When Spanish conquistador Gregorio de Villalobos arrived in Mexico in 1521, he brought a small group of passengers, their exact number disputed, who would transform Mexican cuisine.

Six heifers and one bull stepped off that ship. The rise of the cattle industry was set in motion.

European colonists brought other livestock to present-day Mexico in the 15th and 16th centuries, domestic pigs and sheep and goats. Now, 500 years later, some of the most iconic Mexican dishes center around meat. Cooks simmer carnitas in pots of lard in Michoacán. Families bury heads of borrego in underground fire pits in South Texas. Vaqueros and street vendors roll machaca, dried and pounded, into burros in Sonora.

But as Mexican cuisine continues to evolve, some longtime omnivores are exploring what Mexican food can taste like without meat, inspired by the desire to improve personal health, fight the climate crisis, advocate for animal welfare, reconnect with their Indigenous heritage — or a combination of those reasons.

By Taba