This is an issue-topic article featuring five people who adhere to different types of healthy lifestyles and diets. Written for my feature writing class, submitted in January 2012.
Vietnamese people don’t get fat. (When I went to Vietnam on a four-day tour, I ate a ton of vegetables, spring rolls, rice noodles, and very little meat. Although there were some fried food here and there, Vietnamese cuisine is generally healthy and nutritious. The people in my tour group were quite surprised that they did not see a single overweight Vietnamese native. – Desiree)
IT TAKES a spoonful of creativity and a cup of courage to eat healthily in Manila. There are two reasons why maintaining a healthy lifestyle in this city can be a tricky business: one is the culture of commuting, where riding the jeepney or sidecar (or in some areas, the calesa) is often the preferred mode of transport when one’s destination is a mere few blocks away. The other is the celebrate-any-occasion-with-food tradition that almost every Filipino in Manila upholds.
It seems our other Asian neighbors offer more healthy choices that do not necessarily come from a store named Healthy Options or accessed with exclusive gym membership card. To lead a healthy lifestyle in other countries appears more natural and effortless. Koreans boast of inventing kimchi, known to be one of the world’s healthiest foods, wherein fermented lettuce contains the same health benefits found in yogurt, and more. They also grow the best ginseng—the best kind of ginseng is a six-year-old root that costs thousands of pesos. Chinese culture compels people to drink tea. They also grow even more ginseng. Japanese practically consume healthful fish every day. Persians and Indians are experts in concocting dishes filled with herbs and spices, where turmeric, the primary spice found in curry, has been found to reduce the risk of cancer and has a lot of antioxidants. Vietnamese cuisine is notably light and fresh, as most dishes have vegetables or rice noodles as the main ingredients. And the list goes on. In most of these countries, there are also few overweight people.
In the Philippines, most signature Filipino dishes are either very sweet or primarily meaty, such as lechon, sisig, halo halo, chicharon, isaw. Of course, there are healthy dishes—kangkong, malunggay leaves, pinakbet, among others. But still. In a city where most people are meat lovers and falls for anything sweet, a health-conscious person could easily feel out of place.
In contrast to the commute culture in Manila, cities in Vietnam and China have bicycle lanes. Hong Kong people are notorious walkers, even in sky-high boots and under freezing cold weather.
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness into the health and fitness than ever before, but many still struggle to find that perfect diet especially when they have become immersed in a culture that values food among all else, and when walking or bicycling is not an option for many who live in traffic-congested Manila.
Nevertheless, there are rare ones who dismiss these concerns as mere trifles—showing that healthy, effortless, and Manila city life can go together. Being healthy in Manila can be definitely doable and even enjoyable. This article features five Filipinos who are able to maintain healthy lifestyles, each having their own unique diets—including a young man who lost seventy pounds and never looked back, a working mom, an ovo-lacto vegetarian writer, a vegan food blogger, and a semi-pescetarian college student.
No beef or pork, please
Pescetarianism comes from the Italian word “pesce,” meaning “fish”. It is the milder version of vegetarianism, since pescetarians do not eat meat but still would consume fish and other types of seafood.
Angela Dy, a psychology senior from the Ateneo and an aspiring chef, may be considered semi-pescetarian. She is not strictly pescetarian since she still eats poultry, but she strictly limits her food choices to only “the best foods that my body can nourish and benefit from.” By having her own personal list of what to eat and what to avoid, she manages to create a diet uniquely her own.
“I avoid fast food, soft drinks, alcohol, sugary foods, fried food, and junk food. I eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafoods and poultry,” Angela said.
She once tried to become vegetarian but decided that this was not the right diet for her. “My body couldn’t handle it because I was not eating much protein and I lacked vitamins that veggies and fruits were not able to give me,” she explained.
By limiting her choices, she manages to easily fulfill basically the end goal of every dieter: maintaining one’s weight. However, she admits this is not always an easy task here in the Philippines. “There are not much healthy options here and if there are, they are very costly. In the States, they have much more wide choices of organic food and I think that the vegetarian diet is more accepted there.”
“Also, eating what I think is good for my body makes me feel good about my body. It brings me in a good mood,” she said.
To change the way one eats can be life-changing, resulting into changes in other aspects of one’s life. “Ever since I changed my diet, I also changed as a person. I feel lighter, happier and more emotionally stable. For me, eating healthy makes me feel good and look good. It helps me keep a positive outlook in life. The new Angela is more confident and more sociable,” she reveals.
“Have self-discipline. Love your body and listen to what your body needs. Too much of something is bad enough so don’t overdo it,” she advises.
Anything healthy for Jayvee
Jayvee Chun, a recent management economics graduate from the Ateneo ran his first marathon in March. With his lean and fit physique, those who do not know him personally would never guess that he has lost 70 pounds back when he was 18 years old.
“With work, I do baon,” he said, when asked how he manages to keep a healthy diet while working long hours in the corporate setting.
“You can get great sandwiches from The Sandwich Guy, most coffee shops etc. There’s a vegetarian place in my building as well. I buy a lot of yogurt, whole grain crackers like Skyflakes Fit. I get a lot of the Diet Swiss Miss with just 25 calories. I also eat a lot of things with Nutrasweet and Splenda since they have no calories.”
