Sometimes, a glorious scroll through Instagram is all you need to find great food.
In this case, the evening online dive that I indulged in was inspired by a friend’s insistent recommendation that I look into The Foodie Takes Flight, a brightly manicured vegan food blog run by Chinoy creative foodie Jeeca Uy.
Jeeca, self-described as a 23-year-old vegan with a passion for creating easy vegan recipes, creates dishes inspired by both her Filipino-Chinese upbringing and travels around the world. From sweet and sour “pork” to miso mushroom risotto, The Foodie Takes Flight features a wide variety of Asian dishes that delve into both the classic and the modern. For Chinoys looking into recreating a vegan-friendly childhood favorite, there’s even a recipe on kiampung to follow!
Having accumulated over half a million followers on Instagram since the account’s inception in 2015, it’s no surprise that Jeeca’s culinary adventures have captured the eyes of foodies from all over the globe. Jeeca’s recently published cookbook Vegan Asian can attest to that, having topped Amazon’s Asian Cooking, Food & Wine category immediately after its release last August 31.
As of this writing, the cookbook continues to rank among the top 50 of Amazon’s bestseller Asian Cooking and Vegan Cooking lists and has garnered rave reviews from fellow vegan cooks.
Since then, Jeeca plans to continue using her platform to inspire others to adopt a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. With her forays into the Asian culinary scene, Jeeca shares with CHiNOY TV her journey into veganism and the insights she has gained along the way.
You have a wide selection of delicious and diverse recipes. How did you start cooking?
I’ve always loved to cook. I think it was also because I saw my mom cooking a lot growing up. Our kitchen was always packed and busy, especially when there were family gatherings. I picked up a lot of the cooking techniques I know now from what I witnessed over the years and also from watching a lot of cooking shows!
What do you love about cooking?
For me, it’s become a great way of putting my creativity to the test, especially now since I’ve been on a quest to make vegan versions of my favorite food. With vegan food and cooking, you can use the most basic ingredients and turn them into [dishes] that totally resemble something else. I also find cooking very therapeutic. I feel like I have better control of what I’m doing. And during this pandemic, cooking for my family has become a great way to pass the time.
The way we eat can define our way of living. Can you describe your journey into the vegan lifestyle?
Veganism, for me, was a personal choice I made back in 2015. This was after I watched the documentary Earthlings and knew I didn’t want to support cruelty towards animals. It was something I did cold turkey and never looked back at, but there were many things I had to navigate along the way.
I had to explain my choice, explain veganism, and really break it down to a lot of people. A lot of people didn’t understand. My family was also very skeptical at first, especially because I come from a Filipino-Chinese background where food is the center of a lot of family gatherings and occasions. I didn’t have a hard time adjusting to my choice to be vegan because I did my own research and started preparing my own meals, but it was more about the people around me who had to adjust.
What is veganism to you?
My choice to be vegan was also very personal for me, and I think it’s something you can’t just force onto someone, which is why I never try to convince other people to be vegan. I can show them that it’s doable and give them that push [to show] that they can do it, but I never tell them to give up the ‘norm’ just because it’s something I believe in. It’s ultimately a personal choice. I respect other people’s views on the matter, whether they can be vegan or not.
What difficulties have you encountered with pursuing this diet?
It’s definitely dealing with skeptics. Some people would really try to put you down, so I found it in me to really stick by my decision and the reasons why I went vegan.
Social settings were also tricky especially when I was in college. There were times when I didn’t know how to deal with meeting new people in an environment with food and having to explain why I didn’t eat this or that. But at the end of the day, it became a good conversation starter. I realized how interested people were. Now, people are a lot more interested in veganism than before.
Adapting to a vegan lifestyle can be difficult, especially at the beginning. What tips do you have for those thinking about going vegan?
My three main tips would be to:
- Hold on to your reasons for going vegan. Ultimately, the reasons are what will make you stay. For me, it was about the animals and learning more about the environmental impacts of meat production. Those were the reasons I really held on to. Some people focus on the health side of veganism, and that I see the benefits of that as well, but I’m a junk food vegan, so I’m not the best to ask about this matter.
- Be patient and open-minded. You’ll encounter a lot of skeptics along the way. You’ll encounter a lot of your very traditional titos and titas, friends, and people who’ll question your decision. What I realized is that a lot of the skeptical people I encountered were mostly just concerned since they didn’t know much about veganism. I often get the question, “Where do you get your protein?” I think that’s one of the most-asked questions that I had to answer over and over, so it’s always handy to know how to address these questions to put their minds at ease.
- Be creative! There’s no denying that being vegan in the Philippines is a challenge, but the vegan scene has grown immensely since 2015. There are now so many vegan products available in the market that can help you on your journey. [That said,] it’s always good to be able to prepare things yourself because you get to save money and prepare things to your liking.
In terms of eating out, it also helps to be creative when dining in restaurants that don’t necessarily have vegan or vegetarian labels. I rarely eat at purely vegan or vegetarian restaurants since I usually go out with family or friends. Every cuisine has something to offer you, so it’s good to know which ingredients can be replaced or removed in a dish to make it vegan. You can also always ask the staff or chef if they can prepare a dish without meat, dairy, or eggs.
What made you decide to start The Foodie Takes Flight?
I started The Foodie Takes Flight as an Instagram account back in 2015, right after I went vegan. I was a confused 17-year old, and I didn’t really know who to talk to at that time since I didn’t know other vegans my age. So I jumped on social media and created an account to document my meals and the food I made in hopes to meet other like-minded individuals as well. That decision also made me realize how much I enjoy cooking and sharing my recipes with other people.
Your blog contains several home-cooked Filipino-Chinese recipes. What would you recommend to our audience?
I would recommend my kung pao tofu, sweet and sour “pork”, Taiwanese-style popcorn mushrooms, wontons in chili broth, and scallion buns. The scallion buns are something my sister and I like to prepare together because it involves rolling out dough and twisting. It’s a great family activity to do!
You’ve just released your physical cookbook. How do you feel about the project, and what can we expect from Vegan Asian?
It’s still pretty surreal that I actually have a physical cookbook. When my publisher reached out, I pitched a few ideas to them, then we agreed on a cookbook that focused on Asian recipes. It’s a very broad topic. Because there are way too many dishes to cover in a book, I focused on those that were familiar to me, so the book is a compilation of vegan versions of my favorite dishes that I enjoyed while growing up and traveling.
My whole family loves to eat, and my parents really wanted to invest in travel and experience; and for that, I’m very grateful. They really wanted us to experience different cultures and cuisines, and I think this book is a reflection of that. Overall, it has a good mix of recipes from Southeast and East Asia, with a lot of veganized classics.
What goals do you have for the future?
I’ve no definite plans yet and just really want to see where this takes me. But I know how much I enjoy cooking, so [there will] possibly be a line of vegan products or even a restaurant in the future, but who knows?