Adherents of cruelty-free and plant-based lifestyle are thriving against a backdrop of a meat-eating country for all the good reasons: the love for animals, health, and the environment.
The 2016 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates the annual meat consumption average of Filipinos at 5 million kilograms, with pork as the most in demand. One Filipino consumes 14.2 kg pork, 11.6 kg chicken and 3 kg beef—which are way beyond the tolerable upper intake levels as suggested by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST). When the normal intake is exceeded, it is equivalent to higher risk of chronic lifestyle diseases. Heart failure, which tops the leading causes of death among Filipinos, equates to about 17 percent of deaths per year.
But diseases don’t come late in life, rather they start building up from early childhood. Several reports suggest that mortality rate among children of this generation is affected by meat-based diet, which takes a toll on the body over time. Around the world, the patients for obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular ailments are getting younger and younger. An article for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) mentioned that meat-eaters have three times the obesity rate of vegetarians, and nine times the obesity rate of vegans. Some studies attribute this occurrence with convenience following the rise of fast food chains offering cholesterol-packed budget meals coupled with aggressive marketing that further perk up its appeal on the young masses.
But to whom does the responsibility rest? Thanks to today’s changing trends in the global market, the paradigm is shifting to a more healthful and ethical lifestyle. After all, we cannot afford to take risks when talking about our family’s health.
“I truly believe that when you impose healthy whole plant food to your family, you also have to be the role model. We were not the type to eat in fast food chains, even when we were non-vegans so fortunately, they (kids) did not really grow up eating hotdogs, eggs or meaty spaghetti,” says Belle Villaflor, mother of two kids, seven and eight-year-olds respectively. “I basically only took out dairy, yogurt, cheese in their diet upon transitioning,” she adds. To sustain her children’s sweet cravings, she channels her creative side to bake healthy alternatives like cookies.
Belle transitioned with her kids two years ago after watching the documentary called Earthlings, while her husband caught on a year after. Health came in second to animal rights as their reasons in shifting to the vegan lifestyle and in so far as their journey is concerned, the benefits are boundless.
Whole plant foods provide healthy and sustainable alternatives with environmental and health benefits. Studies have shown links about the direct benefits a meatless diet have on the environment, slowing down massive degradation due to animal agriculture (livestock, poultry and fishery), which uses massive resources such as water, grains, acres of land and transportation to match the soaring demands for meat. When it leaves behind immense water and carbon footprints, it is unsustainability at its best.
But people doubt what they can’t openly see or feel hence their reservations on what good going vegetarian/ vegan can actually do towards the environment. On the other hand, the story takes a turn when it comes to health, which reflects in the overall well-being of an individual. Combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds provide enough nutrients the body needs and a well-balanced plant-based diet can result to healthy blood pressure and lower risk of developing cardiovascular ailments, certain cancers and diabetes among others. After all, healthier body brings with it opportunities to better enjoy life.
“But where do you get your protein?”
Most people following plant-based lifestyle have been asked this question for so many times that it now almost sounds like a hyperbole. In an article, Harvard's School of Public Health says that proteins are composed of amino acids, necessary to maintaining healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. It also furthers that the human body naturally manufactures 11 of the 20 amino acids we need; the other nine “essential amino acids” that our bodies do not produce can be obtained by eating a variety of vegetables, soymilk, grains, nuts and seeds such as hempseed, chia seed, amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa. Basically, animals get their protein from plant sources which we can eat directly anyway. Which means that you’ll get enough proteins as long as you are mindful.
Other than protein, poorly-balanced plant-based diets are claimed to lack vitamin B12, omega vitamins, and calcium. “But I did my research; I followed vegan parents on YouTube, plant-based doctors, and read a lot of blogs. I made sure my kids would not miss anything from the way we ate before,” adds Belle. She also informed the school about their lifestyle and would prepare vegan food for any potlucks.
“Research is key,” says another vegan parent, Edge Topacio, who has done her own inquiry in order to manage her husband’s cholesterol levels without medication.
“He was diagnosed with really high cholesterol four years ago and was prescribed maintenance medicine which I was not comfortable with. Then I started the research on all the aspects of veganism – animals, environment and health. With what I learned of the vegan diet for health, we successfully got his levels to go from a high 7.5 to a near-normal 5.6 (normal is 5.5) in just 2.5 months!” she adds, attributing it to plant-based nutrition with lower levels of saturated fats, sodium, and cholesterol.
Edge is vegan for four years now. Over a year ago, they had their first born in their seven-year marriage and she is raising their baby vegan from womb up to present. “Because my husband has personally experienced the benefits of the vegan diet, he is fully supportive of raising our baby vegan,” says Edge.
Parenthood is an altogether tough journey. It takes time and thought to raise children and self-doubts are not uncommon. At any given moment, parents would want the best for their kids. But social influence is powerful thus many parents opt to fit to the standards set by their environment.
Among Filipinos, there may be less than one percent of parents who are reported to have raised their baby vegan and plant-based. The first hints of doubt spring from the fear of nutrient-deficiency, claims that are powered by advertising. For instance, infant formula often gets to complement breast feeding, which International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Nona Castillo highly opposes.
“Dairy products are marketed as a top calcium and protein source needed by the human body for proper growth and development. Currently, it is also marketed as a suitable food supplement for pregnant mothers and the elderly,” she says.
“Since 35% of our country's maternal deaths is due to hypertension and many studies show that cow's milk consumption can lead to diabetes, we have to be more vigilant in promoting fruits and vegetables that will not cause any of these problems especially to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers,” she adds.
“We can only present facts and give them support. But in my experience it works,” she furthers. Nona has been vegan herself for 26 years.
Breastfeeding improves baby’s immune system, protect them against infection and reduce the risk of allergies. Milk supplements, usually derived from cow’s milk, are widely used as a complementary food for infants—a practice that Edge is not willing to conform with.
“Based on the research I have done and continue to do, I believe vegan diet is the healthiest diet there is and gives my baby the best chance of being disease-proof,” she says. As recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), “infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.”
The 2014 White Lies Report, a scientific paper that reviewed the findings of over 400 studies, enumerated various illnesses that one can get in consuming dairy. Acne, allergies, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, dementia, food poisoning, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, obesity and osteoporosis are just some of illnesses in the list.
“My baby is currently only 15 months old so I am trying to keep things like sodium, oil, sugar and other processed foods to a minimal. Any other time, I just make up a dish for my baby with whatever I have available at home given she eats most vegetables because we got her used to them from the start,” adds Edge. On her baby’s first birthday, she hosted a fully vegan party.
The trick, she says, is to “expose kids to all sorts of vegetables from the start and just get creative in the kitchen.”