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  • Writer's

My Food Dilemma Philippines. Somethings got to give.

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

I have been in The Philippines for 6 weeks. In this time I have achieved so much and I am absolutely adoring working on Making Roots full time. This is also an incredible time to figure a lot about myself out in rapid time. I am learning when I work best (early mornings absolute fire zone!!) how long I can work for (14 hour days, yes please) and slowly learning how to schedule my day, week and month to make best use of my time.

It’s an art form, and something I’m really enjoying learning more about.

I have also come to the conclusions on what I can and can’t live without.

We are extremely low budget here. I have no wage- living on savings and Lee has a small conservation wage. This has meant that we buy the very minimum we need to get by. I have a stove and one pan. No fridge. No toaster, no blender no oven. Literally, one pan and a burner. We have some forks and spoons, two bowls a few plates and a sink running cold well water.

We have TV that was in the house- that we hardly watch and would certainly not miss it, if the house had come without.

We bought one fan. We have A/C but for environmental reasons and money saving, we don’t really use it- even though the house is not passively build, i.e. its a constructed box designed for A/C, not to flow air through and naturally cool. We do turn on the A/C during big storms- and put our electrical items in the bedroom and close it up. Humidity kills electronics- and my laptop has only just been repaired, I can’t afford another trip to England to fix it if it's dies from humidity again.

We are living very frugally, with cold water showers, limited toiletries, we’re hand washing all of our clothes with rationed out supplies of Dr Bronner.

And from all of this we are learning that we don’t need somethings, me and Lee are quite comfortable with little pocessions.

But there is one thing, that I deem a luxury item that isn't really, that I am struggling to live without, and thats a variety whole plant foods. I’m not talking super luxury foods, I’m talking lentils, bread, vegetables, falafels. And the limited ability to cook here, is something that is causing problems for me. I absolutely adore cooking, in Melbourne we had an extremely low food budget- and spent around $70 per month on food for both of us. In that we ate a very nutritious diet, with lots of scope for me to bake up a storm. This is something I absolutely ADORE and I think it’s incredibly important to experiment, to know food, know how to create delicious, cheap, waste free dinners. We had date balls on tap, Dhals, soups, market fresh salads. I made chutneys from whatever was in abundance at the markets. Cooking is my own art form, a creative outlet.

And I miss it. I miss physically cooking and I miss the luxury of a plant based diet. Here, I have been sticking to my guns a lot and avoiding meat and dairy, plastic, sugar and palm oil. No meat makes me feel lights and healthier, it’s less expensive in Western countries and I assumed the same here and much easier to store a plant based diet with no fridge. But, with a total lack of variety and no cheap source of lentils, bread etc, I have set myself up for a diet of oats with water, spaghetti and soy sauce and purely carbs. Fruit and Veg is expensive here on the island (because growing fruit and veg is very tough on infertile sandy salty soil), and it’s not within our budget to splash on avocado and fruit everyday. One Kalamansi lime here is 5 pesos. On the mainland half a kilo is 7 pesos. However, the boat back and buses is around 350 pesos- and takes a whole day or even an overnight stop depending on the boats. Fresh vegetables and fruit are an epic and well loved weekend treat- but not something we can afford every day. Especially with no wage… So instead of our very cheap lentil and market veg rich diet in Melbourne, I’m stuck on carbs- in an effort to limit meat and dairy intake as much as possible, avoid plastic, eat locally, etc etc.

And this is not working. I am craving peas (I assume my body craving fresh protein). I have spent a lot of time searching recipes and food porn, and a lot of time looking at buddha bowls. I am drooling, whimpering for vegetables. I have also been incredibly lethargic- and I am podgier than I was before, even with lots of heat and walking and swimming. I don’t feel nutritionally balanced enough. It's not sustainable. I do yoga and my muscles feel sore- and not in a good way.

So I decided at the weekend that I have to prioritise food. I HAVE to prioritise eating properly and fueling myself with a proper diet. This means that whilst I am still here I’m going to buy more vegetables and fruit. That means cutting my time here short. I'll have to leave before Lee. Our budget is tight- and more spending here means less time here.

