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Thursday, January 01, 2009


The beginner vegetarian’s guide

By Evan Tan, Contributor

So you’ve decided to go vegetarian. The calendar already marked, you’ve made the choice as a New Year’s resolution. The reasons might be any of these: health, the environment or animal rights.

Finally, notwithstanding raised brows and disbelief, you’re resolute.

Admittedly, vegetarianism is a daunting lifestyle for lifelong omnivores. Add to that, celebrations in the country are incomplete without a meat dish or two. Case in point: Fiestas are rarely without lechon, roasted to hypertension-inducing perfection. Filipinos try to include meat in the dinner table as much as possible. (No wonder, considering that meat consumption is perceived as a socio-economic status symbol.)

Decisions rarely succeed without proper planning. The same is true with vegetarianism. If you plan to succeed in this lifetime commitment, then you must understand what you are diving into.

Firstly, identify what kind of vegetarian lifestyle you aim to pursue. There are four types: Ovo-vegetarianism excludes meat and dairy but incorporates eggs in the diet; lacto-vegetarianism skips everything animal-derived except dairy products; ovo-lacto-vegetarianism allows consumption of both eggs and dairy; and vegetarianism, which means no meat, dairy and eggs.

(Veganism is a stricter form of vegetarianism, excluding animals from diet and any other human use. Also, pescetarianism and pollotarianism are both frowned upon as pseudo-vegetarianism since these diets include animals.)

Expect that there will be questions from family, friends and people around you. Scepticism and curiosity are natural reactions. Anticipate ridicule as well. Learn to take it all in stride. Back yourself up with knowledge. People commonly think being vegetarian makes one weak and lame. Refute their misguided ideas. (Trivia: Olympic track-and-field medallist Carl Lewis is vegan—one among the many vegetarian athletes who excel in their respective fields.)

Hypoproteinemia often worries the beginner vegetarian. It is actually a mistaken belief that vegetarianism means a lack of protein in one’s diet. There are numerous sources of protein from plants; some (such as soy) even possess all of the essential amino acids. But then, proper combinations of other protein sources (beans, legumes and grains to name a few) can give vegetarians adequate protein nutrition. Vitamin B12 meanwhile can be derived from vitamin supplements. Just as with any diet, balance is necessary for optimum health.

Vegetarian haunts and hunts

Manila is becoming a haven for vegetarians. Through the presence of an international animal rights organization here in the country, an increasing number of people are becoming aware of vegetarianism. Thus, more businesses are realizing the potential of catering to this growing market.

Vegetarianism need not mean suffering and starvation. Need a quick bite? Don’t go looking far—a trip to the neighbourhood convenience store will do. Snacks (such as potato chips, green peas, peanuts) are almost always vegetarian-friendly. (Skip the chicharon and remember to check ingredients.) Soy milk (taho) is easily available, just in case you need your protein to go. (Tip: Some coffee shops like Starbucks have soy lattes.)

If you’re in a mall, restaurants typically offer a vegetarian meal or two. Asian-themed restaurants often serve soy-based meals so be on the lookout. Pizza houses have vegetarian options as well. (For vegans, ask for cheese-less pizza.) There are vegetarian specialty dining places in and out of the metro; an online list is available at Not on the list though is Subway, which has delicious vegetarian sandwich on the menu; and Good Burgers, with branches in Virra Mall and across Tiendesitas, which makes the yummiest veggie burgers in town (skip the mayonnaise).

Vegetarian meat can be bought at the grocery in Market! Market! in Taguig and Varona’s along Leveriza Street in Pasay. Vegetarian products are likewise available in Healthy Options.

More ready than ever? Well then, welcome to the club.


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