You can’t blame Eddie Garza for wondering how he got here.

The plant-based chef, a food and nutrition manager for the Humane Society of the United States, is an animal welfare superstar with a focus on reaching Latino communities. He’s been featured in media outlets throughout the U.S. and abroad, including People magazine and The Washington Post as well as TV Azteca in Mexico and Canal Nuestra Tele in Colombia. He’s the author of two vegan cookbooks and hosts a cooking show, Global Bites with Eddie Garza, on the Oztube streaming platform.

Cover of Eddie Garza's cookbook.
See the end of this story for Eddie Garza's recipe for spinach and mushroom green enchiladas (pictured here on his cookbook cover).

“I’m not aware of anybody who individually has brought more media attention on plant-based eating in the Latino media market than Eddie,” says Josh Balk, vice president for Farm Animal Protection at the HSUS. Garza’s impact is particularly phenomenal because “he didn’t come out of this celebrity world,” Balk says. “Eddie just worked from the ground up and became this star.”

In July, Garza did a cooking demonstration (for spinach and mushroom green enchiladas) at the virtual annual conference of UnidosUS, the nation’s largest Latino civil rights organization. His warmup act (or at least the speaker who came before him) was none other than the current U.S. president.

Garza recalls thinking, “How is it possible that I spoke at the same conference as President Joe Biden, and right after him?”

Growing up near the Mexican border in Brownsville, Texas, Garza never imagined becoming a celebrity ambassador for healthier eating. But switching to a plant-based diet helped save his life. 

“I grew up as an overweight kid who grew to be an obese kid, who grew to be an obese adult,” he recalls.  

On a health coach’s recommendation, he adopted a plant-based diet, which helped him shed pounds and led him to investigate meat reduction’s environmental benefits and the mistreatment of animals on factory farms. Images of chickens raised for meat, bred to be so plump they often experience leg injuries, “hit me like butterflies in my stomach,” he says. “I was such an obese adult that I used to sprain my ankles just walking down the sidewalk.”

I collaborate with people who have big platforms and get them to use their platforms to help spread the message.

Eddie Garza, the HSUS

Photo of a Mexican mollettes by Chef Eddie Garza.
Garza’s specialities include a vegan version of Mexican mollettes.
Melina Hammer
/
Rockridge Press

After college, Garza taught music in a Dallas public school district but felt the pull of animal welfare work. A stint working at Spiral Diner & Bakery, a vegan restaurant in Dallas, furthered his interest in factory farming issues, and eventually he decided to get directly involved in animal activism.

After managing campaigns for animal advocacy nonprofit Mercy for Animals, Garza joined the HSUS about eight years ago, initially focusing on increasing plant-based meal options at schools, hospitals and other institutions. His success helping a South Texas school district drastically improve its nutrition program led to local TV appearances in both English and Spanish. A new career beckoned.

“I started being called to different stations, largely in Florida, to do cooking demonstrations to help the Latino community learn how to eat healthier and learn about humane issues in general,” Garza says. The focus of his HSUS work shifted to mass public outreach through major media outlets.

Garza moved from Texas to Miami and became the go-to plant-based spokesman for the national and international TV news outlets based there. “I was doing regular segments on shows that garnered upward of 4 million viewers a day,” he says. “That turned into a whole other world of advocacy opportunities.”

His outreach philosophy is to use as many channels as possible and “reach everybody in a way that is approachable and understandable to them.” His audiences recognize that overconsumption of meat can cause health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, Garza says, and they’re open to animal-friendly alternatives.

He had a regular spot on a national TV show in Venezuela, for example, talking about the health benefits of legumes. Garza soon saw an “exploding” number of the country’s social media influencers promoting such dietary choices. And he believes that the rave reviews he got for his meat-free bandeja paisa, the national dish of Colombia—which typically contains egg, sausage, ground beef and pork—contributed to that country’s now-bustling plant-based food scene.

“I collaborate with people who have big platforms and get them to use their platforms to help spread the message, because it can’t be just me,” Garza says. “It’s got to be me and a team of other people.”

Spinach and mushroom green enchiladas by Chef Eddie Garza.
Spinach and mushroom green enchiladas by Chef Eddie Garza.
Sylvia Elzafon
/
For the HSUS

Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas Verdes

Makes 8 enchiladas ■ Prep time: 20 minutes; cook time: 30 minutes 

The enchilada is an ancient dish that has gone through many changes since its pre-Hispanic origins. The now vastly transformed enchilada is a popular comfort food enjoyed throughout the world. One key difference is the amount of salsa we use. In ancient times, filled tortilla flutes were dipped in chile sauce; now they’re drenched in sauce. (I say that’s a good thing!) This modern take on the Aztec classic, featuring Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, fresh spinach, white button mushrooms, and Cashew Crema Mexicana, is the perfect addition to any springtime party. In the cooler seasons, I like to use my Classic Red Enchilada Sauce with this spinach and mushroom combo.

FOR THE FILLING

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ½ cup diced white or yellow onion 
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced 
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced 
  • 3 cups spinach, stems removed, chopped 
  • ½ teaspoon salt 
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

FOR THE ENCHILADAS 

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 
  • 8 corn tortillas 
  • 3 cups Roasted Tomatillo Salsa (see recipe below) or your favorite enchilada sauce
  • ¼ cup Cashew Crema Mexicana (see recipe below) or vegan sour cream
  • ½ cup diced onion 
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro 

TO MAKE THE FILLING

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic and cumin, and sauté until the onions are translucent. 
  2. Add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly browned. 
  3. Add the spinach, salt and pepper, and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat. 

TO MAKE THE ENCHILADAS

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a skillet, heat the oil and lightly panfry the tortillas until tender and pliable. Drain on a paper towel–lined plate. Repeat until all the tortillas have been panfried.
  3. Spread ½ cup of Roasted Tomatillo Salsa in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and dip each tortilla into the sauce. Place the sauced tortillas on a plate and spoon about 1½ to 2 tablespoons of spinach and mushroom filling down the center of each tortilla. Roll up each tortilla and place seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat until all the tortillas are filled. Pour the remaining Roasted Tomatillo Salsa over the filled tortillas.
  4. Bake the enchiladas for 15 minutes.
  5. Top with Cashew Crema Mexicana, diced onion and cilantro, and serve hot.

Cashew crema mexicana

Makes 4 cups ■ Prep time: 15 minutes

  • 2 cups raw cashew pieces
  • 1 cup water
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  1. Place the cashews in a microwave-safe bowl and add enough water to cover. Microwave on high for 6 to 8 minutes, then let soak for an additional 10 minutes.
  2. Alternatively, you can soak the cashews for 12 to 24 hours in the refrigerator.
  3. Drain and rinse the cashews with cold water.
  4. Place in a blender with at least 1 cup of water and blend on high until very smooth, adding a little bit of water at a time to adjust the consistency.
  5. Add the lime juice, salt and vinegar. Blend for 1 minute more. Adjust the seasonings.

Roasted tomatillo salsa

Makes 3 cups ■ Prep time: 5 minutes; cook time: 45 minutes

  • 5 to 6 tomatillos, cut into 1½  inch wedges (about 3 cups)
  • ½ cup white or yellow onion
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 large serrano chile, seeded
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

  2. Place the tomatillos, onion, garlic and serrano chile in a roasting pan and toss with the oil to coat evenly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the onions are nicely toasted but not burned.
  3. Transfer the roasted tomatillos and veggies, water, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper to a blender, and blend until there are no large chunks.
  4. Serve warm or cold.

Recipes from ¡Salud! Vegan Mexican Cookbook.

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