To celebrate Nutrition Month, the Mama Sita’s Mga Kuwentong Pagkain (MKP) spotlights the stories of inspiring Filipinos, whose creativity in the kitchen proves one can enjoy healthy, wholesome meals and at the same time appreciate the value of living sustainably. If you have food stories to share, watch out for the next MKP contest.
Jessica “Jeeca” Uy is a 24-year-old digital personality who started an Instagram account in 2015. Today, she has over 800,000 followers, a website, a book, and more posts up her sleeve. What makes her different from other online personalities her age? Her insta is about cooking – vegan cooking.
“I learned to cook when I was younger, but it was when I went vegan that I really got to apply what I learned growing up,” shares Jeeca, who went vegan in the same year she started her social media handle, @thefoodietakesflight.
“I wanted to create vegan versions of my favorite food. I learned a lot from simple stir-frying, braising, pan-frying, baking techniques that I get to apply to plant-based food and alternative protein, like my favorite tofu, today.”
The young cook shares that going vegan “overnight” and being vegan through college had its challenges, but she wouldn’t have wanted it another way. “I think being vegan made me see vegetables in a different light. I saw them as more than just a side or an accompaniment to another main ingredient, and instead saw the potential of tofu and vegetables as the main star of the dish. There are so many different vegetables with varying textures and tastes that I really love to work with.”
This new perspective inspired Jeeca to spend hours in the kitchen experimenting with ingredients, flavors, textures, and techniques. Her style is not to focus on salads and wraps, but to reimagine the food she grew up with as vegan dishes.
Healthy and wholesome eating
Veganism is often associated with healthful living, and one reason why is the use of fresh and wholesome ingredients. Jeeca shares that she doesn’t “do big grocery shopping days,” but buys her fresh produce from a vegetable vendor who passes by her house. “His name is Rey and I usually get what I need for the day (and the upcoming three to five days) from him and work around what I want to cook from there. So, if today he comes selling bell peppers and eggplants, I’d usually buy a few and make an eggplant dish and something with bell peppers for the week.”
Her menu revolves around what’s fresh and available. Tofu and fresh shiitake and king oyster mushrooms are always in stock, as well as dry goods like rice, noodles, beans, and dried mushrooms. She buys from her local Chinese or Korean stores. Her freezer keeps frozen noodles, dumpling wrappers, and ready-to-eat vegan food (which she enjoys occasionally as a treat). “I could say my menus are very dependent on what product and ingredients I have access to and work around those,” says Jeeca.
Seasonings, oils, and sauces
Of course, there are the seasonings and sauces she uses to create different flavor profiles. Some of her go-to options include soy sauces, vinegar, sesame oil, vegetarian oyster sauce, sake, mirin, fermented bean pastes, and chili sauces. She even makes her own chili oil.
For Filipino cooking, Jeeca shares, “I love Mama Sita’s Coconut Vinegar, Sukang Iloko, and Pinoy Ensalada for vinegar — I have an ever-growing stash of vinegar at home that I use for cooking and making different sauces for dipping or marinades. Vinegar is a key ingredient in Filipino cooking, so I really can’t live without them. I really love the different sinigang mixes, from the classic Sinigang sa Sampalok to Sinigang sa Bayabas. I love how these are vegan by default! I use Mama Sita’s Vegetarian Oyster Sauce, Barbecue Marinade, Sisig, and Adobo Marinade for my recipes. They’re super handy to have in my pantry and are staples for my cooking.”
What’s interesting is that this vegan cook’s creativity led her to use the Sinigang Mix in a different way: “I’ve actually made sinigang fried rice using the sinigang powders. It’s actually so good to sprinkle the powder over anything and everything, but that fried rice was just on another level with a mix of vegetables!” she shares.
Seven years since her lifestyle change, Jeeca can say that her food choices go beyond the plate: this young cook’s healthy cooking is also her way of living a more sustainable lifestyle. With her creativity, influence, and relevant message, Jeeca has shown that foodies like her can not only take flight, but also soar.