Friday, March 28, 2008

Vegan on a Desert Island

Being vegan in Manila can be a small challenge, but not unbeatable. A handful of restaurants have vegan food; there's always a yaya to prep the tofu and cook the beans; one can easily whip up a meal in the most basic of kitchens. In addition, grocery stores are at our fingertips for fresh produce.

Not so on a remote island in the Philippines. I spent Holy Week in Tingloy Island, a 45 minute banca ride from Bauan Port in Batangas. Batangas may seem city-ish enough for some but let me tell you, Tingloy Island most certainly is not. I don't mean to talk mean about one of the most beautiful islands I've been to, but I'm gonna be honest with you. It's just one of the many islands that are still pretty rural. Sporadic electricity. No cars. A handful of bicycles and motorcycles. Not all houses have fridges. Definitely no grocery stores.

The only stores around are sari-sari stores which sell pre-packaged food in small quantities - junk food, packaged baked goods, soft drinks, and small cans of processed meat and fish. The only fresh produce you'll find would be root crops (camote, camoteng kahoy, gabi) and the occasional eggplant, kalabasa, onion, garlic, and tomato. Most homes have a small garden plot in which coconut trees, papaya trees, and banana plants grow. Batanguenos in Tingloy usually have de lata meat (corned beef, meat loaf, etc.) with rice and egg in the morning together with a cuppa Nescafe coffee. For snacks, there's the junk food or pre-packed cookies / cupcakes from the store. For lunch and dinner, there's freshly caught seafood, sometimes fried, with rice.

I had to bring with me my own box of food. For those who think it's such a hassle to be vegan on an island, let me tell you, this was necessary even for the 10 omnivore girls I was with. The contents of the box was tricky to plan. The food had to be able to last a whole week with no refrigeration in the humid tropical heat. I had to bring fruits and vegetables. The food had to be low-maintenance in cooking -- I had 15-30 minutes of cooking time. And, the food had to be in individual servings so as not to leave extra that would have had to be refrigerated.

What I packed:
  • Cereal - Kashi Go Lean
  • Homemade granola - easier to make than you think
  • Individual boxes of soy milk
  • Roasted peanuts
  • Canned chickpeas (the only local canned beans in the country)
  • Dried lentils
  • Individual sachets of tomato sauce
  • Garlic and onions
  • Low-maintenance veggies: carrots and camote / sweet potatoes
  • Fruits: bananas, oranges, and apples
  • Dried basil leaves and ground cumin
  • Bottle of vegetable oil
  • Green tea
  • 1 plastic container - to store food for the trek
  • Small colander
  • Chopping board
  • Knife for chopping
  • Peeler
  • Can opener - unnecessary as the house we stayed in had one already
Luckily, the other group of girls brought with them a tub of peanut butter and some bread. Other food they brought that I was able to eat: Oreos, spaghetti noodles, and bananas.

Breakfast was usually: a banana, a few tablespoonfuls of peanut butter, a handful of granola, and a cuppa green tea. One morning there was suman. Another morning, when we ran out of bananas, I made a fantastic sandwich: 2 slices of whole-wheat bread, peanut butter, and a couple of (thin) slices of apple. Yum!

We usually had lunch away from home so I had to bring my own lunch.
Day 1: I had a sandwich which I brought from Manila - whole-wheat pita bread, slices of seitan / fake meat, roast eggplant, and bell pepper slices with a pesto and balsamic vinegar dressing
Day 2: cereal with soymilk and peanuts
Day 3: cereal with soymilk again
Day 4: food by Nanay Mely - rice with cabbage and tomatoes and atchara
Day 5: food given to us by Nanay Carmen - rice with a sour soupy salad of cabbage, tomatoes, and kalabasa
Day 6: same as Day 5
Day 7: spent in Manila

Merienda / mid-afternoon snack was usually an apple with a handful of peanuts and the occasional bread.

While lunch wasn't the best meal of the day for me, I made it up with my dinner as I had access to a small kitchen. While the omnivores ate well for lunch, I have to say that I ate better for dinner.
Day 1: sandwich from Manila
Day 2: Mexican chili - chickpeas, tomato sauce, garlic and onions, cumin, chili sauce
Day 3: Italian lentil stew - lentils, tomato sauce, garlic and onions, basil
Day 4: Moroccan chickpeas - chickpeas, onions, cumin - with spaghetti
Day 5: no dinner as I was stuffed on merienda of cereal, apple, and peanut butter on fruit salad
Day 6: Thai curry - chickpeas, eggplant, tomatoes (bought from the sari sari store), garlic, fresh coconut milk (from one of the coconut trees in the yard), fresh tamarind pulp (from tamarind pods foraged during one of the hikes), chili sauce
Day 7: spent in Manila

The great thing about knowing how to cook your own food is sharing it with others, even though they may be suspicious of vegan food. For the vegans out there, don't be scared to go to a remote island! Always prepare before hand and bring the food you need.

For the omnivore girls I spent Holy Week with -- I hope I got you thinking about the animals and about how going veg can still be delicious.

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