Veganizing traditional Cuban foods
Transcript of the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 87
Raydel Hernandez on "veganizing" Cuban foods and sharing traditional recipes in vegan form
Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan Podcast, episode 87. Raydel Hernandez is on the show today to discuss coming to veganism from the typical meat-heavy Cuban diet, the importance of Cuban cuisine to Cubans, how he's keeping the traditions and memories of old Cuba alive via its food (but veganized), and his new book.
I’m Karina, your go-to, no-BS, vegan fitness and nutrition coach. Welcome to the very last episode of 2020, which was definitely a bizarre, challenging and uncertain year for most of us. I hope that you've been staying safe and healthy, and here's to a better 2021. Now I just had to share with you what I thought was a quite amusing juxtaposition of reviews this podcast received. I see every review, no matter what country it comes from. In my latest review update, I saw two new ones. The first one is titled ‘ Everything A Vegan Needs', and the second one is titled 'Stupid, Wrong, and Dangerous’. The first one, five stars, ‘Everything A Vegan Needs’, is from ‘@carolustech’, from Sweden. I'm probably butchering the screen name, but this person writes: I love the wide range of topics that Karina covers, and how she brings out the best of all of her awesome guests. I learn something useful in every episode. Thanks for bringing this to the world, Karina. That is so awesome. Thank you so much for the review, much appreciated and thank you so much for being an awesome listener.
Then the other review that I got in was one-star, 'dubious science, weak epidemiology, yet another misguided, prematurely aged, mentally ill vegan, promoting malnutrition and starvation. Avoid.’ I just had to laugh at that one. This person is from the United Kingdom. I looked up this username just for shits ’n’ giggles. It turns out that this individual leaves the exact same review or very slight variations thereof, on countless vegan podcasts. Clearly this person has nothing better to do with their time. By the way, if you happen to live in the UK, you can report this review on Apple podcasts as fake, because obviously this person has not listened to 40 or 50 vegan shows. Regardless of where you live, if you haven't yet reviewed this show, please do, as it helps other folks find this show. I read every review from every country, so head over to nobullshitvegan.com/apple podcasts.
Onto our guest for today, Raydel, AKA Ray Hernandez. Raydel is a first-generation Cuban American home cook and culinary author. His dishes are authentic, delicious, and distinctly Cuban. Heavily influenced by traditional Cuban cooking, Raydel’s culinary sensibilities were shaped by his family experience, primarily his grandmother, Pilar Mejido. After learning how to cook Cuban food using traditional ingredients, Raydel became a strict vegetarian and spent 10 years experimenting with plant-based ingredients, to achieve a Cuban vegan fusion, which maintains the integrity and delicious flavours of the original recipes (all with the goal of promoting a long and healthy life through the foods we eat).
His book ‘It's Delicious, it’s Vegan, it's Cuban’, was published in 2020. It's a step-by-step cookbook for people who love Cuban food and who want to eat vegetarian or vegan, but don't know where to start. The book contains a lifelong collection of Cuban food recipes, which span generations in Raydel’s family, originating in Cuba. Ray's favorite vegan meal is his own version of Arroz con Pollo, which is rice with chicken in Spanish. Here's our discussion.
Hey Ray, thank you so much for joining me on the show today.
Raydel Hernandez: Thank you for having me.
Karina Inkster: Well, it's awesome to have you here. I'm really glad we could connect. I feel like we should just jump right into it. You started as a meat eater of the typical Cuban diet, but now you're vegan. How the hell did that happen?
Raydel Hernandez: I had some health issues about 10 years ago, and I went to a doctor. (I tried to go to my doctor, but I couldn't see him for another week) My issue ended up being gout, and I had these gout attacks that were very powerful. What's funny is, I didn't even realize that I had gout. I thought I had injured myself because I'm a judo practitioner, and have been for about 27 years or so. I thought I just stubbed my toe in a competition or something. As the pain got more intense, by the third attack, which happened in a span of three weeks or so, I found myself in a walk-in clinic because I couldn't see my doctor. I met a doctor that changed my life.
She laid it out for me. She told me that my symptom was diet related, and that at some point; I would have to consider being vegan. She said that some people tend to be more sensitive than others to animal products. Clearly I had some built-in triggers in my genetics that were kind of telling me that my diet was affecting me negatively. She said something very curious to me. She said that gout, kidney stones and prostate problems manifest together and they're all related genetically. She told me that, and I had already had a kidney stone. My father had suffered from prostate problems and kidney stones most of his life. So she said that those are passed down. They're basically triggers, kind of like canaries in the coalmine telling you that what you're doing to yourself is leading to a bigger issue.
In my case it was heart disease. She said that the gout and the kidney stones were all related, and all canaries in a coal mine, so to speak. She said, 'look, I can give you medicine to take away your gout. It'll be gone in two days. If you really want to address the issue, you're going to have to consider being plant-based.' I have to tell you, I was more upset about that declaration at that point (because I wasn't expecting it), than the actual gap. I listened to her and then I immediately got a second opinion. I saw my doctor and my doctor told me something completely. He said, 'you know that as you get older…’ (mind you, I was 37, 36 or 37 when I had these issues). ‘ As you get older, your conditions and your genetic dispositions to food are going to manifest, and there's not much you can do about it. You're just going to have to diet, lose weight, and take whatever pills, which just seems to be the standard issued answer from most established doctors.
