I had an almost toxic love affair with chicken; fried, stewed, barbecued, cook it whatever way and I’d eat it. I loved it so much it’s my standard answer to the question, what would be your prisoner’s last meal? And so for years I never really paid much attention to vegetarianism. It wasn’t appealing (can’t eat chicken) and I didn’t see the point of it. Having been raised in a household where I’ve been denied the good things in life, I viewed vegetarianism as another form of deprivation. I mean, why should I rob myself of the freedom to eat what I want now that I can afford it? Why should I stop myself from eating fried chicken when it’s one of the most delicious foods in the world? I’m the last person I’d imagine anyone to become vegetarian and yet here I am; I haven’t eaten chicken for almost three months and I’m on my third week of being vegan.
A word of warning that this is going to be a very long post. If you’re press with time, too lazy to read, or just want to get to the topics you’re interested in then be guided accordingly by the topics shown under the Table of Contents. Just click and it will send you directly to the specific section.
Also a disclaimer, I don’t view myself as an authority on vegetarianism as I’ve just started and still have a lot to learn. Maybe this post is premature, who knows, but I’m writing this anyway as I’d like to keep a record of the early stages of this journey. What I’m about to share are my personal experience and opinions. Having said that, if you want a more in-depth view of this topic, this may not be the best article for you.
Other helpful information included in this article is based on books, online articles, and documentaries that I’ve read and watched to learn about veganism. I’ll link my sources at the end of this post.
So let’s begin…
Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based diet – What’s the difference?
To the uninitiated, vegetarian, vegan, and plant-based diets (PBD) are the same, but they’re not. Confused? Don’t worry, I was too, in fact, I used to interchange veganism and PBD. Let’s begin with the definitions so none would be the wiser that we’re amateurs, lol.
A vegetarian doesn’t eat any meat, beef, pork, chicken, seafood, lamb, or any other organisms under the biological kingdom Animalia. But there are different types of vegetarians, the Lacto-ovo who consumes egg and dairy, the Lacto who consumes dairy, the Ovo who avoids meat and dairy, but eats eggs, and lastly the Vegans who are the most intense of the lot as they don’t consume or use animal products in all forms, be it food or an object like a leather jacket.
Veganism, as defined by Wikipedia is,
“The practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. An individual who follows the diet or philosophy is known as a vegan.”
Veganism is in fact, a sub-category of vegetarianism. However, the number of vegans has grown so much in recent years, it seems to have become a category of its own. It’s more than a diet, it’s a movement that advocates for the lives of animals by adapting to a lifestyle that sponsors this ideology.
Then I found out that there are three sub-categories of vegans:
- Dietary vegan – those whose foremost concern for not consuming animal-derived products is their health.
- Ethical vegan – those who believe that all creatures have the right to life and freedom.
- Environmental vegan – those who avoid animal products because of the environmental impact of animal agriculture.
Based on the descriptions, I belong to the dietary vegan type.
Lastly, PBD, which refers to consuming food sourced from plants. I know what you’re thinking, isn’t that the same as a vegan since they’re both focusing on eating plants instead of animals?
That’s what I thought too until I read some articles explaining that people can be on a PBD but not necessarily become a vegan. Meaning, you can be on a mostly plant-based diet, but it doesn’t necessarily extend to other products derived from animals, e.g., honey. People on PBD eat mostly food from plant sources, but if they so choose, they can consume animal products too. I guess in this case, PBD can fall under flexitarianism, another diet where people consume plant-based foods and eat animal products in moderation.
Why I used to laugh at vegans
I don’t remember exactly when did I learn about vegetarianism but I’m pretty sure my first reaction was that of incredulity and disdain.
So there are people who don’t eat meat? But why?! Don’t they know how delicious pork sinigang is? Don’t they miss the crispy juicylicious Jollibee chicken joy? And what do they eat then, just salad?! That’s not a way to live. Life is too short to miss out on all the delicious delicacies.
And also there’s me being judgy…
Vegans are a privileged bunch. The only reason they can do it is that they have a choice; there’s no food scarcity. If we’re living in an apocalyptic world and food is hard to come by, I bet they’d have no choice but eat meat again.
