World Vegan Month: Being plant-based in Panama

For World Vegan Month, The Vegan Review is sharing the stories of vegans from 30 countries around the world. Here’s one from Panama.

Emmanuel Besserve, 45, is a co-founder of OoopsVegan and Quinoa Marketing agency.

He went vegan over three years ago. “We say ‘vegano’ for a male vegan, ‘vegana’ for a female vegan and ‘veganismo’ for veganism,” he says.

Why did you go vegan?

My driver was definitely the environmental impact of animal food production and how you can really create a shift at an individual level by switching to a vegan lifestyle.

What was the biggest challenge when you transitioned?

My transition was fairly easy because I have been mostly vegetarian for the past 15 years and only ate meat occasionally. But the main challenge was going grocery shopping and finding out that so many foods contain animal products.

What was the reaction of your loved ones when you went plant-based? How did they adapt?

I think none of my friends imagined that I would stick with it; they thought it was more of a detox I was doing. They quickly discovered that I was serious about it.

Who are your influences?

My wife had been vegetarian since she was three years old, then she went vegan. It was easy to become influenced by her journey.

What’s your favourite thing to cook now? Have you tried to veganise a local traditional dish?

At home, we have a Vegan Taco Fridays tradition. Even though I live in Panama, I’ve met some really good friends here that are Mexican. They made me discover the incredible variety of their cuisine with a lot of vegan dishes. And it’s thanks to them that I have discovered the existence of vegan chorizo that I use for my tacos. Apparently, it’s been a very common product in Mexico for quite a long time.

What vegan product do you wish your country had available?

I was in London last year and I had the opportunity to go to La Fauxmagerie. I would love to have a place like that in Panama City.

How accessible and affordable are vegan products in your country?

Vegan products (plant-based milk, vegan cheese, vegan burgers, etc.) are quite expensive here because they are mainly imported from the United States by a few high-end stores. We’re starting to see more of them in more mainstream grocery stores, but they remain quite pricey. That being said, I prefer to cook natural products such as beans, chickpeas, and vegetables that are very affordable.

What’s your favourite spot for vegan food in your city?

My favourite spot was a place called Karma Café. They unfortunately had to close due to the coronavirus pandemic.

What is the one city you’d like to visit as a vegan?

That would be Los Angeles. I cannot stop seeing news about new vegan restaurants opening there with culinary proposals that sound very exciting.

Read our interview with Buzzfeed producer and LA resident Merle O’Neal.

What’s the biggest roadblock to veganism in your country?

As mentioned before, the prices are a big problem, especially in a country where the wages are pretty low. But there is also a lack of education on basic nutrition principles that you will find in many other countries in the world.

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