I have always liked looking into the vegan food creations of Elpijo Mijar Ju III RN, owner, and founder of ELPI Vellychon Haus. They are a feast to my eyes and a better feast to my vegan tummy every time I get to indulge in them.
Elpi, as he is fondly called, is a registered nurse, a chef, and an artist in his own right who creates edible masterpieces of healthier, plant-based delicacies that never fail to leave all senses satisfied, including mine. But what draws people into this charismatic lad, I believe, is more than just his looks or his charm (that line was sponsored with a box of ELPI Vellychon and Vegan Siopao). It is his passion, wit, intelligence, grit, character, and inspiring stories you read online and watch on the television of his ongoing journey through failures and success that sets him apart and makes him the unique and unforgettable person that he is. Chef Eli is someone worth knowing and hearing with much wisdom on sustainability and relevant topics he can shed light on. Listening to his quirky yet well-balanced and right on-the-money insights with things related to health, medicine, cooking, sustainable and plant-based lifestyle and other topics that interest us under the sun are always something I, and I know anyone, would always look forward to.
When I was in isolation due to Covid-19, I couldn't be more eager to find out more about health, living right and the virus and he is one of those who are always on top of my mind when it comes to these things; so I decided to interview with him and pick his brain.
Read on to know more about him, his business, his food creations, and his advocacies. Let’s also go deeper and gather more learnings and views through his take on this pandemic, the vaccines, and other very pertinent and very much needed information that is worth to be shared with everyone given all the things that are happening around us.
WHEN DID YOU START BEING VEGAN AND WHO OR WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO DO SO?
My journey towards Veganism started midyear of 2011 while I was reviewing for the Nursing Licensure Exam. I happened to watch a documentary film on Youtube and learned that according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations (FAO-UN) Animal Agriculture is the number one culprit towards Global warming or Climate change. FAO says livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” At the same time, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Heart Disease is the world’s top 1 human killer and that is due to high meat consumption. It has also officially enlisted “Processed Meats” as carcinogenic (causes cancer), the same category as tobacco smoking and asbestos.
As a Christian, I also consulted the Bible (Genesis 1:29), which says that the original diet God gave to man was vegan (pure vegetarian) and we are supposed to be taking care of the earth along with its inhabitants (the animals).
So I guess, my common sense told me to stop eating meat and its animal bi-products. Our meat consumption is not only killing innocent animals, it is also killing our health and the planet. By going vegan, I can help solve the top global issues on this planet in terms of health and the environment.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GET INTO THE PLANT-BASED FOOD BUSINESS?
I post my simple vegan creations on social media. I made Longganisa, Burgers, Tocino and Scrambled “Vegg” and even Leche Flan out from plants. Everything was made from pure plant-based ingredients. No meat, no eggs, and no Dairy. People started to get curious about it. They encouraged me to make more of them and are willing to buy from me. I cook from home and deliver my products to different offices. Vegan celebrities like Rafael Rosell happened to visit Gensan for a Mall Tour, his manager contacted me to cook vegan food for him since it was very hard to find a restaurant here in Gensan which offers a pure plant-based menu or vegan food. So I cooked for him and he totally liked it. He posted my creations on his own social media accounts and gathered thousand of likes and shares. Eventually, the demand for my products grew and that pushed me to put up my own Vegan resto here in Gensan.
As the saying goes, "You can get a man through his belly." I am referring to food. As much as I want others to follow in my footsteps right away, all I can do is just plant seeds into their hearts and hope that they will grow. To inspire and to educate them about the benefits of this lifestyle and I plan to do it through serving delicious vegan food. In June of the year 2017, I opened the first-ever Vegan Restaurant in my hometown, General Santos City, the ELPI VEGAN RESTO. This is my avenue to showcase my craft, my passion, and advocacy towards eating better for our health, for the animals, and our planet by serving people flavorful vegan (Pure plant-based) food, hoping that one day, people will realize that eating vegan is never boring at all and being vegan is the future, a future where we live better, a future where humans, animals, and nature live in harmony. That is my vision and I hope I can witness it in my lifetime. It starts with one plate, one happy tummy, and one happy customer at a time.
Unfortunately, due to the pandemic’s prolonged lockdown, I have to close down my vegan restaurant in Gensan last June 2020. I transferred to Manila in order to rebuild myself.
December 14, 2020, I decided to put my mark at the Lechon Capital of the Philippines in La Loma by putting my brand there as the Philippines’ FIRST Plant-based Lechon House. I was the first one to sell a plant-based version of “Lechon” right at the heart of the Lechon capital of the Philippines. It took me a lot of courage to do it. It was scary at first, fortunately, my concept and brand went viral. Many TV programs and big social media platforms have featured my story and my brand.
