Photograph by Mia Kimberly Villareal
Food & Drink Features

How this hardcore meat lover found the joy in switching to a less meat, more veggies diet

He may love his meat, but JJ Yulo makes a convincing case for a game changing diet of less meat and more veggies that yes, he actually enjoys
JJ Yulo | Jan 25 2020

No, I did not watch The Game Changers yet. (Trust me, though, tons of peeps have asked me if I have seen it on Netflix—more than Two Popes, Witcher, Goblin, and RuPaul’s Drag Race combined!) But I decided long ago never to walk in anyone’s shadow—last year at least, that I was going to take my diet even further by eating even more cleanly than I already do.

I’ve significantly cut down on eating red meat. I don’t know why. There just seemed to be a switch in my brain telling me, “Why not?” Don’t get me wrong—I do still like meat. I looooove a good burger, inihaw na liempo, char siu. But oddly enough, I don’t look for it on a regular basis. Nor do I look for steak, ribs, and stuff along those lines. I’ve learned that I really, really love vegetables, and vegetarian cuisine. Yes, even vegan.

You may also like:

The author indulging in a carnivore’s dream of goto tendon.

So here’s the idea: lean more on plant-based food as much as I can, and have meat when I feel like it—slowly curbing it to a casual minimum, but not totally depriving myself. Although sorry not sorry, I still need dairy in my personal orbit. Cheese is life. And seafood, because why not.

This is, for me, a new age for healthy eating in Manila, simply because even if you eat out at a restaurant, there are more vegetarian choices than ever before. My go-to Chinese joint has a full vegetarian menu, and places like People’s Palace has had one for years. Even a more modest option like Coco Ichibanya has vegetarian Japanese curry. In the United States, fast food joints like Burger King and Carl’s Jr. have veg burgers on the menu. When fast food joints join the fray, you know that it’s going to go mainstream. So yeah, peeps, it’s the green revolution happening.

JJ Yulo enjoying a mostly-veggie salad at a Vietnamese restaurant.

Apart from the obvious benefits to your body, and the pressing needs of our environment, the switch to a more plant-based diet—and eating cleanly in general—has this magic effect on your disposition. You simply feel better, lighter, and brighter. No more meat sweat, nor food comas (Unless you eat a platter of rice, which is another story. Don’t do it!). The idea is also to find ways to eat the veg. Most people, like me, cannot eat salads day in and day out—I’ll go insane. Instead, put it in stews and soups. Put in into tacos or sandwiches. Fold it into omelets. Make awesome condiments to amplify flavors. Use umami filled ingredients like tomatoes and mushrooms.

Here’s how I’m trying to eat—seared tofu, eggplant, okra, mushrooms in fish sauce-laced coconut milk, topped with Chinese chili garlic sauce.

For vegan cooking, follow people like my friend RG on YouTube (her handle is Astig Vegan) who shows the recipes she’s created as someone who wants to make authentic Filipino vegan food (she’s based in the US). It can be done—and what’s a few days a week? Put in some seafood here and there, and you’re eating pretty well.

Eventually, this all boils down to mindset. I used to be like a lot of my friends who think that a meal without any meat isn’t a real meal—you won’t get full, it leaves you wanting for more, etc. etc. But the truth is, there is a whole lot of satisfaction that can be had with plant-based food, too. All it takes is for you to embrace the idea, and really believe you’re not depriving yourself. So here’s to good health for us all in 2020 and beyond—and it all begins with what we eat. Eat what you want in moderation, but lean on plants and natural food (ease up on the processed stuff and the sugary, too). Combine that with movement, some time for yourself, and watch your spirits fly.