The people in my household seemed unperturbed when I announced my decision, but I sort of knew what they were thinking: “This, too, shall pass.”
PIGS went first. Then cows, chicken, fish, shellfish, shrimps and, lastly—before this starts to sound like a reboot of the tale of Noah’s Ark—eggs. In that exact order, these food groups were banished from my diet 26 years ago, leaving only vegetables, fruits, beans, cereals, nuts and milk products.
Initially, I grappled with the whys more than the hows. My response would invariably be, “It’s no big deal; I’m taking this just as far as it will go. When it was my parents who asked, I prefaced that with, “Don’t worry.” With my friends, “Don’t panic.”
The people in my household seemed unperturbed, but I knew what they were thinking: “This, too, shall pass.” When it became apparent that it wouldn’t, they stopped tempting me with eat-outs and home-cooked feasts. Maybe they secretly rolled their eyes (I don’t want to know) when I announced that I was getting my own refrigerator, stove, cooking and eating utensils, and to please stay away from those. By the time I bought my own small dining table, too, the questions (and possibly the secret rolling of the eyes) had stopped.
Weirdos no more
This major turnaround had occurred shortly after I crossed paths with a community of vegetarians. So it was never like me against the world. In fact, I consider it opportune that, at the time, though they still drew a considerable amount of curiosity, vegetarians were no longer thought of as weirdos.
It wasn’t such rough sailing, to start with. Then it became quite easy. Now it’s the most practical thing for me. Plus, I have encountered some beautiful human beings along the way.
Before I realized that it was necessary to cook my own food if I wanted to get it right, I had tracked down the few places in my downsized orbit that served my minimum requirements and, occasionally, some wonderful surprises.
For the benefit of those just testing the waters, most pizza places now have cheese pizzas: Shakey’s, Pizza Hut, California Pizza Kitchen, Italianni’s… Sandwich shop Subway allows you to pick the ingredients, and you could ask the crew to change into fresh gloves when handling your order. Quizno’s doesn’t mind altering their veggie sub to suit the diner’s specs. Wabi-Sabi (at The Collective, 7274 Malugay St, Makati, tel. 519-3950) serves a hefty and delicious banh mi!
Wabi-Sabi is vegetarian through and through, and their biggest thing is a choice of four (so far) variations of ramen at very reasonable prices. There’s also The Vegetarian Kitchen on Mother Ignacia St. in Quezon City (0915 830 0511). If you feel like spending a little more, there’s Corner Tree Café on Jupiter St., Makati.
Chinese restaurants in several five-star hotels have vegetarian menus. Bombay Canteen proprietor Menakshi, if you catch her in any of the branches, is happy to adjust her veg menu to accommodate all manner of specifications. On the low end, way before I converted, my buddy Ernie and I used to visit this hole-in-the-wall in Chinatown for canteen-style fare and addictive vegan jerky. I suddenly feel nostalgic for Mother Sachi on Buendia Ave. If anyone out there has news about this pioneering resto, please drop me a line.
There’s still Bodhi’s main kitchen on Banawe (tel. 711-9765), but the Bodhi stall in SM Southmall food court has closed (sigh), and the one in SM Fairview goes by the name Harvesters now.
Oh, how could I forget Daily Veggie n Café, also on Banawe (711-8209)!
These are just in the metro, and I’m sure there’s a whole lot more places I have not checked out. Feel free to add to this list. Meanwhile, back to my journey:
I soon grew tired of going out of my way to follow a discipline that was supposed to make life simpler and closer to my natural physiology (no canines for tearing meat, longer intestines than those of four-legged carnivores, etc.). I found a store that sold a wide variety of vege-meat products (Polomi, along Quirino corner San Marcelino in Malate), and soon, latent culinary skills were emerging.
When even these products became optional for my meals, I learned to appreciate easy-to-overlook pleasures such as the healthy sweetness of squash, the clean taste of all variety of melons, the lightness of steamed leafies, the straight-up refreshment that pure cool water guarantees.
It still surprises me sometimes how little I have been spending on food since I decided to reinvent my palate. How much do tofu and kangkong cost? Fruits may not be cheap, but let me not forget how the prices of beef, pork, chicken and all that I have given up have soared.
I brought lunch or supper and snacks everyday to work, as newsroom hours are unpredictable. Now that I am retired, I still bring food in my purse everywhere, even to parties (that is, if I have to go at all; and I make sure to assure the host that I’ve come for the company—and maybe the coffee). I bring food on long drives and everywhere I go that is not likely to be familiar territory. Nothing elaborate—maybe just a bowl of papaya cubes, one banana, carrot sticks, diced pineapple, two slices of wheat bread or a small ear of boiled sweet corn. This practice has served me well.
When I sit down to three-course meals, it’s a celebration. When I survive routine cleansing fasts, it’s a victory. When I meet vegans outside of my original community, it’s a happy affirmation.
And then there are non-vegans who go out of their way to understand why I eat only what I eat, and jump in, even during very brief encounters.
At the Fish Market in Sydney, a waitress brought me a tray of special cheeses without my asking— on the house, because everyone else was enjoying seafood platters and I was munching lettuce and tomato on rye. Throughout the meal, she didn’t mind the rest of the group as much as she minded me. When we left, she sought me out and promised to be better prepared when I came back.
In a private resort on Guimaras island, the cook let me have my way in her hallowed territory, but only for a day. The rest of that long weekend, she dished out wonderfully modified versions of my simple preparations. Like the waitress in Sydney, she made me promise to return, saying she would be ready for me.
The owner of a little veg restaurant in Bagan, the old capital of Myanmar, was so thrilled to be told that four tourists from the Philippines were waiting on his offerings, that he came to our table, bowed to us with palms pressed together and announced he was cooking our food himself.
What kept me going in those first few years was the motivating principle that, by being vegetarian, I was helping promote a cycle of non-violence, if only in my immediate universe, my body. That it would, as it has, situate me in places of unbidden friendships and pure affection, if intermittently, is a bonus.