For many years, I suffered from health issues that made me a high-risk candidate for prolific diseases like diabetes and hypertension. Little did I know that by saying “Yes!” to a dare that my life would shift into a new direction of self-love, rediscovering my relationship with cooking and food, as well as having fun along the way!
Cooking and eating have always been adventures for me. I remember my first memories of food have always been so comforting and exciting. I learned how to cook when I was six years old, and I immediately saw how food was such a sensory experience that went beyond just fuelling the body. Over time, I have developed such a relationship with food where it became my form of meditation, my escape, my comfort, and even my very own time machine that I could tap into so that I can remember specific memories that have brought me such significant human experiences. I remember the first time I learned how to fry an egg so I could enjoy it with my grandmother’s special pork adobo; the comfort of a bowl of hot monggo stew with tinapa flakes, shrimp bits, and crispy chicharron; and even the simplicity of enjoying my favorite comfort food—spaghetti bolognese.
Aside from immersing in this form of art with all my senses, I have always enjoyed the social aspects of cooking and sharing with others. Whenever I cook for anyone, I patiently wait to watch and see the first reaction— that first bite that tells me if I have, in any way, created a shift, excited or shocked, triggered a memory, or even touched a specific sense. I usually watch the eyes and the mouth of my guest, then wait for that indelible sound—“Mmmm…!”
That pleasure principle and reaction always brings me joy because that’s how I can connect with someone in my own little way. I like asking people how they feel about something they’re trying because it has always fascinated me how people experience food, perceive through their senses, and even recall specific moments in their lives when they tasted something similar or exactly the same flavors and textures. Quite often, we forget the value of being present in the moment and being aware of what we are eating. We also tend not to question so much where our food comes from. These days, most aspects of our life are very instant and convenient because of so many reasons ranging from being on a budget, having little to no time to cook, living alone, busy work schedules, life stresses, old habits, how we have been raised, and other reasons that take away the value of really understanding how anything and everything we put in our body is either healing us or making us sicker. I have also found moments of reflection on the spectrum of how this awareness is such an untapped source of growth because it also feeds our soul in a way that makes us curious, experimental, and transformed. Food, after all, is such a ubiquitous experience that is a joyful common ground for many. I am grateful and fortunate enough to have been able to develop a culinary curiosity at such an early age, where I was encouraged to enjoy and try new things. I wasn’t a picky eater because I was always very open to learning through eating. Travel has not only brought me new places to see but also such beautiful cultural exposure and learning about people through food. I’m pretty sure if I ask anyone about food they have tried during their memorable trips, their face will light up.
I still get very specific looks or reactions whenever I tell someone I am a vegan or that I am plant-based. To be honest, I immediately feel the shift in someone’s energy, whether positive or apprehensive, whenever I share this about myself. Either way, it delights me because it is always an opportunity for a conversation or a good time to be able to encourage someone to try something different. Like many, I was raised as an omnivore in an environment where fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains were never really the highlight but just a snack or an accompaniment to a meal. I never really gave it much thought until I got to a point in my life where I had spent most of my life indulging, and it was already transforming into health problems that were becoming major inconveniences and red flags. I always had some excuse or just went for quick-fix fad diets and medications. I felt sluggish, unmotivated, unhealthy, unhappy, out of control, out of shape, and simply just not well. It took a while until I could take a hard look at the mirror and truly be honest with myself about what was going on. So, finally, in 2017, just before my birthday, I decided to take on my brother’s dare to try going plant-based for just two weeks. I love a good challenge, so I went all in and decided to take that time to educate myself better, observe how I felt, see small changes that encouraged me to keep going. It was time to re-evaluate my relationship with food and also my relationship with myself. It was a very interesting shift because I didn’t want to suffer or feel deprived. My primary strategy was to approach the process by adding more plant-based food into my diet while I was removing all the dairy, eggs, poultry, meat, and seafood from my meals—basically, any food product derived from anything that had a mother or a face! It wasn’t always a perfect transition because, after the dare period, I went back to being a pescatarian, then lacto-ovo vegetarian (it was still hard to give up my cheese and daily omelet). The resistance made it more difficult because I was so sad about having to give up my favorite food staples at home. Eventually, I saw that I could very much commit to this new approach to my relationship with food because the changes I felt were far too great than clinging on to my daily dose of chicken or beef.
