HAVANA, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Cubans heavily depend on animal proteins like eggs, pork, chicken and meat for their daily diet, despite shortages and high prices of these products in local markets. Yet many now are turning to a vegan lifestyle.
The vegan lifestyle not only is healthier but also allows them to explore new foods and ways of eating vegetables, fruits and grains which area readily accessible and cheaper.
"About three years ago, I started to improve my diet due to a health issue and gradually began to stop eating food of animal origin," Noslen Porrua, a leading vegan activist in Cuba, told Xinhua.
The 34-year-old singer and song writer, residing in Bejucal in the western province of Mayabeque, explained that he intuitively put aside animal proteins as his body wasn't reacting well when he included meat, milk or dairy products.
Suffering from hypertension and diabetes led him to scrap these food items while only eating fish for two more years which he also eliminated months ago.
"There was a total improvement in my body, all the damaged tissues were regenerated, I did not have to take more pills for hypertension, my sugar levels dropped and I was once again healthy," he said.
Without knowing it, Porrua had become a vegan and conceived this lifestyle as an alternative to be healthy, reduce individual environmental impacts and defend animal rights.
"There is definitely a leap of consciousness as you begin to understand the direct link man has with nature. It's also a way to recover your energy, vitality, and health," he said.
These messages were shared this week by Porrua and other vegan activists in Cuba with a group of young University of Havana students who wish to learn and implement this lifestyle.
It's a collaborative experience between first year Journalism major students who as part of their hypermedia class decided to create a Facebook page on the topic and become advocates of this way of life.
Six young people led by Nersys Carrera formed "CubaVegana" to provide information and generate debates on controversial issues around the world.
After four days of virtual exchange on social media, the group held its first meeting in Havana to discuss the significance and challenges of practicing this lifestyle in this Caribbean nation.
They also tasted delicious dishes of vegan cuisine such as rice with vegetables, lentil croquettes, sandwiches with pepper dip, stuffed vegetables plantains, fruits and the refreshing "pru," a fermented drink typical of eastern Cuba that is prepared from sugar cane.
"This type of experience offers a different view about food, the fact they assume being vegan or not will have more to do with personal decisions, but in a general way I think it is an option that can make Cubans think," she said.
The young university student has been a vegan since a few months ago and she has confirmed the benefits of consuming only fruits, vegetables, grains and cereal.
Carrera now focuses on promoting the lifestyle on Facebook and other social media platforms linked with her journalism major.
"We want to focus on what it means to be a vegan today in Cuba where buying this type of food is sometimes a challenge," she said.
Fruits and vegetables are mainly seasonal in Cuba and options are sometimes limited at markets, although easy to buy and cheaper than meat-related products.
Meanwhile her university partner, Karla Rodriguez, told Xinhua the knowledge acquired in the last few days has had an impact on each of the other members of the team, who are not vegans but have learned to understand, respect and even share some of the precepts of this lifestyle.
"It is somewhat complex but to embrace this experience has been wonderful and although it emerged as a class project, we intend to continue, strengthen and develop it," said Rodriguez.
There are four vegan restaurants in Havana that serve this small community in the island and international visitors.
Vegans do not eat or use animal products of any sort as opposed to vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products.