Those were some of my thoughts, somewhere along those lines.
It didn’t help that vegetarians, specifically, vegan activists can be pretty extreme in their advocacy to stop people from eating animals. Some would post on social media about videos of animals being butchered. Some would protest in front of restaurants brandishing signs like “No animals want to be killed or eaten” or “Pet animals, don’t eat animals.” Their anger can be so severe, they’d go as far as calling meat-eaters murderers.
And while I understand that they’re only doing this out of passion and care for animals, I can also see why their actions won’t sit well with the meat-eaters. It’s basic human psychology, nobody likes criticism especially when it targets people’s choices. In simple terms, the more you shame someone, the more they will rebel. You could never win another person to your side with rage, that’s just not how it works. They would either laugh at you, resent you, or in the case of one restaurant owner, taunt you by eating meat right in front of you.
And being a meat eater for most of my life, I was among those who viewed vegetarians/vegan the way I see cults. I didn’t care to listen to what they have to say, not when they’re calling meat-eaters like me a murderer.
Why I didn’t become vegan right away
Honestly though, while the radicals have discouraged me from learning, the biggest reason for staying a meat eater is the love of meat. And if you love something and you’re used to it pretty much your whole life, quitting it is never going to be easy. The most common line from meat-eaters who don’t want to consider vegetarianism, is “I can’t stop eating [insert favorite meat here]” (in my case, chicken).
As I went further into the world of vegetarianism, my reason for not going full-on vegan kept changing. The “I can’t stop eating chicken” was later on replaced by fish, then cheese, then lastly, ice cream and cake. Apparently, I’m good at finding another food I couldn’t live without. Yet every time, I challenged myself to stop eating these foods for a week or two, the story always ends up the same; I could live without them after all. What was happening then?
The reason that I could think of is that I loved these foods and eating them made me happy. And just like everything else in this life, we tend to cling to things that make us happy regardless if they were good for us or not.
My reasons for becoming vegan
Not that I don’t like animals, in fact, I love dogs more than humans, but I’m not going to do anyone a favor if I say that I turned to veganism because I want to protect the animals. The real reason, if you want my honesty is for my health, hence I mentioned earlier that I’m a dietary vegan.
To further explain, let me share with you my greatest insecurity, the unreasonable discontent of my body.
While my physique was never big enough to be called fat, I still grew up having a love-hate relationship with it. I stand at 151 cm, with broad shoulders, small hips, and flat breasts. Whenever I gained weight I would always keep the fats in my belly and my back. I’m what they call, skinny fat and no amount of exercising or dieting have given me the toned build that I covet.
When I was younger, I had zero concepts of healthy food. I came from a poor family, and poor people can’t be choosy when parents struggle to bring food to the table. And also I’m Filipino, we were brought up to love salty, fatty, and sugary food.
I remember being at my heaviest in my early 20s, see exhibit A below. In the far left photo, I was unemployed and was practically living rent-free at my best friend’s house. One of the things that I loved about visiting them is the food, which they have in abundance. Also, my friend is an amazing cook, to this day, I still refer to her pork sininigang as the best one there is.
So I ate to my heart’s content until I ballooned into this body. I don’t know how much I weighed back then but people around me have definitely noticed and made it a point to tell me this most dreaded line, “tumaba ka” (you’ve gotten fat).
The middle and third photos were taken while I was still working at the Presidential Security Group (PSG); I was probably 22 or 23 years old. I still remember this one remark that a colleague made when we were riding her bike, “Ang bigat mo Jo” (you’re too heavy, Jo) as she struggled to pedal. Soon after that I stepped on a scale and found that I weighed 52 kg.
For years, I battled with low self-esteem
I wished I had bigger hips, big boobs, or if not those, at least a mesomorph type of body so I can gain muscles with little to no effort. But here I am, stuck in a skinny fat body and it has driven me to try all sorts of diets imaginable; keto, low-carb diet, low-fat diet, and the most recent, the Gundry diet. I also tried diet pills, laxative teas, detox juices, and slimming coffee.
The effort extended to physical activities. I enrolled in a gym I could hardly afford, learned Muay Thai and boxing, took yoga classes, jogged every day, and consistently exercised at home by watching workout videos.