I wasn't buying it. I couldn't believe that two people were so different in opinion, you know, it was night and day. So I started to research, and it took me a few years and I realized that I had been brainwashed for many years with my diet. It bothered me because as a Cuban, food to us is part of our culture. My grandmother, and all her sisters passed down every dish that I know how to make to me, and it's a whole big system of culture, so to speak, and I wasn't ready to give that up. I had to figure out a way to get my food back, and that's kind of what led me to writing this book and creating vegan solutions for my problems. It actually ended up being one of the best things I ever did, because I eat just as well as I used to. I don't even worry about my health anymore because every time I go to the doctor, all my levels are fine. Everything is always perfect. That's attributable, obviously, to being a vegan and not having any animal products in my system.
Karina Inkster: That's amazing. What a story! Obviously you yourself have had this transformation (almost). I don't really like the term because it's very cliché in the fitness world, but it's kind of true. I mean, you turned your health around. What's surprising to me is that somebody as a professional in the health/medical field would come to you with veganism as the number one thing. Obviously everyone who's vegan knows this, but I was just talking with someone in the field, and it's not really the go-to approach yet (you know, like you had with your doctor, the experience there around, 'Oh yeah. Just take some meds. You don't need to change your diet. You'll be fine’.) The whole 'dude you need to go vegan immediately' is first of all, so important, and it's going to save lives. Second of all, it (that approach) is not really done a ton. It was actually good luck, or whatever you want to call it, that you ended up connecting with that professional, who said, 'Hey, you need to go plant-based for your own health, because this is what's going to create long-term change’, which is pretty huge. Have you noticed other things? I mean, obviously the gout was one of the main things that you had challenges with at first, but how has being vegan changed other aspects of your life?
Raydel Hernandez: Well, it's changed just about every aspect of my life. From physical, to (I mean, I don't want to sound corny), but you know, spiritually as well. I feel like it’s just a lot simpler to be vegan. The simplicity lends itself to every aspect. Within the first two weeks, and I'm sure you experienced this too, my hair got better. My skin cleared up. In the first two years I lost 55 pounds without even trying. I was never a dieter. I've always been in reasonable shape. I practiced judo for 20 years off and on. I was athletic. I used to run six miles a day. This all happened right around the gout thing. I was at the top of my game, as far as how physically fit I was; yet I was still sick. As soon as I made that change, it was immediate. There is no medicine that can ever mimic this. You lose weight. Your skin feels better. You'll have to sleep less, which is amazing to me. I don't have a requirement of sleeping anymore. I was telling the interviewer yesterday, who was a fitness person as well, even if I don't work out for a period of time, when I do lift, and if I do lift something heavy, I don't get sore anymore. It's just almost like you're kind of in shape. It's the oddest thing in the world.
I think it all comes down to feeding your machine what it's supposed to be fed, and you have incredible gains. You have incredible turnarounds; you have incredible feelings associated with that. You can't quite explain it to somebody unless they've kind of gone through it. It all happens immediately. Like I tell most people, you can eat twice as much of anything if you're vegan. You really have to try hard to put on weight. You just live better. Every aspect is simple. Even the food is less expensive. On every front, it's just a better way to be. Obviously, I didn't know that for the first 36 years of my life. So now that I learned that, I want to teach my children the same. I converted my wife, which was pretty easy, because she was kind of interested in it to begin with.
We live very happily as vegetarian. She has some vegetarian stuff. I'm mostly vegan. I would say 99.9% of the time I'm vegan. I'll have the occasional vegetarian meal. For the most part, I can't even tolerate the smell of animals anymore. I can smell it at work when people have chicken wings. I can almost smell all the feathers on the animal at this point, which is incredible to me. Before it used to be so appetizing, and now I'm repulsed. It's strange how your body reacts to it.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. It's also strange how quickly you can notice differences when you make that switch, especially coming from a place where it was the so-called 'standard Cuban diet' or 'standard American diet', whatever you want to call it, something that was animal product based. Now you're making this huge switch. I think a lot of people are actually surprised at how quickly they notice these things happening with energy levels, the sleep, and the recovery from workouts, because you're now eating so many antioxidants. I think that's pretty major. This is something that a lot of medical professionals should be considering as the number one thing to recommend to their patients.
Raydel Hernandez: They should, especially older people. My aunt is obviously a Cuban lady, right? She’s been on the Cuban diet for years. I remember when I made the change, she was complaining to me because her cholesterol was high, they put her on medication and the medication was worse than the cholesterol. She had joint pain. It was even bothering her bladder. She said to me, ‘look, I just think that maybe I just have high cholesterol and maybe I should just live with it.' I said, 'nobody has high cholesterol. You’re ingesting all the cholesterol. Try it for 30 days, and I promise you as your nephew, that you're going to see significant change and you’re going to want to do it'.
Let me tell you, it was hard. I had to wrestle her into it. We had to have sit-down conversations and say, 'look, it's not the end of the world if you don't have whole milk. Try something else. Try oat milk. Pick one that you like. There's many of them, there's got to be something that you like.' She did. She ended up drinking coconut milk with her coffee. After the 30 days went by, she lost weight. She went to the doctor for the sake of testing her cholesterol, and her cholesterol went down 90 points.
Karina Inkster: In 30 days. Holy!
Raydel Hernandez: Unreal, right? Even when she went to the doctor, the doctor thought she was taking too much of the cholesterol medicine. She said, 'I gave it up because I couldn't tolerate it. All I did was just take out all animal products, all of it.’ Boom! Obviously she stuck to it, and now she's super healthy. She regrets not doing it 40 years ago my life. In her seventies, every time she goes to the doctor, she’s not afraid. That’s how I feel. I don't even worry about my health anymore because I know that I'm not putting anything in my body that's going to be a giant detriment. Obviously you can't live forever, but I don't ever feel sick. I don't ever get colds. I've never had the flu that I can remember. Anytime within the last two decades, I have no issues other than injuries from all the wrestling I've done. That's my only ailment.
