Ever thought about going on a plant-based diet? Ready-to-eat vegan options and meal substitutes have become more available in the market, especially in the US. In Southeast Asia, where agriculture is still one of the biggest markets, fresh greens can be bought at very affordable prices. And in case you didn’t know, Singapore and Makati, Philippines are considered to be two of the most vegan-friendly cities in the region. Yet those who subscribe to the vegan lifestyle are still very much in the minority.
How her vegan lifestyle began
For Jeeca, it all started back in 2015. "I was fresh out of high school and had a long five-month summer before I started college. I made the switch overnight in April of that year after I watched the documentary 'Earthlings,'" she shared. "That was the turning point for me and I knew after watching it that I didn't want to support the cruelty towards animals anymore. From there, I also started learning more about the environmental and health aspects of veganism and it’s also what helped me stick to my decision."
After her life-changing realisation, she had to slowly broach the topic with her family because she was still living at home as a student. "I didn't know how to bring it up when I decided to make the switch considering I was just 17 at that time," she said, sharing that she read a lot of stories from teens in other countries who had a difficult time talking about veganism to their parents who didn't understand the lifestyle and were worried they'd end up with a sort of deficiency and not get enough nutrients. "I really had to do my research and make sure I was ready with the questions, especially on nutrition, since that's what a lot of parents would normally worry about especially [with their kids] being so young," she continued.
After that, she delicately opened up about her decision to make the switch to veganism. "I started slowly breaking it to them by preparing vegan food at home and I’d explain why I no longer ate the meat at the table. Then I explained that I watched 'Earthlings' and don’t want to support the cruelty towards animals anymore."
Jeeca's mum was very supportive of her lifestyle and diet switch. However, she had to convince other members of her family that going vegan wouldn’t be detrimental to her health. "It involved a lot of heated discussions, especially with my father, on why I couldn't at least eat seafood or egg," she recalled. "He was worried. I actually got a regular yearly blood test for the first three years of my vegan journey since my dad wanted to make sure I was getting enough of everything! My blood works were all normal and I actually had better protein levels than the rest of my family."
After that, it was pretty smooth sailing. "So from there, they were more comfortable with me being vegan and they also saw how it benefited me in terms of my overall energy levels, and they too saw that I wasn’t at all deprived with the food I consumed."
What it's like being vegan in a non-vegan family
Jeeca counts herself as very fortunate that the adjustment period from non-vegan to vegan went fairly easy for her. "I usually cook my own food and share them with my family so, in terms of adjustment, they just had to get used to me not eating what they would eat. They did, of course, go through that phase where they'd offer me something not knowing it had animal products in it and I’d have to decline. But slowly, they learned about what vegans don’t consume more and more. At present, I actually cook most of the food at home and my family enjoys it too," she happily shared.
Even grocery shopping became more vegan-leaning since her non-vegan family also began enjoying the meals she prepared. "My mum and I do most of the shopping and since my family has switched to eating more vegan food (so more fruits and veggies), we purchase more produce these days. We also buy a lot of canned corn, mushrooms, beans, and other veggies. My mom is actually pescatarian so the meat purchased is really just for my sister and father, so it’s in very small quantities. The bulk of our groceries really goes to fruits, veggies, and lots of tofu."
While her family is still mostly omnivores, Jeeca's perfectly fine with the arrangement they have. "I honestly have nothing against people who still consume meat. At the end of the day making changes to your diet is a personal choice so it’s ultimately up to you if you want to eat completely vegan or just try vegan food every now and then. I never really tried persuading anyone to go vegan because I know that it's not something someone can easily do without having the proper reasons," she said, sharing that a lot of people have succumbed to the vegan diet and lifestyle "trend" for the wrong reasons.
The challenges of going vegan in the Philippines
That said, there were some challenges in making the transition, especially with looking for vegan food options in the grocery five years ago. "It wasn't very difficult going vegan in the Philippines since I took it upon myself to do lots of research on what plant-based substitutes I could use to cook my usual meals," Jeeca mused. "Though in terms of readily available vegan options and products in the Philippine market, I could say it was challenging especially compared to other countries like the US, UK, and Australia that have way more readily available vegan food that is convenient especially for those with busy schedules."
"I really had to wake up earlier than usual and allot time to cook my meals, which was quite challenging once I started school," she said. "But I learned about little 'hacks' for quick dishes like fried rice, noodles, pasta, that I could cook in less than 30 minutes. But most of the time, I really had to prepare my own meals from scratch since vegan, ready-to-eat products weren't readily available back in 2015. The vegan scene has grown immensely over the years though. Now, there are a lot more options available so it's easier for people to make the switch or just add more vegan food to their day-to-day meals."
Her tips on making the switch to veganism
For those who want to make the big leap to going vegan but come from non-vegan families, Jeeca has some words of advice. "Follow your instincts and listen to yourself because at the end of the day switching to a vegan lifestyle is a personal choice! No matter what other people's opinions are on it, at the end of the day you’ll make the decision on whether or not it’s something you want to do."
Jeeca also recommends doing in-depth research about the lifestyle. "It's also, of course, important to know the facts since you’ll have to explain veganism to a lot of people and how it can benefit you, as well as its impact on other aspects [of your life]," she cautioned.
"A lot of people will have questions mainly because it's a new concept for them. It can be tough because people around you might be sceptical at first and social events are definitely tricky at times, but you’ll see that those around you who really respect and care for you will be accepting, understanding, and supportive of your decision. With vegan food becoming more mainstream, more and more people are learning about it and are open to it even if they just have a few vegan meals or try it out every now and then," she explained.
At the end of the day, being vegan is not just about the food you eat. "It really requires a lot of sacrifices, including the phase of explaining to people why you don't eat this or don't use that, which was especially challenging in social situations. So for me, it’s really up to the person to learn about veganism and what it is they can do if they want to eat more plant-based [food] and change certain things about their lifestyle."
(Cover photo from: @thefoodietakesflight)
For more stories like Jeeca's, meet three other people who chose to switch to a plant-based diet.