It was a scorchingly hot Wednesday in April four years ago.
Val (may his soul be in peace) and I had just finished having lunch at the monastery after a morning of meditation and Buddhist lecture. I vividly remember wearing an overused white cotton t-shirt to offset the sweltering heat, along with a favorite pair of jeans and beige loafers.
That morning’s lecture was about Karma. The Abbess, Shifu Jian Shu, enumerated several logical consequences corresponding transgressions, including, to my surprise, meat consumption. Buddhism discourages eating meat as it forbids killing sentient beings –on the belief that there is a reincarnated soul in each creature. According to Buddhist teachings, the consequence of killing animals and eating them is untimely death.
It automatically made sense to me that moment. Indeed, “When and where in the history of mankind did vegetable consumption lead to sickness and death?” I rhetorically asked my already convinced self. Then hesitation crept in. What do I tell people?
That time, Val had been a vegetarian for a couple of years already. So I began asking him as soon as we were out of the temple. “Dati kapag nag-oorder ako ng sinigang, for example, inaalis ko nalang ‘yung meat. Pero nandoon pa rin sa sabaw ‘yun ‘di ba? Nung tumagal, wala na, hindi na talaga”, he said. (Before when I would order sinigang, for example, I would remove the meat. But the broth is still there, right? After some time, I avoided it entirely).
“So unti-unti rin?” (So, it’s a gradual process?)
“Oo. At ‘wag kang mag-alala pwede pa rin ang french fries”, he said as he motioned to a popular fast food adjacent the street. (Yes and don’t worry. You can still eat french fries). “At ‘kapag vegetarian ka, kahit mainit, fresh pa rin ang feeling.” (And if you’re a vegetarian, even if it’s hot, you’ll still feel fresh).
“Talaga? Baka naman dahil kalbo ka lang”, (Really? Maybe it’s because you’re bald) I teased. And well, eventually, he became a monk.
“Hindi. Saka kapag nag-vegetarian ka, seseksi ka, parang Miss Universe.” (No. And when you become a vegetarian, you’ll be sexier, like a Miss Universe).
The aroma of crisp deep-fried juicy chicken greeted me as soon as I disembarked on Philcoa. There was a flash flood of saliva in my mouth. I was hungry again. With much thought and self-control, I walked past the inviting fast-food chain and quickly headed home. In the fridge, I found raw tofu amidst tempting and hearty cold cuts and prawns. I took the tofu out, prepared to cook rice and placed the white slabs of soy curd in the steamer of the rice cooker.
From then on, I turned my back on meat and seafood, and faced the meat-eating Filipino society that always requires vegetarians, vegans and even pescetarians to justify their existence. While it takes a lot of effort to stand these people, on the other hand, summer became more bearable, and overeating has not been a problem anymore. This April, I’m in my fourth year as a vegetarian.
With the heat index soaring to more than 50 degrees centigrade in some parts of the Philippines, the patient, resilient, spiritual Filipino is challenged.
I do not mean to take advantage of the situation to advocate for vegetarianism. However, seeing people taking portable battery-operated fans with them in the elevator and still sweating profusely as if there’s no urinary system to partake in excretory activities, I hope to somehow help by sharing my life-changing experience.
The Cooling Power of Greens
Am I kidding myself by believing that a vegetarian diet can keep us fresh and cool during summer? Is it all in my mind? According to my friend who is a vegan (someone who doesn’t consume animal and seafood products like fish sauce, mayo or cheese), the answer is no. The body cooling effect of my diet is as real as the recorded feverish temperatures.
Jana Sevilla of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explains that “Vegetables, like lettuces and cucumbers, are rich in water, which helps keep the body hydrated. A lot of vegetables are abundant in vitamin A, C and E that help to protect the body from the sun. Vegans are better defended from the sun by eating more carrots, sweet potatoes, lettuces, broccoli, tomatoes, nuts and dark leafy greens.”
She added that these vegetables can be supplemented with “fruits like watermelon and pineapples, which hydrate the body and are rich in vitamins to help avoid that nasty discomfort from the summer heat.”
Science and Health subjects in my grade school generation taught us that apart from keeping us hydrated, water regulates body temperature–an essential process when environmental temperatures are extreme. Water, however, is not the end all and be all of extinguishing summer heat discomfort.
Neurologist Dr. Danilo Tuazon, who also teaches Psychopharmacology (the effects of food and drugs on behavior), holds an M.D., and has accomplished several certificate courses in health and nutrition throws in another explanation why vegetables and fruits can make the body feel fresher: “To break down and process meat takes a lot of heat and energy compared to fruits and veggies as the latter are just natural since the human body has the same components to the produce of the ground. Meat breakdown requires more effort as it is not initially designed for the consumption of the human body”.