Karina Inkster: That’s a different situation!
Raydel Hernandez: There's nothing I can do about that at this point. Everything else, you know, it's so simple. It’s hard to communicate that.
Karina Inkster: Well, it's one of those things. We have a lot of clients, for example, who don't understand the benefits of strength training, especially if they're coming from an endurance sport world or (a mindset of) "I don't need to strength train”. You can't really communicate how this is going to change your life, and I'm not saying that as an exaggeration, until you actually do it. It's the same with being vegan. You could sit around and eat Oreos all day and technically be vegan. We're talking about good quality, nutrient-dense foods here clearly, but it's kind of the same. You just have to do it. Most of our listeners are either vegan already or they're vegan curious. There are a lot of people who may just be looking for that little extra kick in the ass, you know. This is it. This is officially it!
Raydel Hernandez: I think most people get hung up on the unknown. That's what it is. They don't know that it doesn't have to just be you sucking down a kale shake. That isn’t veganism. You know what I'm saying? There are plenty of things that you can eat. There are plenty of meat substitutes that you can use if you want to. I mean, you don't even have to have them, but if you have that craving it's out there, and you can do it. I don't necessarily recommend eating too many processed foods, even if they're vegan, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's good for you. If you need it for the sake of converting, and then maybe end up completely whole food plant based; maybe that could be a crutch to get you there.
Part of the reason why I wrote the book the way I did is I'm not trying to sell the book to vegans. If you're a vegan, you already know all the amazing health benefits. I'm trying to get people that are not convinced that they can live that way and eat well. Everybody who I've ever cooked a meal for has told me, 'you know, I could eat this every day.' If that's the case, try it, and it's a game of inches. You do it once a week, and then maybe you do it twice a week, and then maybe you do it one week out of the month. Before you know it, you're at 25 days and then before you know it, you're completely free of it. I think that's probably a good way to approach things.
Karina Inkster: Definitely. Why don't we approach the Cuban aspect: being Cuban, the importance of Cuban cuisine to Cubans, right? This is ingrained culturally and your experience of writing this book, which has a lot of traditional recipes in it, especially from older family members of yours. You're also working to keep these traditions alive, but in a vegan way, and you want to pass down things like your grandma's family recipes to the next generation, but in vegan form. Let's talk about the Cuban diet, first of all. What's the background here? What is the so-called standard Cuban diet, or how is it formulated?
Raydel Hernandez: The Cuban diet is the Western diet; it just happens to be the Latin version of it. Every available meat, fowl, everything is included. The Cuban diet is very varied, and very vast. There are meals that are by themselves vegan. There are meals that are obviously heavy in pork; heavy in chicken; heavy in beef. I don't know if this is obvious with a lot of Latin people. It's obvious with Cubans. Our food is part of our identity. It's a cultural thing when you're Cuban or you’re Latin. Food is always the thing that happens next. If you meet somebody, have food with them, right? If you bring someone into your family, you're going to feed them.
We take a lot of pride in how we cook; we take a lot of pride in the flavours. When I was a teenager growing up, and I grew up in Yonkers, New York, I'm first-generation. All my family is from Cuba. Our food was so different than my friends' food. If I got invited to their house and they had meatloaf and mashed potatoes (not that I'm knocking meatloaf and mashed potatoes), it was nothing compared to the food that we had in our house every day. We had foods that were based in Spain. It was just a cuisine that we cooked. It was never eclectic. It was always Cuban, everything.
I don't know how much you know about Cuba. Cuba fell to Communism before 1960, and everybody in my family had to flee. You had to leave, because communism didn't give you much of an option. You were either enslaved in communism, or you had to run out. We left, and my grandmother made it a mission to connect us to old Cuba through the foods that she made, telling us where this came from, always telling us the first time she ate it, whose favourite meal it. Somehow, those little anecdotal touches to the food connected you deep to the country. For me, that's a connection that I'm very proud of. I'm very proud of all my family members. The older generation is the best people I've ever known in my life.
I'm almost 50, and I’m still thinking about my grandmother. I lost her when I was 15. It's a deep connection. I don't know if every Cuban does it, but my family and my extended family, everybody cooks Cuban; everybody sits together and eats together. Everybody has the same memories; the smells of the food bring you back in time. Obviously with everybody, it's always a better memory, hopefully. You go back in time to when you were a kid and when your grandmother's making something, or your parents or whomever, and there's that connection always to that island for us. There are a few reasons why I wrote the book. I think mostly it's a tribute to my grandmother, although at first it was a practical approach. I needed to eat food that I liked in order to become a vegan. As I wrote it, I started to realize that I miss her. I just kept writing and writing and writing. Before I knew it, it was kind of a tribute to her, which I'm proud of. I don’t know what will arise from this book, but I got that out there for her, and that's pretty much the crux of why I wrote that book.
Karina Inkster: That is incredible. A lot of the recipes that are in this book are in this tradition of passing down things through food. It's not just about the food itself. It's also about what's associated with it: cultural connotations and memories. I think that's amazing. I'm not speaking for everyone here, but I think folks in North America, maybe certain foods are part of their identity. We know this as vegans because we come across it all the time with people: "steak is in my DNA!!" and all this BS. It's not the same though. There's not this deep cultural connection to our food, what kind of folks passed it down to us, and where does it come from and what does it mean? What do the smells remind us of and all those things.