It wasn’t easy reprogramming old habits and creating new ones, but I understood very quickly how positively my life changed. My blood sugar and cholesterol normalized from a high-risk status, I stopped pill-popping to resolve any health issues or pain from pre-menstrual syndrome, I stopped going to the emergency room for terrible allergy attacks, my hyperacidity and acid reflux were no longer an uncomfortable daily issue I had to manage, my skin eczema and acne disappeared, I wasn’t having a cold or flu regularly, I slept better, performed at the gym better, had more energy, and I was also able to manage stress in my life in a more efficient way because I felt better inside and was so inspired!
It was only later on, after a lot of research, watching countless documentaries and movies, meeting other like-minded folks, and seeing the pressing global issues, that one key motivator became helping the planet in my own way. It was very overwhelming at first, and I also swiftly saw how all the realities could easily transform into what I refer to as the vegan rage. This stigma and stereotype is often associated with protestors and passionate people sharing uncomfortable truths about the big industries and where our food comes from. These truths are often the hardest pill to swallow because nobody ever really likes being told that their life choices are wrong and harmful. It is most definitely not a good feeling to accept, but it is also something we can change and grow from if we approach it openly and pro-actively. I also found myself having to explain myself countless of times to people who either felt being plant-based was such an alien concept, didn’t understand where to start, was confused about the different terminologies (vegan, raw vegan, ovo-lacto, vegetarian, or fruitarian), or to people who I probably triggered because they “could never give up a good juicy steak or cheese.”
Either way, I always told myself how powerful being equipped with an encouraging approach can be. Sometimes, people just need a little bit more incentive because the primary nature of human beings is understanding the benefits of doing things and also finding purpose. Nobody is perfect, but I am a firm believer that when we know better, we can also do better. Our attitude and perception are such vital tools to have in our own personal journeys. The way I want to approach my journey is to truly enjoy and have fun with the process, be mindful and re-center myself, allow myself to be kinder with myself and others, not be afraid of making mistakes, and just try and do something about obstacles and challenges that come my way. I can’t stress enough how valuable merely trying can be because you’re literally one choice away from becoming a completely different person.
However, like with most things of value, it takes time to nurture and grow into a unique treasure. I believe that everything is energy and what we put in our body translates into somatic, psychological, and even emotional manifestations. For as long as I can remember, food held this power in my life. As it is also the only art you can experience with all your senses, our relationship and consumption of food create imprints and memories that become an essential part of our lives. I also believe that goodness must be shared. Becoming a vegan has changed my life for the better, and as someone who has had a lifetime passion for food, I can see how my relationship with myself has a direct correlation with my relationship with food, the environment, and with those around me. My primary motivation for all the articles and recipes I will be sharing with you is to be your vegan buddy and cheerleader you can share your journey with. Please remember too that this is not a cure-all and end-all. I cannot stress enough how important it is to see a healthcare practitioner who is well-equipped with the studies of the effects of the plant-based diet. Also, every body is different, so there will be moments where you will have to tweak and adjust. Keep in mind that to truly feel the effects of going plant-based, you will need at least three to six months of observation, trial, and adjustments. The most important rule for me is to enjoy and have fun but also be responsible. After all, eating just vegan cookies and French fries is not healthy. Focus on nutrient-dense food and finding the balance of what works for you. If I can only share with you the delight and exhilarating feeling changing my relationship with food has given me, then I will have achieved what I set out to do.
*Editor’s Note: Read the second part of her article which details some tips and equipment you need to get yourself started on the vegan lifestyle, here.
I’m very passionate about enjoying life through food experiences and adventures. As an ex-omnivore, it is my personal mission to share fun plant-based creations, encourage others to rediscover eating more greens, and eat in a way that nourishes while doing good for the planet.
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