I was also awarded by Q ASIA Magazine with its seal of quality excellence and BEST CHOICE AWARDS as the best Plant-based Lechon for the year 2020-2021.
I envisioned opening more branches in the future, making more delicious vegan dishes, and serving more ELPInoys, KaiVEGANs, and KaELPImilya here in the Philippines! And who knows, I might go International. By that, aside from feeding healthier meals for the Filipino people, I can also save more animals and contribute to a healthier planet as a whole, one vegan meal at a time.
WHAT’S YOUR TOP 3 FAVORITE PLANT-BASED FOOD CREATION OF YOURS AND WHY?
GRILLED TOONA VELLY is my favorite vegan seafood creation. It tastes so fishy. I made it way back year 2019 in General Santos City, at the Tuna Capital of PH to promote a vegan lifestyle to protect the ocean. Overfishing is the number one cause of ocean degradation, thus, providing an alternative to fish products such as TOONA VELLY is a good way to convince more people to eat less fish and made a switch to greener alternatives.
FRIED CHEECK’N JOY, the real chicken’s joy. No chickens were killed to enjoy the classic fried chicken. I made it as an alternative to my childhood favorite meal. A lot of kids love it too.
And of course, my best selling VEGAN
BELLYCHON (vellychon). Lechon is a star in every Filipino occasion, thus making a plant-based version of it made the vegan lifestyle more appealing to more Filipinos. You can now enjoy that crispy skin, juicy and meaty texture without the guilt!
HOW IMPORTANT IS LIVING SUSTAINABLY IN FIGHTING THIS PANDEMIC?
Personal, financial, and health requirements may prevent us from being our most environmentally friendly self right now, but there are still small steps that we can take each day to support a more sustainable lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Global warming or environmental degradation is increasing the occurrences of pandemics, thus, it is important to preserve and protect the environment.
Eating a vegan diet could be the “single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact on the earth. Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent.
In line with the ongoing Pandemic crisis, going vegan is the best way to prevent future pandemics. It's not at all unusual for viruses and other pathogens to jump from animals into the human population. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 75% of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals. Kevin Olival, a disease ecologist and conservationist at EcoHealth Alliance, says, "When you bring animals together in … unnatural situations, you have the risk of human diseases emerging." In other words, many devastating disease outbreaks come about because humans house animals in filthy, severely crowded farms and markets – breeding grounds for pathogens – to satisfy their meat habit.
I know it takes time and practice and for most of us, it is not easy. You can start with, Meatless Mondays and work your way up from there.
DO YOU THINK FOOD AND LIFESTYLE PLAY AN INTEGRAL ROLE IN BOOSTING OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM TO FIGHT THE VIRUS? WHY AND HOW?
The answer is a BIG YES!
78% of severe covid cases are people with excessive weight (Obese).
94-99% of those who died have pre-existing conditions. (Majority are Lifestyle diseases - Heart Disease, Hypertension, Stroke, Obesity, Diabetes, Cancer, etc.)
I just hope our DOH and other leading medical organizations would share the peer-reviewed study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, USA, which stated that our T-cells (cell-mediated Immunity) can actually protect us from other variants of covid. Knowing that our T-CELL Immunity is heavily reliant on nutrition, the greatest weapons that we have for covid are actually existing right in front of us - FRUITS AND VEGETABLES.
Here is the link to study https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-variants-idUSKBN2BM3BZ
Nutritional effects on T-cell immunometabolism, please read https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5342627/#:~:text=T%20cells%20are%20highly%20influenced,T%2Dcell%20metabolism%20and%20behavior
T cells are highly influenced by nutrient uptake from their environment, and changes in overall nutritional status, such as malnutrition or obesity, can result in altered T-cell metabolism and behavior.
The current vaccines that we have now only offered limited protection against other variants. The vaccines also need multiple shots just to elicit a strong immune response and provide enough protection against a single strain of the virus. They are quite expensive to start with. For a 3rd world country such as ours, we cannot afford such an approach. We cannot depend on vaccines alone and treat them as a silver bullet.
Remember, eating fruits and vegetables have a lot of SIDE BENEFITS (not side effects) - it increases your immune responses and decreases your risk for developing severe covid.
Perfect examples would be the consumption of Kimchi which is proven in South Korea to reduce covid severity and symptoms, as well as the consumption, VCO from Coconuts, in which our own DOST produced a study saying that it has strong anti-viral properties and can also lessen the severity of the viral infection.
