Planted Roots

Written by Tiffany Nguyen


Bún bò Huể, gỏi cuốn, cơm tấm, bún riêu, bánh xèo, phở, bánh mì...


All these traditional Vietnamese dishes are what I’ve grown up with. The cultural significance that is held behind all of these dishes influence who I am today and impact the relationship that I have with my culture.


Two years ago, I made a decision that had seemingly affected that relationship.


It’s been two years since I’ve made the decision to change my diet to plant-based. One documentary that I’ve watched changed everything that I perceived about how I ate, and since then I’ve been more conscious of what I eat and how it affects the environment and animals. However, with that sudden change came cultural consequences. The hardest part of eating more plant-based wasn’t the food or eating; it was my culture.


The day I became vegan almost felt like the day I betrayed my family. Multiple Vietnamese dishes incorporate meat, seafood, and poultry. All the things that I have grown up with, I all of a sudden pushed away. My mom and grandma faced the biggest repercussions because they have cooked meals for me daily and knew what I liked. It was a difficult change because I knew that I could do it, but giving up these foods meant that I was rejecting all of what I had grown up with.


To see meat as a valuable commodity was engraved in my beliefs by my family, who had close to nothing back in Vietnam. They grew up believing that meat was to only be consumed by the rich, so they treasured it whenever they had the chance. Coming to America, they instilled this belief to my generation, telling me that it was a source of “power” and “strength”. In a way, feeding me meat was their way of telling me they love me.


Despite the challenge that my family and I faced the first couple of months, we’ve come to compromise. Religiously, the concept of vegetarianism is understood by Buddhism, which my family follows. Once a month during the full moon, my family usually eats vegetarian dishes, so making meals that are plant-based are not new to my mom and grandma. Vegan substitutes of dishes are relatively easy to make, especially with the growing concept of “fake” meat.


Although I have given up meat, my culture still resides within me. I am grateful that my family has come to understand my values, and understand that I am Vietnamese, no matter  what I eat.