I don't really think we have that so much generally in Canada, or the States. I'm in Canada. I can't speak for all of North America obviously, but half of my family is German and half of my family is from England (not exactly known for a lot of longstanding culinary traditions.) I feel like in Germany, there's more. My family has veganized a lot of Latvian, Baltic-German recipes. There's a little bit more connection there, but I don't know. Would you agree; is it very different living in Canada or the States, with how food is seen?
Raydel Hernandez: Yes. I agree with that. I think I'll extend it beyond Cuban. It's a Latin American thing. I'm sure in Canada, if you go to some Latin American community; they have the same connection or a similar connection that I have to mine. My wife is Colombian. They have a connection to their food. It's kind of hard to explain it. You're brought up that way. I remember Christmas Eve was the biggest meal that we would have the whole year. It was a big roast pig; it was always the same thing. It was a giant roast pig, pots and pans full of rice and beans and yucca, and potatoes. It was a thing. Everybody came over to eat that thing, and celebrate that thing. The music was salsa music from the 1940's that we all listened to. The closest thing that non-Latin culture would have is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving to us is almost every day, because we eat well every day. Like I write in my book, I, and I'm not bragging, I'm not putting down anything else, but I didn't have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich until I was almost twenty years old.
Karina Inkster: That says something!
Raydel Hernandez: We never had that. Granted, it was different back then because women (I wouldn't say most women), but my grandmother stayed home all her life. She was cooking all the time. We had soups, we had appetizers, and we had salads. We had beef dishes, pork dishes, fish dishes; all of these dishes and everything was different every day. That was part of her goal. Her goal was to keep that alive. Quite frankly, I'm so happy I was raised that way because I have the same connection with my family. We all sit down and we all eat together at work. My wife works. A lot of the food that we make will be on the weekends. We have it frozen so that we can just pop it open and just eat it. That's another thing too. That’s one of the challenges with becoming a vegan. You have to have food ready.
Karina Inkster: Oh yeah. It's all about the food prep!
Raydel Hernandez: You can’t just slap anything on the grill. You have to make sure it's there. You have to make sure you have it. Once you do that, the rest is fairly easy to maintain. I think l I pass it onto my son. I have three children. My oldest is 17 and then I have two babies. My 17 year old is not a vegan, but he's not against it either. I'll tell you one thing, it's a big compliment to me, every single time I have people over that I know are not vegans, I'll make something for them. I don't want to be obnoxious about it and force people to eat something they don’t want to eat. If we have a barbecue, I'll have hamburgers, tacos, that kind of thing for the folks that eat it. My son is free to pick whatever he wants. He always gravitates to the Cuban food and it has nothing to do with it being vegan. He just considers it, Dad's food, and the Cuban culture food. He pays me a giant compliment every time he does that because for a teenager not to pick a cheeseburger….
Karina Inkster: That's huge.
Raydel Hernandez: It's a testament to the quality of the food. That's not my invention. That's just the recipe that we make, and all I'm doing is swapping out animal products and putting in plant equivalents. That's all I've done. And it works. It works very well.
Karina Inkster: Well, let's talk about that. What are some of these ingredients in your whole overarching mission of passing down these recipes, making them available to people, whether they're Cuban or not. I'm not Cuban, but I am very interested and I checked out your book and I'm going to try these recipes. This whole overarching mission of sharing these things, passing them down, furthering the trend, the tradition….what are some of the specifics? What are ingredients that you often have to swap? What are some ingredients that maybe you had to experiment with a little bit? Can we go into some specifics here?
Raydel Hernandez: I had a hard time trying to find a plant substitute that would mimic shredded meats. Very famous recipes involve shredded meat of some sort. One that comes to mind is ropa vieja, which means old clothes. It’s just shredded meat in a sauce. To find something that imitates shredded meat is pretty hard. I experimented. I started with seitan, but seitan doesn’t shred that well. Then I found this other product on Amazon: Butler Soy Curls.
Karina Inkster: Oh yes. Those are classic. They don't shred super well though, do they?
Raydel Hernandez: They come kind of looking shredded. You hydrate them. They come out like long pieces of stringy soy. I like them because they're pretty flavour neutral. They don't taste like anything. By the time I flavor them and I make the sauce for the ropa vieja, the end result is ropa vieja. It looks and tastes just like it. There are ground beef recipes that are used. I found ground soy to work very well with that. Ground soy is almost seamless. I can't tell the difference, honestly, between ground beef and ground soy, if you do it right; if you season it the right way. The other thing that I use quite a bit, but I didn't use it as much in the book because I find it a little hard to process: jackfruit in water. Have you had jackfruit in water? Jackfruit is a challenge for recipes because of the prep to get it right. It takes a little bit of time. I don't think a lot of people want to dedicate an extra hour to cooking something. Maybe some people. I put jackfruit in my grandmother's recipe for paella. Do you know what paella is?
Karina Inkster: Yes. I have never made one that I'm happy with mind you, but technically I know how it should be.
Raydel Hernandez: The problem with fish type foods is that they never quite taste fishy, if it’s vegan. I cheated on some of those recipes. I have some recipes in my book that are vegetarian, because I'm trying to appeal to a broader audience. Like I said earlier, I didn't necessarily write the book for vegans because if you're a vegan, you already understand how valuable it is to eat this stuff. For the folks that are on the edge, if I can convince somebody to eat my food, because it tastes a certain way, and if it has a minute amount of animal product in it, not enough to bother anyone, I'll present it that way.
