My name is Daisy Fuentes and I'm a vegetarian.
I grew up in a home with a Spanish mother and Cuban father. Until I was three, I lived in Cuba, and we later moved to Spain when I was eight. During those years, I ate Spanish and Cuban foods, which were cooked in a traditional way: usually fried, then refried if they were being served as leftovers. I didn't like to eat much of it, especially the meat or seafood based meals that were 99 percent of what my parents served. Later, we moved from Madrid to New Jersey, where I was introduced to pepperoni pizza lunches — almost every day — as well as Twinkies and milk, cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, Doritos . . . you get the point. I was a junk food junkie. My parents still tried to get me to eat "protein" or "real" food often. Vegetables were never a real option or very important.
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Eventually I grew up and started modeling, traveling the world, and enjoying more sophisticated flavors. I became a foodie. I cooked and created healthier versions of my favorite recipes. I started enjoying dinner parties, great restaurants, quality organic food, and wine pairings. But vegetables were never the stars of my show.
So you can imagine how unexpected and weird it was for my family and friends when I announced that I was a vegetarian.
I'd never really known any vegetarians. I always thought the whole vegan, hippie, yogi thing was interesting — but definitely not a lifestyle for a jet-setting foodie fashionista. But I was becoming more health conscious.
I'm now passionate about plant-based diets, for two main reasons. The first is that I have been reading, researching, and watching films regarding health, fitness, and anti-aging for many years. I was particularly inspired by the documentary Forks Over Knifes, which suggested that food could be used as medicine for major diseases. I was motivated to try an organic, plant-based diet for health purposes.
There is a second reason I became a vegetarian, and that is because I am an animal lover. I've always been subliminally aware of the horrors in the meat industry. For a long time, I was not able to face the fact that my consumption had consequences. But about a year ago, the day finally came when I could not turn away any more. We have all seen the images of terrified pigs and mistreated cows on factory farms. The horrors are engraved in my mind, and I can no longer look away.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Jae Payne
Instead of the food, I now see the animal and what it went through to get on my plate. It's a choice. And some things you just can't unsee. I haven't had a piece of meat or fish since I made the decision to become a vegetarian. I can't — and amazingly, I don't even want to.
The most fascinating part of my decision has been the reactions. People seem shocked, even offended, that I made this change. Some even become defensive, as though I suggested they're doing something wrong. Perhaps my choice reminds them of something they're trying to avoid.
Many comments and responses I hear are outright wrong. When I suggested on social media that a turkey-free Thanksgiving is something to consider, I was attacked. Users asked how I could dare ruin such a tradition. But the truth is that I don't care what anyone eats. I have made my choice — and by the way I had a lovely and festive meat-free Thanksgiving.
I am, though, often asked for my fitness, health, and beauty advice. I love sharing all the wonderful, cutting-edge secrets I've learned from the best experts in the world. I always emphasized that a plant-based diet is the most important thing. Beauty and anti-aging happens from the inside out. I believe that eating a plant-based diet is essential to long term health and wellness.
I can still go to my favorite restaurants, but my choices are different. In fact, when I had the vegetarian menu at the world-renowned French Laundry, everyone I was with wished they'd done the same once they saw and tasted my dishes. When there are no vegetarian options, politely asking if the chef could whip something up for me has always worked. And I've learned how to make delicious vegetarian meals at home.
But I do struggle with some parts of this new life. I'd like to follow a vegan diet — but I still have the occasional cheesy pizza.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Lizzie Fuhr
Fashion is also something I'm navigating and working out. I know I won't buy a fur and I don't want to buy leather again. I still have my old leather jackets and shoes. (It's been very interesting to learn that there are not many other vegan-friendly shoe options, at all.)
I've struggled with writing this because many people in my business are so judgmental. Some talk about following a plant-based diet as if it's all or nothing. If I say I'm vegetarian but get photographed wearing a leather jacket, I know to prepare for a sh*t-storm from the "vegan police." No one wants to be called a hypocrite; I'm a work in process. I'm understanding that this doesn't have to happen all at once. I know it will happen, though.
Changing a lifetime of habits disguised as tradition takes time. I don't know if I'll ever be completely vegan, but I do know I won't eat any type of meat or fish again. I get plenty of protein, and my B12 from shots or supplements. I've checked all my stats with my doctor. I'm healthy — and I feel good.
I'm not trying to preach or convert anyone, but I encourage you to research for yourself. Try the vegetarian and plant-based diet if you'd like, whether half the time or most of time. I want to inform and inspire people to live a healthier, more compassionate life.
Just one thing: if you run into me and want to talk about diets, let's not discuss protein or why animals were put here on earth.
Also, don't ask me why I'm a vegetarian. Instead, ask yourself why you are not.
POPSUGAR Latina contributing editor Daisy Fuentes is an author, international television personality, model, designer, and animal advocate. We're excited to share Daisy's passions and journey with the POPSUGAR Latina audience.