Ilonggo Veganism: Pros, Cons and What You Need To Know

By sheeber joyce

Ilonggo Veganism - Project Iloilo

Most people who change from the usual meat-based diet to being vegetarians, do it as means of caring for their health. It is mainly about being healthy through making dietary changes. The consumption of eggs, a little bit of meat and other products derived from animals like cheese and milk is considered acceptable among ovo-lacto vegetarians. Vegans, on the other hand, heedfully adhere to a plant-based diet mainly because of their personal stand against animal cruelty. Stuff like bread made with eggs or cheese made from cow’s milk don’t fall on a vegan’s grocery list. Of course, veganism also extends to one’s choice in clothing; for instance, true vegans don’t wear leather bags and animal fur coats as these items contradict their beliefs.

Now that we have all gotten that out of the way, this is why I became a vegan: Breathing animal welfare issues every day of my life for seven years has certainly made me question the norms of society. That is why I had to steel myself first before transitioning into being a full-time vegan.

I tried to downplay my major dietary transition for months as there’s this one-sided stigma attached to most vegans being… well, “militant”. As such, here are the usual questions I encountered from concerned people who have been surprised with my decision: “You turned vegan? Why? Please tell me you’re kidding.” “How are you going to write about food now? How are you going to catch up with your protein? What are you going to eat?”

“Don’t you think you are going way too far with your convictions?” I asked myself.

Like choosing your faith, people are free to choose what they want to eat. For me, I declare my faith three times a day through my choice of meals. Surprisingly, I was able to weather the transition, but I’m sure there are some Ilonggos out there who may be second-guessing themselves if becoming a vegan would prove to be the best decision for them.

So, if you happen to be a “struggling” vegan—or you just simply want to instill some positive change in your life through vegetarianism—then I’m here to tell you that it’s completely possible to become one here in Iloilo City. Of course, it can also be hard too, but I’m thankful that I got to experience both sides of it.

So, if you want to become a full-fledged Ilonggo vegan, then here are the pros and cons you can expect from your (impending) decision.

THE PROS

Ilonggo Veganism - Project Iloilo

1. Vegetables are cheap in Iloilo.

Not all the time, of course. But if you are good at anticipating the seasons for harvesting vegetables, you’ll come out a smart buyer.

Tomatoes, for instance, can be bought at 10-15 pesos per kilogram in summer. Vine spinach (alugbati), on the other hand, goes for 5 pesos per bunch during the rainy season.

2. Seeds are available in most groceries and downtown agricultural stores.

Food scarcity is a real problem. That is why some Ilonggos are getting into backyard gardening, even if it usually starts out as a hobby. So, if you have a friendly neighbor who wants to leave you with a bunch of seeds, then it would do you well to accept them graciously.

The best part about all of these is that seeds even come free in some farming or agricultural fairs. The excitement for my first squash and string beans harvest last month was beyond words, and I believe you could also get the same rush if you grow your own food, too.

3. Ilonggos are natural foodies.

Obviously. The thing about being an Ilonggo foodie is that our interest in food extends beyond appreciation; most of us really want to know how to make our fave dishes, even if not everyone knows how to cook, say, laswa, ginat-an, linutik and adobo—you know, just in case your appetite goes beyond wallet capacity.

Being an Ilonggo vegan also affords you this simple trick: cook your favorite dishes, but eliminate the meat ingredients. Voila, you have a completely meat-free meal!

4. Beans = Proteins.

Who says you can’t get protein in your vegetables? Mung beans (monggo), kidney beans (patani), pigeon beans (kadyos), and string beans (hantak) are major sources of protein and you can buy them in any market, any time. The list of recipes you can make from these beans can certainly provide more options for an Ilonggo vegan.

[Editor: I know this isn’t approaching anything remotely close to “vegan”, but our own KBL shows how important beans are to Ilonggo cuisine in general.]

Now that we have outlined all these good things, then now we come to…

THE CONS

Ilonggo Veganism - Project Iloilo

1. Vegans are still a minority group in Iloilo.

So far, I’ve met only two vegans, and one of them is not even a Filipino. So, if you want to openly declare your vegan beliefs, do expect some people to not understand you. Some Ilonggos might even treat you as a joke.

Unlike other global cities where vegans can be seen protesting against a restaurant’s inhumane animal handling outside its premises, vegans in this city are very few, silent, and are often scared of what other people may think of them. So, if you want to “out” yourself as a vegan, then it’s probably best to do it through the most Ilonggo way possible: by stating it very politely.

2. There are no exclusive vegan restaurants here.

A few vegetarian choices on a standard restaurant menu are there, sure. But if you are looking for a dedicated vegan restaurant where you can actually eat a meat-free dish with liberty, then I’m sad to say that there’s no such place yet.

I took a vegan friend for lunch last month and I had to spend three hours finding a vegan restaurant.  We ended up eating in a restaurant with only TWO vegan options on the menu. I mean, who seriously eats potato crispies for lunch?!

3. Limited vegan options in the groceries.

Just because we have many vegetables sold here doesn’t mean we also have the widest range of products available. I won’t play the hypocrisy card here: I, much like the rest of you reading this, was not raised a vegan. So, forgive me for saying this, but the struggle is real.

For instance, my cravings for cheese and mayo—the two things I couldn’t let go of in the first two weeks of my progress—are sometimes way too difficult to deal with. I once went to three major Iloilo groceries to specifically find the vegan version of those, but I got none. Hopefully, those products were only out of stock during that moment.

So, for vegan tourists who intend to stay longer in Iloilo, be prepared to meet a narrow range of options in terms of pre-packaged vegan products. It may not be down to zero yet, but products like these are not as conveniently available here as they are in the Western world.

4. The possibility of being branded superior and/or inconvenient.

Here is one credence about us vegans: we don’t go vegan because we are “better than you”; we made this choice because we don’t feel superior to other living creatures at all.

Still, being branded as “different” can be considered as a normal reaction when you are going against society’s ages-old food culture. When everybody’s eating meat and you don’t because you think it is not fair, then by default, you have placed yourself in an entirely inconvenient position of being questioned and judged. This is certainly one of the biggest drawbacks of being a local vegan, and you have to prepare yourself for major heat if you’re going to push through with your vegan crusade.

So, have you decided on being an Ilonggo vegan/vegetarian yet? Or are you already one and want to share some experiences that we did not mention above? Well, do share your experiences with us in the comments section below!

Photos by the author

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