For example, my recipe for paella has a bit of clam juice in it. I don't want anyone killing clams and I don't necessarily eat clams. If you look at the nutritional value of the clam bottle, there's no protein in it. There's no cholesterol in it. It's just flavoured. If you're okay with that, I'm okay with that. I write it in the book. If you go completely against animal products, don't include it, but the only way to make it taste like paella is by adding a little bit of fish taste to it, which I'm not opposed to. That's how you do it. The jackfruit is amazing, because the jackfruit ends up being flaky like tuna. I brought it to work one day. I work with a lot of Asian folks and one of my Chinese friends, Steve Zhu, asked me if it was tuna. (I said) “ no, it’s jackfruit!” He said, “ It imitates tuna so well that you fooled me”.
I mean there are ways to do it. It made me very happy that he said that because it was confirmation of my own belief. I thought the recipe came out pretty good. Even though I had to cheat a little bit with the clam juice, if I can find something else that does it, that's plant based, I'll certainly swap it in. Fish is one of those things that either tastes like fish or doesn't, but it's not a deal breaker for me because I have maybe a handful of recipes in the book that take a vegetarian turn. I did that to straddle the market a little bit more so that people can come on board. I always think it's easier when you give people a kind of out. If it's an all or none approach, I think most people won't even try.
I'm sure you see that in the fitness world. If you say, "Hey look, the first thing we're going to do today, even though you haven't run in 22 years, is run six miles," you’re going to turn people off. If you say, “why don’t we try running a hundred yards first? See how you feel, walk a lap around the track and try it again." That's a different way of building to what you're trying to get to. That’s kind of how I approach these recipes. Some people are very strict with veganism. I consider myself a strict vegan, but I understand human nature enough to know how to try to get people to you is by teaching them that there are alternatives, instead of preaching to people and saying, “if you don't do this, you're going to die early." All that doom and gloom, I don't think gets you as far as saying, "try it with a little bit of clam juice and a little lime on it." See if you like it. That approach tends to work.
Karina Inkster: I'm with you in that. There are a lot of vegans out there who are all or nothing. Technically with the definition of vegan, you can never be one hundred percent vegan, if you think about it. We've said this on the podcast before. If you drive a car, if you paint your house, if you use a cell phone, if you have batteries that you use... everything involves animal products to some degree. Mind you, some of those things are easier to choose to use versus others. When it comes to the diet piece, there are a lot of folks out there who are all or nothing with their approach to veganism for others, right? Fine, they're vegan themselves, that's cool. When they're sharing veganism, and sharing the message with other people, either you go one hundred percent, or you suck and you're not doing it properly.
That is going to do, first of all, more harm to our whole movement. Second of all, it’s not going to have as much of an effect on the animals, the environment, all these things that we're trying to affect. I’m a so-called hardcore vegan, and I wouldn't have clam juice in my recipe. As you said, the book you wrote is not for people who have been vegan for 18 years. If you can bring people on board through some of these options and then maybe have them reconsider them at some point, it's not an all or nothing, black and white type situation. I'm all for that. My usual stance is: if you can eat more plant-based foods that happen to automatically crowd out animal-based foods, if you're trying these recipes, if you're trying some new types of foods that are plant-based generally, you're automatically eating fewer animal products (just by default), I am on board with that.
I'm on board with people making the decision to go mostly plant-based or to go vegetarian as a starting point. The hardcore vegans will say it's not enough. And in a way, it’s not, that's true. Overall, I would say you're still on a trajectory of some kind that's also positive for your own health. I didn't mention that with the environment and the ethics. I think what you're doing, especially in a culture that is so steeped in culinary traditions, which happen to be very meat based and animal product based; I think this is a pretty awesome approach. Have you had people within the culture, like Cuban family members, friends who have come from this very meat-centric, animal product-centric background (even if they’re not completely vegan), who have had some kind of moment where they say, "wow, I can actually make this completely plant-based!"
Raydel Hernandez: I have experienced that. My aunt would be the first example. I converted her. If I can convert her, I can convert anybody.
Karina Inkster: There you go!
Raydel Hernandez: We’re talking a hardcore Cuban lady who has expertise in the food and expertise in the presentation. She's an amazing cook herself. She can write her own book. The way I convinced her was how we were just talking about: little by little, little by little. Once you get over the hump, once you realize that you don't need that little piece of animal product in there, it’s much easier in conversation to say, "you know what, why don't you just skip the clam juice?" Without the clam juice, see if you like it. Most of the times they do. As I said before, your body starts to change; your palate starts to change. What was delicious a few months ago may not be the case now.
I very rarely make myself a vegetarian dish, because I can smell the animal at this point. To what you said before, I'd rather have someone who is going to consider making a change. It helps everyone. You become vegetarian, and it's fewer animals that you kill. It's less environmental destruction that happens. There's less water to give to animals. There's less food to feed animals that you're just waiting to slaughter. All of these things have giant impacts on the environment. Maybe I'm too jaded. Maybe I'm too old to think that if I say, “look, the cow is upset that you're going to kill it. Don't kill it." I don't think that carries as much weight as saying, "if I can make you drop 90 points off your cholesterol number in 30 days and you can eat twice as much, would you consider it?"
I think that's a more compelling argument, and it solves everything you're trying to solve. You kind of backed off, and you don't fight with people. That’s the worst thing. I was on Twitter for a while with vegans. I think it’s more animal activists people than anything else. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are some people that are very passionate about animals and I get it. I love animals, but I can't imagine a world where you're going to convince the powers that be, the people that actually have the money to have these giant ranches, to never kill an animal again and sell to the world. I don't see that happening. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong, but I know money and people well too much. I don't think that's ever not going to exist. People in general are selfish...
