Casa Coquí

VEGAN PUERTO RICAN

Welcome to Casa Coquí, a vegan Puerto Rican restaurant concept in Southern California. Check out our proposed menu, learn about our journey to opening our first location, and find out about our upcoming events. 

VEGANO SPOTLIGHT: Mike Garcia

MIKE GARCIA

Vegan Since: 2011
Heritage: Mexican-American 

MY VEGAN STORY

I decided to become vegan while I was still serving in the Army back in the Summer of 2011. As a Mexican-American and a native of Los Angeles, surprisingly my heritage wasn't what most affected my transition to adopt a plant-based diet. Instead, I’d say deciding to go vegan while serving as a military leader is what made my transition challenging.

My decision was motivated by test results I received from my doctor after a mandatory annual check-up (yup, you are ordered to receive physicals in the military). The doctor told me that I had high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, which was shocking news since I was only 26 years-old at the time. Throughout my twenties, I wanted to create a muscular macho look for myself by consuming at least 100 grams of dairy-based protein powders, creatine powder, and hunger stimulator supplements that would help me increase my daily calorie intake. I didn’t realize just how unhealthy all of these supplements and powders were since they were always advertised in the Men’s Health & Fitness magazines I subscribed to and trusted.

If I remember correctly, my doctor wanted to prescribe me a medicine called Plavix and a diuretic blood pressure pill. I’ve never had to take medications throughout my life and I didn’t want to become another veteran hooked on prescriptions as I left the military. So I decided to do research online to see if there was a natural way I could heal my body. When I Googled how to heal heart problems naturally, I came across a book called The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell that sparked my interest. The book was listed on Amazon and one of the reviewers mentioned that the book helped him lose weight and reverse his high blood pressure by inspiring him to go vegan. I believe that was the first time I heard the word "vegan". It wasn’t a very popular word in the Army, but I thought that if I adopted a vegan diet, it could help me discipline myself on what goes into my body and possibly reverse some of the health problems I was experiencing. It seemed like such a radical decision in 2011 but I also thought that it would be the ultimate challenge! 

Sergeant First Class Michael Garcia

Sergeant First Class Michael Garcia

I remember telling my fellow Sergeants at the time about how I was going to heal my health problems naturally after I fully committed to going vegan—and they looked at me like I was a masochist. I got comments like, "Why would you torture yourself like that?" and "What's a vegan?" It was really weird for an Army Sergeant to adhere to veganism. I was the only person I knew in the entire military who was eating this way. My comrades just didn’t get it. 

I didn’t have my follow-up appointment with my physician for about 60 days, and let me tell you, the first few weeks of eating vegan were brutal. I was going through withdrawals because I also gave up all of my supplements, since my protein shakes contained whey and I figured the hunger pills probably weren’t the best thing for me if I wanted to reduce my cravings for eating animals. I felt weak, constantly hungry, and craved animal-based food on a daily basis. I wasn’t yet informed about plant-based foods high in protein or vegan mock meats, so I was literally spending my days at the Army Dining Facility's salad bar. I then decided that quitting meat and dairy "cold turkey" wasn’t a good strategy, so instead resolved to reduce my intake by ridding myself of one animal per week. On week 1, I decided that I wasn’t going to eat any more pork. On week 2, I gave up chicken, and so on and so forth. The absolute last thing I decided to give up was cheese. I still empathize with vegetarians who eat cheese because it’s just so difficult to quit. However, learning about the Daiya brand of cheese helped me curb those cravings when I finally decided to ditch dairy for good. 

I couldn’t live off salad, grains, and vegan cheese alone so I did some more Googling and came across a cookbook called Vegan Soul Kitchen by Chef Bryant Terry. Some of my favorite comfort foods came from the Midwest, such as Fried Fritters, Buttery Sweet Potatoes, and BBQ Ribs, so discovering Chef Bryant’s cookbook was a game changer because he had recipes such as BBQ Tempeh, Black-Eyed Pea Fritters, and Sweet Potatoes with Coconut Milk, which tasted almost exactly like the foods I ate back home. It was like learning how to cook all over again. I never thought of using legumes in place of animal-protein or that you could even make milk from plants. I found that I loved these new foods even more because they were light on the stomach, greaseless, and sustained my energy long after finishing a meal. I was no longer feeling like a weakling once I got the hang of eating a well-rounded vegan diet.

After 60 days of eating vegan, it was time for me to revisit my physician. I decided that even if eating vegan didn’t contribute to improving my health issues, I was still going to continue eating this way. I felt healthier, more energized, and disciplined on what I put into my body. The doctor ran my vitals and retested my heart with a few fellow physicians. When my medical results came in, I couldn’t believe the outcome. My doctor revealed that my blood pressure was near perfect and I no longer had an irregular heartbeat. I was shocked and couldn’t believe that buying a book could actually contribute to healing my body without medications. I was socialized to believe that pills were the only way to treat diseases, but Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s study was a godsend in preventing me from suffering from some of the diseases many of my family members deal with today. 

After walking out of that doctor’s office I became an advocate for eating a 100% plant-based diet, and today I have even added a spiritual component to my vegan living. Over time, I’ve learned that animals share the exact same emotions as human beings when it comes to love, sadness, and fear. When animals are among their community, they feel loved. When a mother animal is without her child, she feels sadness. And when animals become aware of their fate within the meat factories, they feel fear. My own convictions tell me that to consume these animals who share so many similarities with our species is cruel, especially since it’s not necessary for our survival.

By no means am I passing judgement on my friends and family who eat meat and dairy. I believe that what you put into your body is your prerogative, and passing judgment on the diets of others is what turns many people off to vegans. If you just live by example, stay true to your ethics, and refrain from calling your non-vegan friends "carnists" every time they eat cheeseburgers in front of you, you might be surprised to find that they would be more than willing to try that veggie burger you’ve been raving about, since you’re not a jerk every time you have lunch together.

LIFESTYLE TIPS

  1. Slow and steady. If you're struggling at first, try a gradual transition instead.
  2. Go beyond the salad bar! There are plenty of plant-based recipes out there just waiting to be discovered.
  3. Don't be a jerk. Going vegan is a personal choice and criticizing others won't motivate them to change.