Vegetarianism: Then and Now

I have been a vegetarian for 25 years now so it is a jubilee of sorts for me. Imagine celebrating your silver anniversary as a vegetarian? So I write this article.

Twenty-five years ago, in the midst of a martial law regime, the hippie movement and underground activisim, vegetarianism was literally just starting in the Philippines, specifically in Manila. It was almost unheard of and people didn’t have a positive view of it. In the thick of all these changes, I was looking for something different and meaningful. I got attracted to the whole idea of being vegetarian and my early experiences with this were not so good. Typical reactions would be:

  • Vegetarian? What’s that? That’s weird.
  • What? A vegetarian? What do you eat? (Eyes full of pity, looking at you.)
  • You? A vegetarian? You’ll never make it. Already you’re just skin and bones. You’ll get sick! (Shocked)
  • No way. You’ll be malnourished. You won’t get enough protein and stunt your growth. You’ll be such a weakling and won’t be able to carry a thing. (Angrily)
  • But why? God gave us the animals to be eaten. Why suffer?
  • Vegetarian, what’s that? You eat only vegetables? What do you eat? Grass? (Snickering)

So I got full dosage of reprimands, ribbing and barrels of pity. Oh, and let’s not forget the heart to heart talks from family and friends to convince you to stop this nonsense. But interesting enough, my body, even though on the onset grew skinny and almost emaciated, adjusted well in the following months and years. My mom was so frustrated because when I was a meat-eater, I was very sickly. Her theory was I was too skinny and needed fattening up. She gave me bottles of various appetite inducers and literally forced me to drink gallons of milk but to no avail. It was only when I became vegetarian that my body mass became normal. I became stronger and healthier.

At that time, my social life was also severely hampered. I’d go to a party or restaurant and there was nothing to eat. Everyone would either go on a rampage, blaming me for making him or her feel uncomfortable because I wasn’t eating (even if I told them a hundred times that I already had dinner at home). Or they would go in a state of worry on what to prepare for you. First they serve you something with fish, and then they serve you something with eggs. Then they resort to the age-old suggestion: “Why don’t you just take off the meat and fish and eat just the vegetables?” Or they just end up giving you a tray of fruits to last you a lifetime.

It was worst with restaurants because there was nothing to eat and they couldn’t and wouldn’t prepare anything for you. Those were the times that dinner meant eating only dessert (fruits) or plain spaghetti noodles with catsup and cheese or rice and tomatoes with soy sauce and kalamansi (lemon). Now you know why I was so skinny at the onset.

Taking on a vegetarian diet taught me a lot of things. I was forced to learn how to cook. I was forced to be creative in my cooking, oftentimes using standard recipes and substituting the meat or fish. I was forced to learn more about nutrition and balancing of meals. And I developed a passion for baking and baking without eggs.

I also learned to be patient and tolerant. I learned to speak well, having to continuously explain to people all about vegetarianism. Then pretty soon, I was invited to give talks to high school kids and parents on the advantages of a vegetarian diet. I have been invited to television talk shows and asked to do cooking demos. People loved to hear about the tips on health and cooking and watch the demos. They most specially loved to sample the food.

So 25 years later, in the midst of a democratic government and global communication, my children and their generation are reaping the fruits. It isn’t surprising to hear the following comments:

  • You, a vegetarian? How wonderful! No wonder you are so healthy and slim. After all these years.
  • A vegetarian? You should teach me how to cook this delicious food. I’ve always wanted to be a vegetarian and I am told it is so economical.
  • Vegetarian, that’s so good. Good for you. No wonder you look so young. And you’re going to live a long life, yeah?
  • I am so impressed. You, a vegetarian. So much discipline.
  • You’re a vegetarian. I wish I could be a vegetarian.

Vegetarianism is not something new to the people of Manila and in all major cities in the Philippines. Filipinos are very open to it. They are encouraged to try it. Some doctors and nutritionists even recommend it. Now, we have vegetarian restaurants in Manila. In most restaurants, they serve vegetarian food or are at least willing to cook vegetarian food for you. And of course, we shouldn’t forget the salad bars too.

However, there are still very few pure vegetarians here in the Philippines. Some people who claim to be vegetarians still eat fish. Some are vegetarians but on occasions like parties, they eat fish or eggs. Many try it but cannot maintain it. So it is safe to say that vegetarianism here in the Philippines is really just in its infancy after 25 years. But it is an infant who is wanted and slowly being appreciated. We hope that vegetarianism achieves its full growth in its golden year.

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