The diets and the workouts did help but I could never sustain the results. There’d be a season in which I’d feel very motivated, but eventually, I’d get tired and quit it completely. The diets are especially frustrating, there’s nothing about them that I found to be completely satisfying that I couldn’t convince myself to stick to them long term.
For years, my weight fluctuated so erratically it was ridiculous. I would obsessively look at myself in the mirror, desperately searching for the abs that just wouldn’t come out. I would look at my photos and would cringe at the sight of my rounded cheeks and muffin top.
Then boom I turned 38 and suddenly, I want to grow old gracefully
In 2 years, I’ll be 40 and when you get to this age, you start to think about longevity. Since growing old is inevitable, I might as well do it right, meaning, I should delay the onset of aging.
Aside from the superficial aspect of it (I want to stay young-looking), I don’t want to get those old-age diseases, or at least fend them for as long as I could. In my bid to learn about aging gracefully, I started reading up literature on healthy living, and I noticed the most common theme, going on a plant-based diet.
How I educated myself about the plant-based journey
It all started with quitting pork. Sometime in 2018, I wanted to lose weight and asked myself, which meat can I do without; the answer was pork. What I didn’t know then is that this simple decision would eventually take me down the path of vegetarianism.
Books that got me started
The first book that I read to begin my research is What Are You Hungry For By Deepak Chopra. It delves into the psychology of why people eat what they eat and the triggers that make them overeat. The author says that most of us eat mindlessly, trying to satisfy a hunger that goes beyond the belly. When something is lacking, like security or love, people turn to food to fill the void.
My biggest takeaway from this book is the realization that I had been trying to eat my insecurities away, but to no avail. This is when I started to think about the food I would eat, when I should eat, and whether I’ll eat because I was hungry or because of some personal issues.
Chopra promotes the plant-based diet and this is what I would say, the door that opened me to the idea of it all.
To learn more, I picked up The Plant Paradox by a cardiologist, Dr. Steven Gundry next. Dr. Gundry claims that humans should avoid eating food rich in lectins, a nutrient found mostly in plants. Lectins, according to him are harmful to humans when ingested as these are the plant’s defense mechanism against predators. Apparently, plants, just like animals don’t want to be eaten.
While the diet doesn’t promote strict vegetarianism, it encourages people to eat more vegetables and eat meat, only when you’re one hundred percent sure where the animals have been raised, for example, chicken must be pasture-raised.
Immediately after reading this book, I decided to give it a try. The diet is so restrictive and practically forbids most food that I liked such as tomatoes, chili, soy, grains, and cucumber that I lost a lot of weight in only one week. I was on this diet before I went to Boracay last February and I got to say, it did help me fit into my swimsuits.
Gundry diet is effective in aiding weight loss, that much I could say. However, I didn’t have any of the diseases that Dr. Gundry’s patients have, most of which are old people, so I couldn’t personally attest to the medical benefits of this diet. I also found a lot of criticisms about it, saying that Dr. Gundry’s claims haven’t been tested or scientifically proven.
Even so, I still liked this book because it opened my eyes to the effects of food on our bodies. And while before, I could easily cheat or excuse my way out of eating unhealthy food, I found that I’ve become more conscious about what I’m consuming after reading this book.
Other books that I read about plant-based diet are The Longevity Paradox, also by Dr. Gundry, Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss, and Healthy Eating, Healthy World: Unleashing the Power of Plant-Based Nutrition by J. Morris Hicks and J. Stanfield Hicks.
Documentaries that sealed the deal
If the books opened me up to the idea, these two Netflix documentaries are the ones that sealed the deal. First is the Seaspiracy (I still think they missed an opportunity to title it, “Conspirasea”), a docufilm on the environmental impact of fishing by British filmmaker, Ali Tabrizi. This is where I learned about how much plastic debris humans have and are continuously discarding onto the sea and its devastating effects on marine life. It also featured stories of the whaling event in the Faroe Islands (this one got me in tears), and the blood shrimp in Thailand.
The blood shrimp story was especially hard to watch. It tackles the modern-day slavery happening in Thailand, of fishermen tricked into getting on fishing trawlers and never allowed to go home. There, they’re forced into labor, mentally and physically tortured, and some even murdered with their bodies thrown at sea, never to be seen again. Listening to the horrific accounts of those men who have had lived through this nightmare had me feeling both angry and depressed.
