“Mesa ni Misis, on the surface, is about vegetables and health,” the Mesa ni Misis founder says. “But what it really is, is taking care of your neighbors—taking care of their health watching out for them.”
An interest in the arts, a solid experience in publishing, and a healthier nation as her advocacy. Juana Manahan-Yupangco is many different things rolled into one beautiful woman with a huge heart.
Her non-profit organization—Mesa ni Misis—has been around for a couple of years now, promoting a healthier, plant-based diet for Filipinos. It’s a diet that heals, nourishes, and won’t break the bank.
“In 2016, my husband [Rick] had a health scare,” Juana shares when asked when she started her plant-based journey. “It was a cholesterol-related issue and my husband was ordered to take meds. We didn’t want to so we went on an all-organic diet,” she said.
This helped her husband’s cholesterol levels but Juana noticed how expensive it was to stick to an organic diet in the Philippines. Around the same time, their driver who’s been working for her family for 30 years contracted diabetes due to an unhealthy lifestyle.
“We thought we were going to lose him,” Juana says. “But he changed his diet to mostly local vegetables and he’s back to being in great shape. He drove me here today,” she adds while getting her makeup done for the shoot. He didn’t go fully-organic but he did switch to more local vegetables, mostly leafy greens.
It got Juana thinking about what we have here locally and how her helpers would make healthy food and soups for her back when she was breastfeeding her newborn son. “There has to be something there.”
Local produce as the way to go
Juana took nutrition courses at the Colin Campbell Center for Plant Based Nutrition and harnessed her love for cooking for her family to create a plant-based cookbook also called Mesa ni Misis.
In the book, she shows Filipinos how they can use local produce to create delicious meals that even children will eat. From fake apple pie that uses sayote, bolognese with protein-rich mongo, and low-carb lasagna made out of upo, Juana gives local vegetables a new flavor profile by incorporating them in international yet familiar dishes.
Mesa ni Misis also works hard on their seminars to teach people the benefits of plant-based eating. She admits, however, that it’s a tough job as Philippine cuisine does use a lot of meat. Yet Juana—who is a firm believer of her advocacy—perseveres.
“I’m not pushing for people to go vegan. I just want them to balance their meals and eat less meat because it’s good for them and the environment,” Juana says. She adds that most people who grew up in the province do have love for vegetables but end up changing their diet once they move to Manila where they become more exposed to instant food.
“We have friends who used to eat local produce but switched their diet when they moved to Manila. I, myself grew up eating Spam but my mom will push for vegetables pa rin,” she admits, adding that in the big city, people tend to go for what’s convenient so instant food remains popular even though it’s not the healthiest option.
She hopes to help people get back into that way of life. “For me, even if I convince just one person who would try more vegetables, I’d be super happy.”
As the pandemic persisted, Mesa ni Misis got busy feeding kids from a local public school. Juana and her team would bring excess produce—fruits and vegetables that are not ‘pretty’ enough for selling at grocery stores—to Comembo Elementary School.
The produce are still fresh and good for about five days but they normally just have physical imperfections. A bruised banana, a leaf that’s not perky enough—things that won’t matter once ingested. Instead of letting them go to waste, they bring them to the school where parents can pick them up and cook for their kids at home.
“I give seminars every month to the parents to teach them new ways to cook and make their kids eat more gulay,” Juana adds.
Words and advocacies
Juana loves to kid about how she comes from a family of artists yet she cannot draw or paint. That, of course, doesn’t mean she’s not artistic. Her art, comes in the form of words and how they contribute to her advocacies.
Juana majored in art history before moving on to spending 12 years in publishing. Through her time in the industry, she found herself learning and incorporating design into her daily life and her career. It helped her cultivate her own style and confidence, which helps her push her passions and advocacies further. A style that’s timeless, classic.
Much like jewelry brand Cartier’s culture of design, Juana is often seen in pieces that blend her femininity and compelling energy. Clean and precise lines, in powerful, iconic pieces that stand the test of time.
Cartier’s iconic collections—Santos, Tank, Trinity, Love, Juste Un Clou, Panthère and Ballon Bleu—also evoke a feeling of timelessness. Each piece in every collection, is truly iconic.
“You can’t be timeless without good quality and with that comes great design,” Juana says when asked about Cartier’s pieces. “It’s not going to last if it’s not made well.”
Similarly, Juana hopes that her advocacies can be sustainable in creating ripples of change that will affect the lives of every Filipino. A timeless cause that can help everyone live healthier wherever they may be in life.
And to her, that’s one of the things that make her life meaningful—as the path set for her by her faith.
“Mesa ni Misis, on the surface, is about vegetables and health,” she says. “But what it really is, is taking care of your neighbors—taking care of their health watching out for them.” Juana adds that this might just be her art and her gift—the way she gets to work on her purpose is her own brand of artistic expression.
Currently, Juana is working on her masters on Global Food Security and Nutrition at the University of Edinburgh. She sees it as another step in furthering her passion to help people eat better and live longer.
This story is in the December 2021-January 2022 issue of Lifestyle Asia.
Photos by SEVEN BARRETTO assisted by ERWIN BOTIN, DARIEL MIRAFLOR, & CLAUDE VILLAHERMOSA
Creative Direction JANN PASCUA & MARC YELLOW
Stylist RYUJI SHIOMITSU assisted by BEA GUERRERO & MIGUEL QUILANG
Makeup Artist PONG NIU assisted by MARK THANIE EDER
Hairstylist DARWIN SIÑEL using Revlon Professional
Videographer EXCEL PANLAQUE
Nails JENNY ROSE OF TRIPLE LUCK BROW & NAIL SALON
Shoot Coordination SARA SIGUION-REYNA, ERICA LUNA, MAE TALAID & MJ ALMERO
Shot on Location at LAS CASAS DE ACUZAR, QUEZON CITY
Special thanks to JOVY ACUZAR, JANE ANDRES, LOUELA TRINIDAD AND JOREN ESTIPONA FROM LAS CASAS DE ACUZAR, OGIE RODRIGUEZ FROM LUCKY NAIL SALON