He cited our teeth as physical proof: “We do not possess teeth which are similar to those of lions. Kasi we were not designed to eat meat. Fangs are basically to devour meat in big chunks.”
But how come we find meat appetizing? “Initially we were designed to eat veggies and fruits but we developed our taste to fats and interestingly, any excess fats can be neutralized by veggies and fruits”, Doc Dan said.
By the way, Doc Dan is not a vegetarian. If I may add, it is quite interesting how an open mind can acknowledge facts and realities even if these do not fit one’s personal beliefs and practices.
I am not taking this recommendation but nonetheless will include what he said about the necessity to consume meat products: “Total veggies and fruits is not recommended as vitamin B12 is derived efficiently from some animal products.”
As for me, I get my B12 from vegan supplements.
Heat Stroke Prevention
For Doc Dan, it would be best to reduce meat in the meantime for the sake of lowering the risks of heat stroke. He recommends replacing meat with seafood, and prescribes a 70-30 vegetable to seafood ratio summer diet. “Fish oil and iodine, which are good for the heart and other internal organs, are abundant in seafood,” ahe said.
An example of a summer menu, according to him, would be the Japanese traditional summer meal of unagi (eel), nori (seaweed), steamed rice, cold wheat tea, and cucumber and tomato salad.
For Jana of PETA, this summer is a perfect and exciting time to explore replenishing vegetable salads as well as energizing smoothies and refreshing fruit desserts. She adds: “A plant-based diet is also perfect to staying healthier. It can help lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, rising blood pressure and even accelerated ageing. Switching to plant-based milks, like soy and almond, keeps us from drinking hormones and industrial toxins pumped into cows.”
Diet for Climate Change Mitigation
More than personal health concerns, Jana emphasized that a vegan diet contributes in environmental conservation: “Going vegan is a great way to show that we care for the environment. Because animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change.”
Among the concerns is how meat production consumes a lot of water–a concern very apt this season when scarcity in water supply has been recorded in the country resulting in state of calamity declarations, pest infestations, serious food security threats and bloodshed.
According to data from PETA, it takes 15,500 litres of water to produce a kilo of beef (for animal hydration, and sanitation and waste management purposes) while a kilo of wheat only requires 1,000 litres of water mainly for irrigation.
An increased demand in plant and plant-based products would result in increased attention and priority to the farming sector, and shifts to sanctioned environment-friendly practices in the food production industry.
What Else to Avoid
Apart from meat, Doc Dan also advises against sugar and salt: “Sweet food increases the heat index as the kidney exert extra effort to filter the water with glucose. Also, salty food put extra undue pressure on your kidney.” Sugar is also a “sweet devil” according to him that can mess up your sweet summer vacation memories: “It blocks hippocampus for the conversion of short term memory to long term memory.”
As soon as vacation is over, staying cool headed in this kind of weather in the city becomes a struggle once more as heat elevates stress hormone, cortisol. Good thing, cold vegetables and fruits can help reduce cortisol, too according to Doc Dan.
This (picky eating) may be dismissed as too bourgeois, a bit insensitive to the more pressing issue of food insecurity plaguing our country today.
Unfortunately, not all of us possess political or voting power. Some have failed to enroll for biometrics while others have chosen not to participate in the elections due to waning faith in this process. What is common to almost everyone of us is our buying power. If we can only use the buying power we have no matter how varied or unequal, to steer demand and supply to a more equitable, ethical and humane direction, we can improve the lives of those in the margins.
This is not a call for anyone to go vegetarian or to go vegan. But we can always make mindful choices from food to clothing, to lifestyle, all for the sake of our society and environment. Mine started with eliminating meat and seafood from my diet. Boycotting leather and fur followed. Now I’m staying away from products from manufacturers that are abusive to employees, or have poor environmental practices. I have been trying to patronize locally made social enterprise products instead.
The heat has definitely been getting to our nerves. This dry season, which is not ending anytime soon, might be the perfect time to reflect why it has gotten this bad and how to possibly repair the damage humans themselves have inflicted.
[Entry 134, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Tricia Zafra is a correspondent and anchor working for GMA News. She graduated from UP Diliman with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Communication, cum laude, and is currently taking up graduate studies in the Department of Psychology in the same university (on leave). She is a vegetarian, painter, and a certified open water scuba diver. Read more of her articles here.