A whole food plant-based diet also lessens our risk of developing Heart Disease, Stroke, hypertension, etc.
In fact, it is the only dietary regimen that is scientifically proven to reverse the deadliest disease worldwide - Heart Disease.
In a study published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, it was found that people with more exercise have a lower risk of severe COVID-19.
Sufficient levels of Vitamin D in the blood are also associated with less severe covid and prevents hospitalization as well. Vitamin D is naturally synthesized when we are being exposed to a healthy dose of sunlight.
Unfortunately, our government fed us processed meat and junk food, with less to no dose of vegetables and fruits in our relief goods, imprisoned us in our houses, deprive us of our freedom to move and get a good dose of sunlight outside which have greatly contributed to the ever-rising cases of stroke and heart disease. We failed to uplift the immunity status of our population. PANIC AND HYSTERIA (Fear) weakens our immune system. As a result, our hospitals are now overwhelmed with the high influx of sick people.
The suicide rate has also increased to 26% due to the lockdown last year.
The lockdown has pushed more people into extreme poverty and hunger.
According to UNICEF, every day, 95 children in the Philippines die from malnutrition. Twenty-seven out of 1,000 Filipino children do not get past their fifth birthday. A third of Filipino children are stunted, or short for their age. Stunting after 2 years of age can be permanent, irreversible, and even fatal.
1.2 million children will die as a direct result of the lockdown. Malnutrition is killing more people than covid.
Our fear-based approach to this pandemic, (repeating the Lockdowns while waiting for the vaccines to arrive) is creating more damage and deaths. We should be reducing the suffering of our people, not increase it.
Founded in 1933, According to the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), one of the oldest and most respected nonpartisan economic research and advocacy organizations in the country, there are 31 Scientific studies saying that the Lockdowns DO NOT WORK.
We criminalize the poor for wanting to go out to work to sustain a living. Many have gone homeless since they can no longer pay their house' rents. They are now scavenging for food in the streets of Manila.
We also failed to educate and inform our people that we can develop natural immunity against the virus once we recover from the infection.
According to an article written in LOS ANGELES TIMES, Coronavirus infection leads to immunity that’s comparable to a COVID-19 vaccine.
Another article written in NEW YORK TIMES, immunity to the Coronavirus May Last Years.
Blood samples from recovered patients suggest a powerful, long-lasting immune response, researchers reported.
We keep on telling our people that we are powerless without the vaccines and that the only path towards herd immunity is through the vaccines which are not only false (untrue), this is also impractical. It comes at a great cost. Past recovery from infections contributes to the formation of herd immunity as well.
And the absence of antibodies does not mean, ZERO IMMUNITY. Our Memory T-cells and B cells can still recognize the pathogen (including the variants) even if our antibodies have already faded after 3-8 months.
It is normal for levels of antibodies to drop after the body clears an infection, but immune cells carry a memory of the virus and can churn out fresh antibodies when needed.
Our recovery rate is so high (98.5%) and we can ramp it up even more if we only educate people on how to optimize their nutrition.
NATURAL IMMUNITY IS REAL AND SHOULD NOT BE IGNORED.
Healthy Food (Proper nutrition) is far more important and far more needed than vaccines. I am not saying we should not vaccinate, it all boils down to your choice, but we must know where to put our efforts, time, and resources.
If only more medical professionals would be so loud in promoting nutrition as our main weapon against infection, we could save more lives and prevent more deaths. I am not talking about expensive supplements with fancy names and fancy prices. I am talking about REAL FOOD: Fruits and Vegetables which can be found in our own "palengke" (FARM-ACY), of which most of them are affordable and accessible.
Sadly, that is not the case.
The father of medicine Hippocrates once said, "LET FOOD BE YOUR OWN MEDICINE."
This is an ancient wisdom that we usually ignore.
I see a lot of problems here. I don't know why most of you cannot see those.
Throughout our history, it is not the most complicated interventions/solutions that are proven to solve huge problems, it is actually the simple ones.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO ARE IN GREAT FEAR OF THIS COVID-19 PANDEMIC?
Fear is normal, but constant fear is not. Fear weakens our spirit, thus, we need to stop fearing the virus and start empowering ourselves with the right knowledge of how to fight it.
Vaccination is one of the solutions but the absence of it does not mean we are powerless against the virus. Our survival rate of 98.5% is the greatest proof that we do can fight back.
Optimize your Immune system by choosing to live a healthier lifestyle. The power to heal and the ultimate cure is you- your immune system. Take care of it, support it, love it, and it will love you back.
Check out ELPI Vellychon Haus on
Photos courtesy of Chef Elpijo Mijar Ju III RN