And I don’t know how else to contribute to easing their pain but to stop eating fish. I know that I’m not directly helping them by doing this and that the seafood I have access to may not even be coming from these trawlers, but somehow, it doesn’t feel right to me to be aware of what’s going on and still eat fish as if nothing happened.
The other documentary is lighter if I can call it that, titled The Game Changers. This film features vegan athletes, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, the terminator/ex-governor/retired bodybuilder is a vegan; definitely didn’t see that one coming. The film tries to advocate veganism through the lens of the athletes who claim that going on a plant-based diet didn’t make them less capable to achieve physical feats but in fact, they’ve grown stronger and healthier than ever.
But are vegans’ claims true?
Even if I want to give you a definite answer, I can’t. When you go into this rabbit hole you’re bound to encounter studies, journals, testimonies, and other claims that are contradicting one another. It got to the point when I’ve consumed too much information, I didn’t know what to believe anymore.
Just an example, here’s an article that debunks some of the claims made by The Game Changer. It says that the film resorted to research bias to push for veganism and that while the film backs up the narrative through a lot of research, “it completely ignores studies on the benefits of animal products.”
To be fair, the article presents some of the things that the docufilm has gotten right, such as vegan diets may protect against heart disease and some cancers, and that you can get as much protein as you need from a well-planned vegan diet as getting it from animal products.
How to deal with information overload
I’m taking it one day at a time and I always try my damnedest to educate myself. I keep myself open to different ideas because the meat-eaters and the vegans will always try to outdo each other’s research and claims to justify the lifestyle they’ve chosen. Cognitive dissonance will always be at play, vegan or not. So what do we do then?
I say, let people live the way that they want to live. I’ve chosen to become vegan and I will help other people learn about it as well if they want to. I try to respect people’s choices even when I don’t agree with them. In the same way, I want to be respected for my choice even if people don’t get it. I’d love for people to try going vegan so we can be healthier, lessen our impact on the environment, and mitigate the suffering of animals. But I want to impart the message with patience and kindness.
How I became a vegan
This is hard because you’re essentially quitting foods you’ve known and enjoyed all your life. So I look at it the way a smoker quits smoking, slowly lessening the number of sticks as days go by. I lessened my meat consumption within a span of three months.
I started by taking out beef and chicken from my diet sometime between Feb and March, then I was a pescatarian for two weeks. In April I became a lacto-ovo vegetarian, consuming as many cakes, pastries, and ice cream that I could. During this time, I began discovering and buying vegan products from an array of vegan stores online.
Where to buy vegan food
Vegan food, I mean the processed ones, is a hit and a miss. There are products that taste like real meat I couldn’t help but be suspicious if they are indeed vegan. For example, the uber-expensive vegan burger of Sweet Ecstasy and the vegan kare-kare of Theejay Barbecue. But I’ve also tried those that got the look down pat, but not the taste; usually with vegan chicken. But I find trying these vegan options exciting. In fact, I set a budget for every payday specifically for this.
I buy my veggies from the deli within our neighborhood or from an online shop called, Zagana. My other favorite shops are VeganGrocerPh and VeganTreatsManila. Vegan Grocer has a physical grocery store in San Juan, which I visited and vlogged about. Do check out my YouTube channel if you want to see it.
There are also some products that I buy from Shopee and Lazada like Swift’s Unmeat (try hotdog and burger, they’re good).
I eat more vegetables now like I’m compensating for all the veggies that I skipped in my childhood. And because of this diet, plus the fact there’s still quarantine and I’m working from home, I learned to cook my own food. I usually stir-fry veggies, my favorites are broccoli and spinach, and for my rice, I make fried caulirice. My milk substitutes are either soy or almond milk. I lowered my sugar intake as well, opting to use monk sugar or stevia over regular sugar.
I haven’t been able to try a lot of vegan restaurants save for the vegan cafe of my friend, Patit, in San Pedro, Laguna. It’s called Capri Island Vegan Cafe. I highly recommend that you check it out if you ever get to travel to San Pedro. Cozy ambiance with delicious food that is surprisingly cheap, I promise you won’t be disappointed even if you’re not vegan.
