- Posted August 6, 2013 by
How to be Vegan in the Philippines: Three Filipino Vegans Tell Their Story
This year, China consumed 77.9 million tons of meat. Twice the number as that of the United States’, China’s appetite for beef, pork, mutton, goat, and chicken has been climbing tremendously over the past 30 years, spurred by phenomenal economic growth.
During the first quarter of 2013, the Philippines experienced 7.8% gross domestic product (GDP) growth, claiming for the country the top spot among its East and Southeast Asian neighbors: China came a close second, at 7.7%, while Indonesia took the third spot, at 6%.
Meat consumption in the Philippines has been steadily on the rise as well: in 2008, an average Filipino consumed 58 grams of meat products daily – 152% higher than in 1978. And with the country developing faster today, it may seem inevitable that the Filipino population will begin consuming more meat.
Except the collective effort of passionate Filipino vegans like Marie, Jason, and Nancy could steer the country from becoming another China.
Their Vegan Beginnings
Just six years ago, Marie Gonzalez, owner of holistic plant-based food company Kitchen Revolution, was still enjoying meat like the majority of Filipinos.
In 2007, she had a change of perspective. “I read the Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, which opened my eyes to animal factory farming. After I found out how animals are treated and killed for us to eat them, I decided to go vegetarian in October 2007. I then found out that eggs and dairy were cruel too, so I stopped consuming them.”
Jivamukti Yoga teacher Nancy Siy, a former E-Marketing Manager at Thomson Reuters, has the same story. “Like most people, I grew up eating meat, dairy, and eggs. I never really gave it a lot of thought until I read an article that described how a cow was transported from the farm to the slaughterhouse. It provoked me to look into animal suffering.” Nancy began her research, watching documentaries like Meet Your Meat and reading books on animal factory farming like The Food Revolution. “It became clear to me that I absolutely cannot contribute to this madness anymore. My veganism is my way of pulling myself out of this violent system.”
Jason Raval, official photographer for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines), was exposed to veganism during his mountaineering days in college, when his friends showed him the same documentary Nancy watched. “It bothered me, but it still took a while before I decided to go vegetarian since I knew it was difficult, especially when eating out. I told my mom I was interested in trying a vegetarian diet, and she told me that she will join me.”
Filipino Vegans Face a Meat-Eater’s World
While transitioning to veganism for Jason was fairly easy with the support of his mother, his work makes his lifestyle a challenge. “Since I am a corporate photographer, I would go to many events where there are no vegan options in the set menu or buffet. I would have to either eat ahead, after, or bring my own food.”
Dating became problematic for him too. “It’s hard to commit to someone who does not share one of your fundamental principles in life,” he muses.
For Nancy, her work as a yoga teacher is an entry point to educate more people about veganism. “The challenge for me is to keep fine-tuning the message to make the teachings as effective as possible. It would be a great disservice to yoga students if I underestimated their capacity to care, so I start with the opposite assumption: that they would care if they knew.”
Despite this, she acknowledges the struggle to get people to see her perspective definitely exists – a dilemma which she faces with her own family. “Everyone in my family is sick – with hypertension or diabetes or with chronic weight problems. I know that they can significantly improve their health as a side effect of opting out of the violent cycle of animal consumption, so maybe my militant tendencies come out the most when I interact with them. It's just difficult to accept that by killing others they are slowly killing themselves, and all I can do is watch them do that.”
For Marie though, being vegan has turned out to be a good thing for her career. “[It] gives me the edge - not a lot of chefs can boast that they specialize in making vegetables tasty,” she notes. “I love that the work I do promotes a plant-based diet. I only teach vegan cooking classes. Not a lot of my students are vegetarian which means I get a lot of questions about veganism and I get to talk about it.”
Her once-skeptical family is now her biggest supporter: “My then-teenage brother went vegan at the same time [as I did], and everyone was on my case about his health. But that was them reacting to something new; now they're my cheerleaders and marketing managers! My veganism and my work in teaching vegan classes makes me stand out. If they know someone who's sick or interested in cooking healthfully, they end up talking about me.”
Not Easy – But an Easier Choice Now, More than Ever
“It can be tricky at times because few people understand the concept,” Nancy admits, but says that it is definitely manageable. “All it requires is an initial adjustment phase, some research, self-education, and you're set.” She recommends HappyCow.net as a resource for vegetarian food establishments in the country (currently, the site has 146 listings in the Philippines.)
Marie believes there has been impressive progress in just less than a decade. “There weren't as many veg options in the Philippines 6 years ago as there are now. People are more open minded now than 6 years ago, too.” She uses health as a conversation-starter to open people’s minds. “The health argument really appeals to people, and so does talking about the practical food aspects of veganism. When people learn how to create cream without dairy or make delicious meals without the meat, there are no more excuses.”
“Compared to the US, eating out takes effort, but not impossible,” Jason observes. “Not many know what being vegan means so you need to explain to the food server well whenever you eat out.”
He thinks though that one shouldn’t look far for food choices: one’s own home can easily become a Filipino vegan's paradise. “Being a tropical country, we have access to so many fruits and vegetables which are better than those we can find in the US or elsewhere.”
Faced with the sacrifices that come with progress and profit, Marie highlights: “When more people go vegan, the demand for edible dead animals or needless animal cruelty in the name of pleasure decreases; our carbon footprint decreases, too.”
She adds: “If you open your eyes and your heart to seek the truth, if kindness to animals is important to you, you’ll find that the choice to go vegetarian or vegan will be easy.”
Want to become vegan? Morsels of advice from Nancy, Jason, and Marie:
1. Jason: “If you want to go vegan, take it at your own pace. Some may go cold turkey right away, while for some it is a journey. I for one, started out as a pescetarian for a few months, and a lacto-ovo vegetarian for three years before going vegan.”
2. Marie: “Fruit is fast food. So are nuts.”
3. Nancy: “Have a group of vegan friends you can share meals, conversations, and frustrations with.”