“I eat a lot of greens, lean meats. I do not eat white bread, white pasta, peeled potatoes. I only eat them whole grain or with peel. I try to get 25 grams of fiber per day. I do high protein a lot, and nonfat dairy. So nothing drastic. I eat lechon sometimes but since I was never really into those crispy pata chicharon things, I don’t have a problem of missing them.”
Pasta, rice, bread—Jayvee only chooses the whole wheat versions of these. “And there are a lot of healthy options around naman, you just have to know how to substitute things.” he said.
It was after enduring laboratory tests on animals back in high school and in his freshman year in college when writer Butch Guerrero decided that he wanted to swear off eating meat entirely. He is now an ovo-lacto vegetarian for nine years and counting. “Now I don’t eat anything with a developed nervous system because they can feel pain,” he said.
Butch became ovo-lacto vegetarian not for health reasons, but for animal rights. He is greatly aware of the fact that most other people that animals are sentient beings, meaning that they are capable of feeling pain. “I wanted a less violent way of nourishing myself. But it was a gradual process. I stopped eating red meat when I was a college freshman. I gave up chicken soon after that. next came fish and shellfish.”
When asked what health effects he has experienced after the change, he simply said, “I think I wake up faster now. This means there’s a shorter gap between sleep and wakefulness.”
“I recommend ovo-lacto vegetarianism to everyone. it’s healthier for humans and for the planet,” he said. If he is in a social event where the host does not know he is vegetarian, “I simply pretend to eat,” he said.
“You just have to learn how to pick up certain morsels of food with your fork and hold them up to your mouth before putting down your untouched fork,” he said, explaining that simply moving food around your plate can make other people think that you have already eaten. “Trust me. it works. I’ve done it many times in banquets,” he laughs.
‘Veganizing’ Filipino cuisine
Filipinas Richgail ‘RG’ Enriquez and TJ Basa’s food blog features recipes of their own or from guest bloggers, which includes intriguingly sounding, never-been-heard before dishes—calamansi coconut risotto, sweet suman wrap, squash burger patties. All these dishes are certified vegan—all of the food they feature do not contain anything that once breathed and lived on land or water, nor any of their byproducts, including eggs and milk. What’s more, they are Filipinos, and they live in California. Their blog name is entitled Astig Vegan.
Together with their other vegan friends they met online and offline, RG and TJ have been able to ‘veganize’ a whole range Filipino dishes: sisig, chicken pastel, bistek, and even menudo. (Can you believe that vegan hotdogs actually exist?)
Along with recipes, they also share their vegan adventures: vegan food competitions, vegan restaurant reviews, and vegan potlucks with friends—proving that leading a strict vegan lifestyle can still be delicious, enjoyable, exciting, and that they are not really missing anything by foregoing the eating of animals and their byproducts.
To RG, she is able to shrug off the so-called pressures of social eating many regard as one of the primary challenges of having a “different” diet from everyone else, explaining, “I make sure not to offend the hosts by reassuring they don’t have to worry about me if they don’t have any vegan options. I would eat before going to the event or I’ll bring my own light snack.”
While others will fall to the trap of eating, RG’s technique is to reassure others that she’s “nobody to worry about.” She explained, “Filipinos are actually accustomed to that, the whole ‘did you eat already?’ I say, ‘Oh, it’s okay, don’t worry about me, don’t bother bringing out food, I’m perfectly good.’”
Being vegan also needs to maintain an unwavering outlook on one’s choices in relation to others. “Because I’m quite diplomatic with my veganism, the people around me respect my lifestyle. They would even make sure my food is vegan when we’re eating at restaurants or house parties.”
“I’ve been more compassionate towards all living things as well as more emphatic to people and situations I initially wouldn’t understand.”
After becoming full-fledged vegan, RG professes to having clearer skin and better mood. She does not feeling sluggish or heavy anymore after a hefty meal. Moreover, she can eat until she feels full and keeps a healthy weight.
Christine Ng holds a degree in nutrition and has adopted healthier food choices ever since, passing these habits on to her husband and three kids, wherein she carefully oversees the way their household cook prepares their dishes, and taking over the cooking herself. “With a degree in nutrition I take better care of my health by focusing on preventative rather than curative measures,” she explained.
Her sole advice for weight loss? Do not starve and deprive yourself of essential nutrients. “Eat the right foods in moderation, limit intake of calories and exercise regularly,” she advised.
She notices that today, many do not eat enough fresh nutritious foods. “This is why green food, cereal and grass are found in tablets, capsules, powder and granules have become very popular as food supplement in the past few years,” she said.
How we eat is how we live
These people prove that the oft-spoken cliché “You are what you eat” speaks true. Perhaps it is about time that we reevaluate our food choices, and not simply eat because it’s what is served, it is what’s on the menu, and because it’s delicious.
In Jonathan Safran Foer‘s book Eating Animals, the writer explores the reasons why people eat the way we do, tracing our lifestyles today back to the ancient huntsmen and warriors thousand of years ago, he wrote, “Since the world has changed so much, the same values don’t lead to the same choices anymore.”
This article is not meant to convince anybody to turn vegetarian, pescetarian, ovo-lacto vegetarian, or vegan. This simply asks everyone to be more mindful of their food choices, and realize that while we may be blessed with a world filled with good food, and unlimited restaurants to choose from, we ultimately have to design our own personalized diets, just as how we each have our own personal way of dressing up. According to Foer, “Whether we change our lives or do nothing, we have responded. To do nothing is to do something.”
Visit the vegan food blog of RG and TJ on www.astigvegan.com