Much has been said about the “plant-based diet” when talking about nutrition. But what exactly does it mean? Essentially, all plant-based diets limit animal-derived foods in favor of plants. Instead of a diet centered on meat and dairy, it is replaced with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This approach has been shown to have significant health benefits such as weight loss and disease prevention.
An article from everydayhealth.com states that the main idea of this diet is to make plant-based foods the central part of your meals. It doesn’t mean that meat and seafood are off-limits, one just needs to cut down on those choices.
Consider “plant-based” as a broad category of diets with more specific diets falling under it, including vegetarian, vegan, and Mediterranean diets – even though the latter incorporates fish and poultry, the emphasis is on plant-based choices.
Published studies link diets rich in healthy plant foods with a significantly lower risk of heart disease.
One study in the May 2017 Journal of Geriatric Cardiology found that following a plant-based diet can help prevent and treat type 2 diabetes, citing research that suggests plant-based diets help reduce the risk of other chronic illnesses, including cancer. A review published in the October 2018 BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care suggested that a plant-based diet can have a positive impact on emotional and physical well-being, quality of life, and general health for people living with type 2 diabetes, while also improving physical markers of the condition in this population.
I talked to my friend, Maris Tomas, a plant-based chef and entrepreneur who shared with me her journey towards this lifestyle, and how she discovered her path.
I met Maris in 2017 when she worked at a now-gone vegan coffee shop in Poblacion, Makati called Kismet Cafe, which was located across from the apartment building I used to live in. Aside from being a chef, Maris is also an advocate of food sustainability being a chef consultant at Humane Society International (HSI) for its program in partnership with Kolekbibo, a social enterprise that brings together collaborative creators, to support the wellness needs of north Siargao, as well as a co-owner of two healthy juice brands called Juzu and Vegabooch.
J: When did you embrace the plant-based diet? What moved you to make the decision?
M: I have always been a conscious eater, but did not fully embrace the plant-based diet until 2011 when my dad was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. The doctors’ main advice was one, for him to of course completely stop smoking, and two, to change his rather unhealthy diet to a healthier one. A year later, it progressed to stage 4, and he had to undergo surgery. That was when all of us in our family decided to change our diet to plant-based not just for ourselves, but also to support dad.
I got curious about vegan and vegetarian diets, and I love preparing food for my loved ones, but it was my dad who inspired me to fully embrace the plant-based diet. I started developing recipes that my family would love and enjoy eating. I had just graduated from college with a degree in Entrepreneurship, but I wanted to hone my skills in cooking, so I got myself a diploma in Culinary Arts & Technology Management from the Center for Culinary Arts. Then, I accepted a job offer from The Peninsula Manila, where I learned a lot from seasoned chefs. It was my deep interest to learn more about plant-based diets that led me to later on work at a vegan coffee shop, the Kismet cafe.
J: That’s where we met.
M: Yep, that’s where we met. I’ll always be grateful for my five-year stay at Kismet. I learned a lot from my stay there and met wonderful people who supported me in my career. It was a gateway for me as I started to navigate my way around the vegan world in Metro Manila; I discovered a huge community and followers, which opened doors to a lot of opportunities for me. That’s also when I found the courage to start my own business, offering Mexican street food in bazaars.
J: Is being a chef, and a plant-based one at that, something you’ve always known you wanted to do?
M: It came as a belated realization to me. My parents, before they retired, were in corporate so I thought I would follow in their steps. But I’ve always had this spirit of entrepreneurship. As a student, I’d sell whatever it is I thought would sell — lanyards, t-shirts, et cetera. I have always loved cooking. The first-ever food I prepared by myself was scrambled eggs drizzled with ketchup. I was five or six years old. Instead of watching cartoon shows, I’d watch cooking shows. When I graduated from college, I didn’t have a clear idea of how to marry these two interests of mine. You could say my dad’s health scare offered a break in the clouds and he became my inspiration.
J: Where are you now on the journey? When did you finally realize you have found your niche?
M: I would say I have pretty much found my niche. For some of us in the food business, the pandemic has brought with it some silver linings. In 2020, I started developing plant-based meal plans for small business owners, individuals who want to start their plant-based diet journey but don’t have time to prepare their own meals, diabetics, cancer patients, women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis, women preparing for pregnancy or to be a mom as well as people who advocate for a more sustainable lifestyle through a plant-based diet.
It’s been a fulfilling journey so far. I partnered with a few other friends and we started developing our own kombucha recipes, and thus Vegabooch was born. And then recently, along with two nutritionist friends, we partnered with another friend in managing a flourishing business called Juzu; we offer healthy fruit juice and concentrate made from natural and local ingredients. We are looking at partnering with cafes in strategic locations in the country for this.
J: Tell me about your partnership with Kolekbibo in Siargao. We were supposed to meet there!
M: Yeah, I got sick at that time, and I needed to rebook my flight. My arrival time coincided with your departure time. Sorry for the nth time. (Laughs). My partnership with Kolekbibo in Siargao, a social enterprise that is making its way to becoming a non government organization was born after typhoon Odette in December 2021. The devastation left the vulnerable communities in Siargao with a lot of challenges including scarcity of food and supplies. Among Kolekbibo’s aims is to provide healthy and nutritious meals to at-risk and vulnerable groups in north Siargao, create and support sustainable livelihood opportunities for local residents, as well as educate, and train the members of the community on ways to harness financial stability.
I came in to train and offer creative ways to some women, especially lactating mothers, in Siargao in preparing plant-based meals using locally sourced ingredients. We saw that many of them lack the knowledge in preparing meals or employing various ways to prepare meals using ingredients that are already available.
J: What advice would you give to those who wish to try the plant-based diet but don’t know where to start?
M: Start with the basics and easier options. If you like Filipino food like adobo, caldereta, sinigang, and sisig then have it, just substitute meat with plant-based options like tofu. There are so many creative ways to use tofu and it easily absorbs the flavors. You just have to know the alternatives for meats. One of the challenging parts of switching diets from being a meat-eater to going plant-based is expecting the same taste. Of course, it will be different. You have to manage your expectations and adjust. It gets easier later on as you get used to it.
J: What are you up to these days? What’s been keeping you busy?
M: My businesses and passion projects, the Vegameals, Vegabooch, and Juzu are pretty much taking up so much of my time lately. Plus, my partnership with HSI and Kolekbibo, which are my advocacies, also takes my time. I also make sure to give enough time for my fur babies, exercise, and take as much rest as I can.
J: Wow, you are very occupied.
M: True. There’s no time for a love life. For now. (Laughs). Scratch that off.
J: No, I won’t.
Tips for those who wish to start a plant-based diet:
What to Eat and Drink
• Vegetables, fruits, whole grains (such as quinoa, farro, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, and whole-wheat pasta), nuts (walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, and cashews), seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds), beans, lentils, coffee, and tea (including green, lavender, chamomile, or ginger)
What to Limit
• Dairy (including milk and cheese), meat and poultry (like chicken, beef, and pork), processed animal meats (such as sausages and hot dogs), all animal products (including eggs, dairy, and meat if you’re following a vegan diet), refined grains (such as “white” foods, like white pasta, rice, and bread), sweets (like cookies, brownies, and cake), sweetened beverages (such as soda, and fruit juice), potatoes and french fries, as well as honey (if not vegan).
Planning to go plant-based? Seek the advice of your physician or qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns regarding your health before beginning any nutrition or exercise program. For feedback, I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.