I am also going to stock up on essentials in Bali, and try for the very first time, to have vegan protein powder. Supplementing my diet, is something I don’t really agree with. Normally, I would just want an extremely varied diet, rich in green leafy veg, peas, lentils, grains, legumes, everything. But it’s not an option here, and if I want to gain back health and stay healthy, whilst avoiding damaging foods here, something HAS to give.

I am also "relaxing" my attitude to plastic when it comes to some food items. I hate plastic, and thus far have avoided it. But avoiding plastic so much is making me sick, is not sustainable. Utilising it when I have to, and PROPERLY DISPOSING is a priority. We are doing heaps of beach clean almost daily, but I cannot do these if I am not fueled properly. It might feel hypocritical to be cleaning beaches and eating food from plastic packets- but if I do not have the energy to do it, I can't help at all. We are just making sure we're responsible with disposal. And by using plastics I do not mean we are giving up all of our morals here. I just mean I am allowing myself to buy noodles that do not come without plastic. Yes- I was being that hard on myself. We are still saying no to plastic bags, straws, etc etc and fully utilising our waste free kit. But when something just simply does not come plastic free, and it's an essential, I'm buying it.

Meat is also an incredibly central part of life in The Philippines. Many people only eat meat fish and rice. I am not saying this is a good thing- or healthy- but it's how it is. That makes parties and events that we are attending here- less than vegan. Even when I want to choose the vegetables- they will come with fish or in this weekends case- liver in pasta. If you are a full vegan- I forewarn that you will find it very tough here. I actively try to eat mostly plants and still manage to eat meat by accident a lot. At the weekend, we attended a party in which the most eco friendly option was the fried chicken. There is also a lot of lechon- Pork- served as it is... whole pig on the table. Again, I'm not saying this is right or wrong but I am saying this is the culture. Eating just vegetables is tough AF unless you are prepared. And living somewhere long term- you run out of prep. I am relaxing my attitude to meat here. Sure, I still want to eat mostly plants and I'm not that comortable with eating eat of unknown source at parties- but I also don't want to make myself poorly. Beef is still a big no.

Eating out is also going to become more regular. Buying food is expensive on the island, and shopping on the mainland is insanely tiring and stressful. We cannot buy fruit and vegetables anyway- because they go rotten VERY quickly without a fridge and in a hot humid climate. Not wasting food is my number one priority, so mainland shopping is not a weekly option. Eating veggie options out- means I don't get extremely hot cooking ( in our air con house that we don't use the air con in... ) I have more time to work, less time shopping- and probably less expensive long term.

Not ideal, not entirely eco, or something I am entirely comfortable with, but the very best option I have, for ME right now. I cannot make a earthly change and keep my energy and health whilst on an extremely restrictive and nutritionally poor diet. It's making me sick and also sad. I miss cooking an insane amount- but I guess this has been a great lesson in learning what I love, and cooking is not a chore for me- but an incredible experiment and form of expression.

By the way, this is something that really feeds into this idea that veganism and plant based diet is an incredible luxury.

If you have the CHOICE to go vegan, you are EXTREMELY LUCKY. Eating lots of vegetables, and a balanced plant based diet that is a long term healthy option- you are in a fortunate and luxurious position. Going to the supermarket and having an absolutely mind bogging range of products at your finger tips is something I think, people take hugely for granted. And sure, I choose to eat plant based when I'm in this situation. Western countries have unbelievable delicious options that are plant based that are healthy, less carbon intensive (when you eat locally and seasonally). But being a hard core adovocate for vegan widespread right now, is not ethical or encompassing the worlds food poverty and diet. I am in the position now, where without access to supplements, and the specialised food items that I love- I am pretty stuck and I feel the pain of locals with a daily wage of around £1 who need to eat. They eat what is local (and free-in the case of fish). Meat is a source of a huge amount of nutrients that are not available in a limited vegan diet.

Many people do not have food choice- and the choice to eat with their emotions.


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