Karina Inkster: I was going to say the exact same thing!
Raydel Hernandez: You have to appeal to that selfishness. Animal preservation is not going to trump your own preservation, so just appeal to that. You're sick all your life for a hamburger? I have a good friend of mine; his name is Tom. Tom is married to a woman. I don't know her, but she has a gallbladder problem. She's had it for years; I don't know what it is exactly. He was telling me on the phone because he knows that I'm a vegan. He said, “look, the doctor just told my wife that she's going to have to become vegan if she wants to solve her gall bladder problem." I said, "if she wants advice, she can talk to me; I got recipes, and I can help her out.
They are so conflicted with becoming vegan that they would almost rather not change and deal with the gall bladder thing. I said, "Tom, your wife is really considering keeping this ailment with because she's too afraid to investigate the other side. All you're doing is eating. The other foods that you can eat, that will benefit her. Is it really that big of a conflict? He's Italian. They said, "how do we give up cheese?" Well, you give them up little by little. That's the answer, just like those guys that spin plates on those sticks. Have you ever see those guys?
Karina Inkster: How did they do that? They didn't start with 10.
Raydel Hernandez: Right? They do one plate at a time. It's the same thing. I think that if you appeal to people's selfish nature and say, "look, if you really want to live without pills and problems and all that, you really have to consider this side. I don't take any pills. I look at my mother's husband, who takes eight pills. Granted he's 80, but he's got eight pills in a container this long (indicates size with hands.) It's Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; every day's a pill. I don't want to live like that. Especially if you don't have to.
Karina Inkster: That's it exactly. I know it sounds super cliché, but it always reminds me of that whole saying about "choose your hard”. It's hard to have gallbladder issues, and it's hard making dietary changes. I'm not going to sugar coat it. You're used to eating a certain way and now you have this overwhelming challenge in front of you, or at least that's how it feels at first to go completely plant-based. Sure, that's hard. Those are both situations that are difficult, so choose your hard. It's hard having diabetes. It's hard having gout, and sure, it was probably also hard at first making dietary changes, but which one are you going to choose and why?
Raydel Hernandez: Quite frankly, and not that want to come across as bragging or anything like that, but if you use my book, you're not going to have that giant sacrifice. The food is going to be hearty. The food is going to be filling. You'll be surprised how close it actually is. I mean, I've served things to people that aren’t completely vegan without telling them they're vegan, and (they’ll say), “oh yeah. I had no idea that was vegan!" There's more of that. You know, it's not just what you just ate. There's a whole bunch of things that you can make. You just have to get good at it. I think a step-by-step book that will teach you how to do it is a step in the right direction, if you're that person.
I tell this to everybody. At some point, you're going to have to consider it, because it will catch up to you. No matter how much exercise you do, if you're a marathon runner, whatever the case is; that animal product, at some point, is going to weaken your heart, give you cancer or make you feel sick. You don't have to be like that. There's no reason in the world to live like that. People just don't know. I mean, look at all the misinformation. You’re in fitness, right? You must see misunderstandings of what actually is (fitness). My sister's a big fitness person. She's one of those CrossFit people.
Karina Inkster: One of “ those” CrossFit people; I like how you said that!
Raydel Hernandez: It's like what you would see on television. She's chiseled. She's got the eight pack. She's a beast. But I know she's unhealthy on the inside. The majority of what she eats is skinless chicken and broccoli. The broccoli is fine, but the chicken is in almost every meal, and it can't be good for you. I had this conversation with my sister, not that long ago. She’s under the impression that there's such a thing as animal protein versus plant protein, and she's under the impression that the plant protein is a lesser quality protein somehow than the animal protein. I said, "look, you're out of your mind. There's no such thing.”
The only things in the world that make protein are plants. They take oxygen and nitrogen out of the air. They combine it. They make amino acids. When the cow eats the grass, you're absorbing the grass protein through the cow, and absorbing all the unhealthy things of eating the animal flesh, because you’re under the impression that's how you get protein. You don't have to do that, just eliminate the middleman. Get it from the source. That's brainwashing. She didn't know; she had no idea. I would love my sister to be vegan. I don't think she ever is going to be vegan, because she's hardheaded. Those are the little steps that people don't know. That's something that is obvious to us, but not obvious to most people. There are people that'll spend 50% more on grass fed organic beef, thinking that it's better than the normal beef because it's grass fed and organic. It makes no difference. Look, there might be some truth to it. It might be slightly better for you than eating just the regular meat. At the end of the day, it's still animal flesh, that's going to affect you adversely, it's all marketing.
Karina Inkster: It is absolutely all marketing. It's all marketing and, and myths. That’s why we're here to bust them.
Raydel Hernandez: It's very similar to the tobacco companies. They all knew it was bad and they all knew it was addicting. If they can just create a little doubt, that little doubt goes a long way. (As a result), people go, "it's not everybody that gets lung cancer from cigarette smoking." That's true. It's a true statement; but the majority does. It’s undeniable. It's the same thing with animal protein. It's going to make you sick at some point. It may not make you sick in your twenties or in your thirties, but as you get older and as that all accumulates, then it starts manifesting the disease that you can't walk away from. That's the danger of it. My grandmother died at 64 and the original source was colon cancer. Over the course of five years, it spread through her whole body. She died from that. When I was 15, it was 1987. The doctor talked to my mother and I about my grandmother's condition. He said, “look, this type of cancer comes as a direct result of eating red meat all your life."
Karina Inkster: Wow, and this is the eighties?