Keep yourself informed and get a vegan friend
Aside from Googling, I recommend having vegan friends in your circle as they can significantly help hasten your education and adjustment to this lifestyle. Most vegans are more than happy to share what they know. They can give you tips like where to buy vegan food or products. As a beginner, it’s critical to find people who can encourage you so you don’t quit, especially if like me your reason for wanting to be vegan leans on its dietary benefits rather than environmental and animal protection. A dietary purpose, in my opinion, is only strong for those who are ill, otherwise, it’s easy to lose motivation somewhere along the way then go back to your old habits. The most ardent of vegans I’ve met do it because of two other reasons, the animals and the environment.
In all honesty, I don’t have any of those strong feelings, as I mentioned, I’m vegan because of my health. This is not to say that I won’t change my perceived “vegan purpose” as I continue doing this. Maybe I just haven’t informed myself enough, maybe I just need to be more in tune with nature and animals, I don’t know. But at least for now, the dietary benefits are my primary reason, but I digress.
Going back, I’m thankful that I have one close friend, Patit, who has been vegan longer than I do. We constantly chat about it that’s why I don’t feel so lost. And because of her, I found out about this Facebook community called, Vegan Philippines – The Kindness Project where members can share see recipes, products, stories, and other vegan-related topics.
How do I feel physically now that I’m vegan
Simply put, I feel great. I don’t feel sluggish during the day, I have the stamina to do yoga every single day even if it’s as long as 1 hour. The most notable change is the afternoon slump, I usually sleep as soon as my work is over at 3:00 pm. Now, I use the time to do other stuff. The only thing veganism didn’t cure is my habit of sleeping very late at night. I think it’s my restless thoughts, not the diet that’s to blame.
Losing weight is a bonus too, last time I stepped on a scale I was 43.7kg. However, I don’t completely credit losing weight to a vegan diet as there are other factors in play, such as intermittent fasting, lowering sugar intake, and working out consistently.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some vegan food like the meat alternatives are not necessarily healthy as they’re usually filled with either sugar or sodium. Moderation is the key; as much as possible, I eat more veggies.
The challenges of becoming vegan
The last thing I want to discuss before I end this
novel article is some of the challenges I’ve faced thus far. The most difficult thing would be going somewhere, say, a mall, and not eat anything. Although there are now a few vegan restos around, most of them can’t be found inside the malls that I frequent. Also, if a resto doesn’t have vegan food on their menu, I don’t want to have to ask the server if there are any meat products on a dish, that would be tedious. So now whenever I go out, the most I can buy is coffee with soymilk.
My social life has been affected as well. I used to ask my friends to eat out, but now I can’t easily do that knowing that the only thing I can eat is a salad. I certainly don’t want to make them feel like they need to watch what they eat when I’m around.
And just this weekend, I’ve had to face yet another challenge when I went to Bulacan to spend the weekend at my friend’s place. She and her family struggled to feed me and I could feel that they were sort of embarrassed about it. I, of course, felt ashamed that I inadvertently made them feel this way because of my choice.
On my part, I tried my best to assure them that I was fine. The last thing that I want is to make anyone feel guilty that they couldn’t share their food with me. I’m well aware of the consequences of my choice and I’m prepared to deal with them.
At last, we reached the end of this looooong article. I’m not even a month being a vegan yet I already have a lot to say, lol. I’ll strive to maintain this lifestyle and hopefully write an update after a year. For now, this will suffice, hope I was able to enlighten you if not convince you to become a vegan.
To the vegans, my journey has just started and I still have a lot to learn, but I’m sure glad to discover your world. To the non-vegans, know that I will never judge you. All I’m going to do is to encourage you to keep an open mind and to learn about plant-based life. Who knows, you may find that it’s the best lifestyle for you as well.
The Flexitarian Diet: A Detailed Beginner’s Guide
Vegan and Plant-based Diet Difference and Facts
Definition of veganism
‘Such brutality’: tricked into slavery in the Thai fishing industry
Fact-Checking ‘The Game Changers’: Are Its Claims True?