. I'm a vegan Anglo (This is what white European immigrants and their following generations are called here. I'm of Polish, German, Dutch, Czech and English heritage.), and I moved from the Austin area about a year and a half ago. I've had to adjust to not having things as convenient to me. No longer do I get to choose from numerous vegetarian restaurants, such as Veggie Heaven, West Lynn Cafe (which I'm sad to say closed to be replaced by another vegetarian restaurant called Cosmic Cafe), Casa de Luz, two Mr. Natural's, Nu Age Cafe, Mother's (which I heard recently burned down) and numerous other vegan friendly places. We also had a great selection of grocery stores in Austin, including two Whole Foods, Wheatsville, two Central Markets and two Sun Harvests. Here, we have no vegetarian restaurants and one good grocery store, a Sun Harvest, in McAllen, which is about 35 minutes from where I live in Harlingen. Some Asian restaurants in the Valley have items for vegetarians. Mexican food, obviously, is very important here. You would think a vegan could go to a restaurant and get say beans, tortillas and vegan taco fillings. It isn't that simple, however. It is common for pork to be added to the beans and for manteca (which looks like Crisco and is made from beef fat) to be added to nearly all flour tortillas. Most corn tortillas, however, are made without manteca, but I wouldn't be surprised if they put it in some of them. We are cooking more than ever at home and even got involved in probably the first community supported agriculture farm in the Valley. The other pluses from living here are the fresh avocados, which taste way better, tree ripened naval oranges and other citrus and the nation's first crop of sweet onions. There's a small group of vegans and vegetarians living here who are slowly but surely spreading the word about what it means to eat a meatless diet. There's probably no place more important than here with one of the highest rates of diabetes in the nation, but I'll save that for another post.