Raydel Hernandez: This is 1986. He told my mother and I that the only animals in the world who should eat meat are cats because their digestive system is short and they're meant to do it. The whole time he's telling me this, I'm thinking, "why didn't anyone tell us this before it's too late?” What do I do with this information? Back then, no one cared about veganism. No one knew the benefits. We took that information and we thought, "okay, well I guess if she was a tiger, she wouldn't be dying of cancer’. Doesn’t it seem odd that they know about these things, and they don't say anything? The studies on cholesterol, diet and human health, diet and cancer are at least 75 to 80 years old. They've known all this for decades.
Yet somehow still in 2020, there are still question marks about what is healthy to eat and not healthy to eat, and reinventions of the same things over and over again. I remember when I was in grade school and they started calling pork 'white meat’, as if it was better than red meat. It was the second white meat, so there was chicken and pork. Those were the white meats, and it was never actually said it was better for you. That is kind of implied that was. Then people stopped eating red meat and started eating chicken and pork.
Karina Inkster: …and there is no difference.
Raydel Hernandez: None whatsoever. People take some comfort in believing. People want to be healthier; they just don't know how to do it. Then they’re led by the nose by food companies that say, "eat chicken. It's better for you than beef." That's not true. Or people that eat fish. They think fish is the healthiest thing for you in the world. It's the same thing as eating cow. It's the same, but it's promoted in a different way. It's promoted as if it's better. How many times when you tell somebody that you're vegan, how many times do they say, “well, you eat fish right?"
Karina Inkster: I heard that a lot in the early years, for sure. “ You want a Caesar salad with some dressing on it, or do you want some chicken? Can you have a chicken burger?" The whole thing.
Raydel Hernandez: You’re vegan, so that means you eat fish and cheese? No, I don’t eat any of them because they're animal fats. That's all brainwashing and conditioning. No one really knows. No one. If you ask 20 people on the street what it means to be vegan, I don't think 20 people could tell you.
Karina Inkster: It's getting better now that we have more access to information, but I'm with you. I don't think all 20 random people in the population would have any idea. Mind you, this also depends where you are. If you ask this in my town, everyone would tell you what veganism is. If you ask this in the Southern States or pretty much anywhere in North America that isn't Vancouver or Portland, I think I'm with you there. People are really good at explaining their own choices and rationalizing their own choices. Of course there's a ton of misinformation as you mentioned. Marketing, info that people are putting out to make a buck, large companies... the dairy industry is a huge example. Who do you think is paying for the milk moustache campaign?
There are also a lot of people who rationalize their decisions in an effort to keep doing what they're doing because they don't want to change. This is where a lot of these more ambiguous nutrition studies come in, where you can interpret them in different ways. There's research on both sides of an argument. It can get confusing. There's information overload for a lot of folks out there. I do understand. It’s also crazy to me like you said, that in the eighties and well before, we knew this stuff.
Raydel Hernandez: It's common, scientific knowledge. They all know it. I hate to sound jaded, but it all comes down to money. There's just big money, cultural (considerations), and meat industries. They have giant amounts of money. Look at the dairy industry, right? I can't cite the study, but I've read it. It's a scientific fact that the protein in cow's milk, casein protein, is directly correlated to breast cancer in women. The correlation is so strong that they compare it to cigarette smoke and lung cancer. It's not a little correlation. It's not an accidental one. It's a known one. Yet still (I don't know about Canada and North America), but here in the United States, when you go to the supermarket and you buy any yogurt, it'll have the pink ribbon on it for breast cancer awareness. I know the major ingredient that causes it is in that yogurt. The unsuspecting woman who has no idea that she's feeding herself this; she is going to buy it in good faith because it has a ribbon on it. That's almost criminal when you think about it, because you're not revealing the actual truth about it. It's outrageous.
Karina Inkster: My hope is that in (well, realistically it'll probably be another 20 years, waving a magic wand sooner than that, how tobacco companies were in the past: showing pregnant women in their ads smoking, right? That's kind of how I feel about the animal agriculture industry as a whole right now, such as the milk moustache campaigns. Who is actually telling us that meat products are healthy? Down the road, I know realistically, this is probably decades away, I feel like we're going to go down that route. Maybe we'll have warnings on red meat to start off with. There's a pretty good correlation there with health issues and cancer. That's my wish for down the road: how the trajectory of tobacco companies went, (I’d like to see) a similar one for animal product companies.
Raydel Hernandez: I think you're right. I think that it's going to be a step further and it's going to be economically tied. From what I've read and what I've seen (and when I say read, I really dedicate myself to reading research wherever I can get it.) The reality of it is the idea of raising animals and killing them to feed the masses is unsustainable. There's just not enough land in the world. There are only so many trees you can cut down; there are only so many animals you can raise. People make other people much more quickly than animals make other animals, especially when you're taking them to slaughter. All of that takes a tremendous economic toll on the environment, which no one talks about it.
Everyone talks about fracking and, and the emissions of cars and all that. That's just a fraction of what the agricultural industry issues every year. I believe it's probably three or four times more water that is required to feed all the cattle in the United States, than it does to frack for natural gas. Think about that. That's an enormous amount of a resource for animals that you're going to kill, to feed a certain amount of people. At some point, the price of that cow is going to skyrocket because there are going to be too many people. You're seeing it now with the milk industry. I can't prove this because I haven't done the research yet, but I suspect that the reason why there are so many choices for other kinds of milk, such as soy milk and almond milk and all that, is because no one wants to pay $11 a gallon for milk.
Karina Inkster: That's a good point, actually.
