Words by Josephus Jules s. Vivas | Photos by Kevin Tristan Espiritu | Hair and makeup by Lourd Ramos
Eating healthy is for everyone. This is the ultimate lesson Juana Manahan Yupangco would like every Filipino to realize through her advocacy Mesa Ni Misis. The movement caters to both lower and higher sectors of society by teaching anybody who wants to learn how to make plant-based meals that are delicious and budget friendly. Another highlight is the collaborations with upscale restaurants and gourmet chefs, and together, create epicurean dishes focused on using local produce.
The woman behind the table
Juana comes from a family of artists, her father being TV and film legend Johnny Manahan, better known as “Mr. M.” Born and raised in the Philippines, she took up primary and secondary studies here, but got her degree in History of Art at University College London. She is a writer and an editor: she was the editor-in-chief of a parenting magazine and of the website juana.com.ph. As a wife and mother, Juana wants only what’s best for her family. She clarifies, “I’m not a cook, I’m not a chef. But I always cook for my family. I’m very health conscious, so I really think about what I feed my kids.” And from her own dining table, the concept of Mesa Ni Misis was born on October 2018.
What or who is Mesa Ni Misis
It is a program, community, website, and Juana herself. The idea was to basically educate other moms on how to serve their families palatable food that is healthy yet affordable. She explains, “The concept is really from my table- I’m a misis of the house- to other people’s tables. So we speak to the women of the house, since they decide how a family eats and is nourished.”
As for the campaign part, it starts with nutritional talks, guiding kababayans in different barangays, that having a green diet is advantageous and can even heal our bodies and provide nourishment more than other diets or food can. There are also cooking workshops for the underprivileged, showcasing scrumptious but inexpensive and nutritious dishes made from ingredients readily available in the palengke. Juana states, “I concentrate a lot on the underserved communities because they earn their wages daily, about P 250-P 400 a day. Eating healthy is not expensive. Most of the recipes are below P 250 and could feed four.”
In return, the participants from the seminars share to one another their knowledge on healthy cooking, essentially generating a network of foodies or what we can call a ‘nourishing community.’ More often than not, these people communicate and contribute to and through the social media and website of Mesa Ni Misis. The online platform could best be described as a feed that feeds. Juana successfully comes up with recipes that are easily accessible to everyone, based on her research, experience, creativity, and other people’s inputs.
“I read a lot of recipes. I look at other cuisines from all over the world. I think about it, how do I make this local? What can I substitute na lasang ganito that’s actually cheaper. When I travel also, I taste familiar things.” She does this while also promoting homegrown vegetables, which potentially increases the demand for local farmers.
Juana also shares, “I really love it when the people who follow me on Instagram message me say: We tried your sitaw recipe and I made my own version. Look at it.” She adds, “It’s funny that my favorite recipes come from other people’s kitchens and eventually, that’s what I want Mesa Ni Misis to be. A real collaboration of other people’s ideas.”
Her cause has gained significant support even from the culinary and agriculture industry. She’s been able to work with food establishments like, LANAI Café, Discovery Primea, Wildflour, and M Dining. Meanwhile, farm and farmers like Kai Farms, Real Food, and Holy Carabao, have also contributed some of their insights and information.
More importantly, it is Juana’s altruism which allowed her to venture into the advocacy in the first place. Her magnanimous heart, perseverance, and imagination, have brought her to where she is now. Above all of these traits, she perceives authenticity as the key to her success. “I think something that people appreciate about Mesa Ni Misis is that it’s very authentic. And I think so far, that’s brought the movement the success that it’s getting. And I hope that that’s what would continue to propel it to become even more successful.”
Among the challenges she faces, Juana spoke of how hard it was to convince people that eating vegetables is enough. “People say, hindi ako magulay eh,” That’s why she tries to make the dishes hearty so that vegetables are not just sides, but a main dish. There’s the misconception that eating healthy is only for the privileged, and people generally believe that canned goods and instant foods are the better and practical choices. She answers that processed food is extremely unhealthy as it contains bad cholesterol, simple carbs with no nutrition, and no fiber whatsoever.
Juana also points out that it is actually the parents who are harder to persuade. “Young people are very impressionable; it’s a good time to talk about these things, like the impact of carbon footprint from the meat industry, in the earth. The youth see what’s happening and what’s around them, it’s the parents that are harder to convince.”
Health tips from the misis
Juana imparts two of her tips for healthy eating. The first is to cut down on animal products and to try eating plant-based meals now and then, at least three times a week. The other, is to eat what’s in season. She expressed, “You’ll know if it’s in season if you go to the palengke or even the grocery and there’s a lot of it. It’s cheap. When you eat seasonally it’s more nutritious for you because [it’s] the time that nature really expects these fruits and vegetables to come. It’s not coaxed by pesticides or extra growth things that they spray on them. Eating seasonally is cheaper and it’s healthier.”
You are what you eat. Juana is not only helping change what people eat, but how they eat, and ultimately, who they are for the better.