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August 17, 2017


What a choice, you might say. But read on and join our journey…


While doing Research and Development (R&D) for ECHOcafé, Reena Francisco started to play around with only non-meat products and began developing “burger” or sandwich patties made with mushrooms or banana heart. Soon after, she started to explore other vegan choices—chickpeas, white beans and other lentils and pulses.

It was to her amazement that her weight started to drop and she got rid of skin issues that she was always struggling with. Well, two months later, and she has continued on as a vegetarian—and 30 pounds less, too!

“Your business may be popular in 10 years,” Reena jokingly tells a vegan supplier of juices and gluten-free cookies. Well, it has not been two years and Reena has had to eat her words (pardon the pun) as far as vegan items are concerned. Reena has become a vegan.

And Ms. Vegan recalls how Reena used to joke her: “You cookies taste like cardboard!” Reena would again joke her as she delivered batch upon batch of vegan cookies to the store. What an irony. “Cardboard  cookies” were selling—and selling fast.!“Chit,” Reena tells me, “this woman has a following.” And true enough, in a twisted turn of events, Reena becomes a follower.

Quinoa Salad

It has been a challenge looking for vegetarian items in even the most popular “farm to table” restaurants. It seems the chefs have concentrated on buying organic, sourcing from local farmers that the menus have tried to integrate all the farmers’ produce including meat, poultry, and fish. A vegetarian will need to comb through a menu twice to see a “vegetarian” choice pop out, even ask a waitstaff to “skip the bacon” in Caesar Salad, or “skip the chicken” in the pasta. This leaves one with less than what she/he paid for. The price does not change when they “skip” an ingredient.

Jeannie and I joined Reena and even requested for Oriental vegetarian meals in flight when we recently went to Cambodia. We were served ahead of our seatmates who were wondering why we got what seemed to be special service. It’s simple: order a special meal and you will be special. Luckily, Cathay Pacific had like 10 choices for vegetarian: Oriental, lacto-ovo, moslem, etc. I was a bit disappointed in Philippine Airlines for having only one vegetarian choice and mostly potatoes! Maybe with more vegetarians now flying they will consider adding choices to the menu.

In this journey to veganism, we are finding out that we need more options in airlines, in restaurants, and even home delivery of diet meals. In cafés and “farm to table” restaurants, it would help if the chef (even though he or she is pescetarian, a flexitarian  or a moderatarian) will have a specific “VEGETARIAN” and “VEGAN” choices.

Homemade Greek Salad

I can name a few restaurants who have these choices and they range from Japanese, Korean, Thai, and even Chinese. No one wants to eat at home all the time and no one wants to be the finicky dinnermate who wants to change all the menu items. So, it’s high time for restaurants and cafés to keep the pace. Add a vegan choice or two and you will see more traffic come into your stores.

Vegetarians who choose to eat cheese and eggs and are called lacto-ovo, some just choose ovo (eggs), and some just have some dairy (lacto), no eggs. They also use garlic and onions and generally would be your typical “no meat” eater. That’s not so obvious to many and many dishes will comply: omelettes, most salads, cheese dishes, etc. But a vegetarian diet can be high in calories, too, such as butter and cheese.

Vegans have more control over their food as they restrict themselves to protein sources that are plant-based: tempeh, soy, tofu, lentils,etc. Fat comes from avocado, coconut oil, etc. Carbohydrates comes from greens and fruits.

Kangkong Belachan

“When you crave for steak or meat, eat spinach,” Ms Vegan tells us. That’s your body looking for iron and it’s in these deep dark greens. “When you crave for fish, eat seaweeds,” she continues. That’s true. Sometimes, we do not listen to our bodies that already tell us what it needs—iron, salt, sugar…and then we overfeed it with bad food and think we’re not deprived. We do deprive our bodies when we eat bad food.

So, think again, when you meet a vegan or vegetarian. Maybe they are not that different. They have just learned to listen to what their bodies tell them. For men, going vegetarian may make them more “macho” she tells us. How ironic, is it not? Most men think vegetables make you limp and “unmanly”. Well, let’s see how many vegan men are out there and still very active.

For women, going vegan means being calmer and not being so stressed or excitable. It also means having better skin and hair. And an easy way to drop those pounds. Now that’s an incentive already.

For me, I will go from vegan to vegetarian and back to vegan—depending on how I feel and who I dine with. I still give in to eggs, but not everyday anymore. I still give in to cheese, but not everyday like before. But I am loving the falafel (chickpea) burgers and salads, mushrooms, cauliflower, adlai and lots of fruits. I’m not labeling my diet but I feel good, generally, physically and otherwise.

Try it –vegetarian, vegan, or a combination. And when you really want your meat, give yourself a cheat day or an “iron” day. I know a vegan who eats liver once a week to complete her vitamin B-12. So, it’s a complete diet—depending what your body asks for.

Tofu Chorizo with Red Heirloom Rice

Listen to your body and when you’re ready to listen to others, there are people like Ms. Vegan who will be so glad to tell you why you need steak, cheese, and liver, too.

And I learned a new tip, too: Never start with coffee first thing in the morning. Start with lemon water or lemon juice—so you will turn alkaline first. Then, the coffee. Thanks, Ms. Vegan.



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