Raydel Hernandez: Food companies see these trends. They all know where the prices are going. When you raise animals to feed people, you have to know how many animals you can be able to raise with what resources and what weather and all that. I'm sure they figured it out: “look: in the next five years, it's just going to be too expensive to make milk". If I'm a food company, I'm going to invest in almond milk and all these other things, and bring them to market so that the price of my milk remains $2 a gallon. I think that's all going to come from the enemy. I think it's all going to be the same food companies that we're criticizing. They are all going to bring this to market, because they have the economies of scale to do it. I'm assuming that in Canada, it's probably the same. In Burger King now, you can have, the Impossible Burger. Do you have that over there?
Karina Inkster: We do.
Raydel Hernandez: You can't tell it apart from the regular Whopper. Part of that is because there's a vegan market out there. I'm not convinced that Burger King is doing that for the vegans. It’s so expensive; it's probably better to just manufacture the meat yourself using plant-based options. There's an added benefit, because it's trendy and it's cool. It will take off. I've had them. They’re indecipherable. McDonald’s is doing the same thing here in January of 2021. They're going to make their own plant based burger.
Karina Inkster: They're a little late to the party, but at least they're joining.
Raydel Hernandez: There's an option. Not that I crave beef or anything, but once in a while, you want to have some junk food. It's nice to know that there are options out there.
Karina Inkster: Absolutely. We have A&W here, which is a Canadian chain. We also have Burger King. They have had the Beyond Burger, which is similar to the Impossible. The CEO's have actually said, of both companies, their market is not vegans. Their market is folks who think plant-based is trendy. It is people who realize that plant-based faux meats are way better for the environment. 99% of customers at these stores are not vegan. It's not a marketing scheme toward all the vegans who are living in Canada. It's a huge, large-scale thing that companies are doing because they notice a business opportunity. A&W's sales increased by 10%, overall as a company, just from having Beyond Burgers as an option, which is insane in the business world. Again: we’re self-centered humans and for these companies, business is number one. In the process, they are potentially decreasing the amount of meat people are consuming, because we're substituting this with something else. It's way better for the environment, not to mention animals and the ethical side of things. I think things are moving in the right direction, slowly, but things are happening.
Raydel Hernandez: The very fact that these giant chains have these things is proof that it's moving in that direction. These are all what I like to call the selfish reasons, right? To make profit. I'm sure that their margins on a plant based burger are much higher. Think about the vegetables you buy. They buy these things on giant scales. It must be half of a penny to make the amount of burgers that they can make with these plant-based products. I agree. At some point, it’s all going to shift that way. It’s going to take time and I think they're going to call it something different than veganism.
Karina Inkster: I agree, definitely.
Raydel Hernandez: It's a label now. Look, I have nothing against vegans, but if you ask my friends who are not plant-based people, and mention to them that you're a vegan, they automatically think that you’re one of these activists that are trying to close down farms or you’re a PETA person. I’m not criticizing any of that. I think that if you have passion for that, you should follow your passions and do things. As a businessperson, looking at a broader market, you're alienating a lot of people with that label. Maybe we could call it something else. Maybe we should be called plant-based people or something else that doesn't have the same connotation. I think the connotation sometimes works against the cause. I'm of the opinion that, like I said before, if I can convince you based on health reasons, if that means more to you than saving an animal, then I've accomplished the goal either way.
I've saved an animal and I am saving you, so to speak. We do the same thing. Burger King is doing it just for the sake of making a buck, but how many cows have they saved? Think about it. I think it's a better way of doing it. I think the only way to make these things work is if you have broad appeal. It has to be a lot more normal than what it is. It always makes me happy when I go to a supermarket, and see a whole other vegan or vegetarian section in the supermarket. That tickles me pink. Sometimes it isn't quite vegan or vegetarian: they put things in there that are gluten free, or things that have meat in them. At the end of the day, though, it's a step in the right direction. It's people trying to improve things for other people. We'll get there. 10 years ago there was no such thing. There was no such thing in supermarkets. You have to invent it yourself, and now you can buy whatever you want as a plant-based consumer.
Karina Inkster: And, you also can make a hundred Cuban recipes, completely plant-based!
Raydel Hernandez: It's helped me out tremendously. I can't thank these companies enough for producing store-bought seitan. I make seitan, but it's not quite as good as the store-bought one because I don't have a giant factory that stamps out chicken-looking meats made out of plants, but it's good. It gives you an option. If I make something with that seitan that I bought in the store for someone, and I convinced them that they don't have to eat meat because of that, we all win right.
Karina Inkster: 100%. Absolutely. Well, why don't we leave it there for today? Thank you so much for coming on the show. We're going to have show notes, and we're going to have links to your book so people can get their hands on there. I heard there's also a website in development. If that becomes live, send me a link to that and we will add that to our show notes.
Raydel Hernandez: It should be live this weekend. My oldest son is very tech savvy, but he's a teenager. We're almost there. I'm just trying to figure out what content to put on there at this point. It will be http://www.vegancubano.com. It was great speaking to you. I'm so glad that we did this. If you ever need me as a guest or anything, feel free to reach out. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to you.
Karina Inkster: Thank you so much for coming on the show. Ray, I loved speaking with you. Thanks for joining me on the show and also thanks for sending me your book. It is excellent. I encourage all of our listeners to check it out at our show notes: nobullshitvegan.com/087. Thank you for being an awesome listener of this podcast. Again, if you haven't yet left a review on Apple podcasts or whatever platform you use, I would really appreciate it. Myself and the KI team, Zoe and Izzy, wish you all the best for a kickass 2021!