For neuroscientist Custer Deocaris, starting the week right means beginning with a meat-free diet that preferably consists of vegetables indigenous to the Philippines.
Deocaris, who is a “balik scientist” or a science professional who recently returned to the Philippines from abroad, is spearheading the “Luntiang Lunes” campaign that aims to get Filipinos to shun meat and eat more vegetables and brown rice at least once a week.
And he wants them to eat not just any vegetable. Deocaris wants Filipinos, whom he describes as voracious meat eaters, to embrace indigenous greens that have not been given much attention and are slowly becoming strangers to the younger generation. The vegetables that Filipinos tend to consume are those imported from abroad, he lamented.
The top 10 indigenous vegetables of the Philippines, which he wants more Filipinos to eat, are alugbati, ampalaya, himbabao, kulitis, labong, upo, malunggay, pako, saluyut and talinum.
The Luntiang Lunes campaign is the Philippine version of the “Meatless Monday” campaign in the United States that encourages people to cut meat once a week for health and environmental reasons.
The Meatless Monday program was started in 2003 by the Johns Hopkins and Columbia University Schools of Public Health.
Deocaris jump-started his Luntiang Lunes campaign by putting up a kiosk at the Philippine Heart Center where he sells low-salt, meatless dishes and brown rice.
He also plans to take his campaign to call centers and schools, and has gotten the support of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines. Children, in particular, are lured into consuming a lot of meat at an early age because of fast food marketing that specifically targets them, he said.
Deocaris also wants to battle the negative notions associated with eating vegetables.
He lamented that some people associate vegetables with poverty, since they consider greens as the food of the poor. He said this idea should be banished, and he plans on getting the country’s top businessmen and high-profile personalities to show that they enjoy and benefit from eating their vegetables.
Deocaris can very well tick off the many benefits of going vegetarian or even just eating more vegetables and brown rice.
For one, it cuts the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, he said. There have also been studies showing that a vegetarian diet could make people more compassionate, he added.
The environment would also benefit from a reduction in meat consumption, he said, noting that even the United Nations has urged people to have a meat- and dairy-free diet in order to curb global warming.
Deocaris has found a partner in the Philippine Heart Center, which has an organic garden that features a lot of plants and vegetables indigenous to the Philippines.