10 February 2009

The Definition of 'Vegetarian' in the Philippines

An excerpt from an email I received from "Hayabusa":

"......since you were on the topic anyway, why do vegetarians in the Philippines eat fish?.....

...... Can I be vegetarian and eat fish?.......

......what particular Filipino food/condiments are not vegetarian?........."


Dear Hayabusa,

I have this theory. Some Filipinos think that it is alright for vegetarians to eat fish because of a specific Catholic Church tradition called abstinence, which is mandated upon Catholics during certain times of the year. Abstinence requires that one abstain from animal products, but this practice allows for the consumption of seafood in some cultures, ours being one of them.

I have come across definitions of abstinence that prohibits one from taking even eggs, dairy products and seafood.

I cannot explain why this is so in the Philippines, but I am inclined to believe that the true and original spirit of this doctrine was to exclude all animal products of all kinds, eggs and dairy included.

I surmise that this is why Filipinos often think it is alright for a vegetarian to eat seafood. On all Fridays of Lent, Filipinos avoid all red meat and resort to mostly fish products. I recall, as a boy, expecting to eat munggo, pritong isda, pusit or ukoy on Lenten Fridays.

The term 'Vegetarian' is one coined by a man, particularly one from Europe more than a century ago, and to be true to his definition, you should not be eating beef, chicken, pork and seafood if you are to adhere to his concept. Strictly speaking, you should append the prefix 'pesco' if you eat fish and 'pollo' if you eat chicken to the word 'vegetarian', but then again, these are all just words. Do as you please, as long as you don't harm anyone in the process. :)

Now, vegans are those who avoid even eggs and dairy. So, which one are you? *whew*

If you decide to finally stick to being vegetarian, here are some food items to avoid in the Philippines:
- 'Bagoong' or fish/shrimp paste of all kinds (alamang, balayan, iloko, etc.)
- 'Patis' or fish sauce
- Knorr or Maggi cubes (check the label, some variants contain shrimp)
- Some multivitamins (believe it or not, some contain fish products -- get the box and read the fine print)

To make matters worse, practically ALL Filipino dishes are non-veg!...even the vegetable dishes.
- Chop Suey usually has liver or chicken chunks
- Sinigang usually has fish or fish sauce
- Pakbet usually has fish sauce
- and of course, all the rest such as diniguan, adobo, kare-kare, kaldereta, asado, mechado, etc. all have meat as their primary base ingredient.

Filipinos just can't cook without some sort of meat, so stay away from Filipino restos or food stalls if you can.

Hope this helps!

In the Light,

Ang Kuwago

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