I remember the first time I went back to the Philippines after migrating to the US. It was for a cousin’s wedding back in 2009. I was already vegan then but did not know who else was. Good thing my family cooked me vegan food and took me to a couple of vegan restaurants. Well, they weren’t exactly restaurants but I had a good time. They took me to a vegan cafeteria at the Adventist Medical Center in Manila and to a vegan food stand called “Veggie Today” at the Divisoria mall. Although the vegan choices were scarce back then, to find anything all-vegan at the time was both mind-blowing and thrilling.
The second visit was in 2013, for another cousin’s wedding. In this trip, I got to explore more vegan restaurants and felt brave enough to hold a vegan potluck. About twelve people came to the potluck, most of them omnivores. We all had a blast and I still keep in touch with some of them until now. As for restaurants, I was able to explore about five vegan restaurants. Back then I was very eager to learn about these places and I am so glad I did.
The third and most recent visit was a few weeks ago. Unlike the first two trips, the reason was not for a family occasion. Rather, my fiancee and I wanted to attend and take part in an all-vegan festival called “Vegfest Pilipinas“. The organizers invited me to do a cooking demonstration as well as hold a meet-up. Of course I said yes! Coming from not knowing anyone vegan in the Philippines to now doing a cooking demonstration for an all-vegan festival there has been such a surreal journey!
On our most recent trip, Chris and I landed late at night. I went straight to sleep to get ready for an event the following morning. The festival organizers had put together a separate meet-up for me. I may have been jet-lagged but my excitement was stronger. I couldn’t wait to meet everyone! The meet-up was at the “The Vegan Grocer“, Manila’s all-vegan grocery store. You could find all kinds of vegan stuff there, from vegan ice cream to vegan lechon kawali and everything in between. For the meet-up, the organizers also invited vegan food vendors to sell hot food and sweet desserts. Proceeds from the event helped raise funds for SIFCare, a non-profit humanitarian group.
The meet-up was the first time I had seen so many vegan Filipinos in the Philippines! I was so glad to meet and get to know each one. As soon as we all got situated with our food, we sat around a long table with our vegan meals. We took turns talking about our vegan journey as well as exchanged tips on family life, health and wellness, even vegan dating. Chris and I heard all kinds of personal stories and perspectives. The whole event made me incredibly inspired and empowered to continue my work with Astig Vegan.
The following weekend came and it was time for “Vegfest Pilipinas“, a festival where everything under one roof is vegan. In fact, not only vegan but also with zero-waste and gluten-free vegan options. As soon as you enter the tented plaza, you’ll see a center stage with a big video monitor. Each sides of the plaza stood all kinds of booths that sell vegan food, apparel, skin care, cosmetics, and many more. It was a two-day event that would start in the morning with a physical activity like Zumba and yoga. On stage, speakers took turns talking about the environment, health, ethics, and veganism. Celebrities from both movies and television also went on stage and talked about either their journey as a vegan or their interest in going vegan.
In between talks, you could catch musical bands and vegan cooking demos. One of these demos included Astig Vegan! I showed people how to veganize a Filipino stew called Kaldereta. I was thrilled and relieved that the audience liked my presentation. They intently watched, asked questions, lined up for samples, and asked for photos and selfies. After the demo, I found out on Facebook that one of the audience members recreated the Kaldereta at home! All the warm reception and positive feedback made my heart singing!
At the festival, I’ve met new friends as well as ones that I’ve been following online. The vegan attendees came from all walks of life. Some were in their 70s, some were teens, and some were still babies! Some were yogis, punk rock fans, animal activists, and big vegan foodies. I’ve met people who have been vegan for more than 15 years and ones that just turned vegan and ones that are still thinking about it. Even the unassuming omnivores passing by visited and bought food -even after learning the festival had no animal products.
Each person I’ve met welcomed me graciously. Others approached me for photos, which not only I gladly accepted but also took the opportunity to get to know new friends. Some food booths also gave me freebies. I don’t see myself as a celebrity so that whole experience felt like a dream! I truly felt special and honored. Vegfest Pilipinas has gained me many new friends and I hope to keep in touch with each one of them. Seeing the number of vegans exponentially grow over the years gives me so much inspiration and hope. Who knows, maybe next year’s festival will garner even more vegan Filipinos!
On the second day of the festival, the organizers invited me back for a Q&A interview. I talked about my vegan journey and my insights about Filipino food and veganism. The emcee, Elle Velasco, was quite charming and asked me all kinds of engaging questions. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. Toward the end of the festival, I had the chance to join Elle to host a vegan quiz night which turned out to be quite competitive and fun. Before the festival concluded, Elle and I had the honors to present the awards to the quiz night winners.
Aside from the festival, I was also able to try at least seven vegan and vegetarian restaurants. On top of that, I splurged eating the local fruits that I have missed so much, like chico, mangoes, latundan, and guyabano. I also tried the traditional street food that happens to be vegan like suman wrap, coconut juice, taho pudding, and banana cue.
While the Philippines has gotten more vegan-friendly, I admit it was still hard to navigate around the omnivore restaurant scene. Some people were still not familiar with the word “vegan”. I had the unfortunate times when I would find out later that the servers would just take out the meat from their prepared meals before serving to me, or that the battered mushroom I ate had eggs in it, or that even the clearly labeled “vegan soup” may have non-vegan broth. In those instances, I just had to try my best efforts.
Despite the hit-or-miss dishes at omnivore restaurants, I choose to be optimistic and hopeful. After all, more and more vegan businesses have been popping and thriving in the Philippines, and not just in Manila but in other parts of the country. In fact, I didn’t get to see all the vegan places in my limited time. But to those that I have tried, I will talk about them on my next post. I will also post recommendations from friends. On top of that, I will also include a list of snacks and main dishes to try if you’ll be away from these restaurants. Hopefully, you’ll find the lists useful in case you’re planning to visit the Philippines. Please stay tuned.
The festival continued the following weekend at another place. I wish I had the chance to also catch that one but Chris and I had to fly back in time for Thanksgiving in the Bay Area. I heard the second festival, which happened at Manila Chinatown, was equally successful. Looking through their photos on social media probably didn’t help remedy my homesickness. But I am glad that a lot of people came and they all had fun. Besides, that’s pretty much the point of this gathering, to bring the community together for a good cause. I’m glad the mission was accomplished. Kudos the organizers!
To the organizers of Vegfest Pilipinas, my whole-hearted thank you for putting this important event on the map of the Philippines. It’s a testament to the world that the Philippines knows a thing or two about compassion, kindness, and the vegan lifestyle. I hope the world recognizes that the Filipinos do not sacrifice our identity and tradition by giving up animal products, that the Filipinos could still celebrate who we are as a people and as a nation with open hearts and minds toward our health, the environment, the animals, and our fellow Filipinos. All these while celebrating over delicious vegan food and humane vegan products -not only humane but humanitarian as well. That’s because proceeds from both Vegfest Pilipinas and the Veg Meet-up went to SIFCare and their feeding programs for malnourished children.
I wish Vegfest Pilipinas will continue thriving and attracting attendees. I for one am already looking forward to attend next year!
***Some photos taken at the Vegfest are reposted courtesy of the organizers and friends of Vegfest Pilipinas. Below is a video highlight of the Vegfest, also courtesy of the organizers.