Vegan Mama Momo, Japan

Vegan Mama Momo, Japan

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Mama Momo & Baby

When I first started exploring Momo’s Instagram, I was charmed,fascinated…and a little bit hungry! I had so many questions- about her location and life in Beppu City and especially about all of her delicious home cooking and description of local produce. In this interview series with parents around the globe I enjoy talking about vegan life but also connecting on issues related to breastfeeding, love for different vegetables and other foods and also getting to hear about various locations around the world through the minds and descriptions of these parents.   Momo was a wonderful example of this synergy- learning about her life as a mama, vegan, food lover and human passionate about her own local community. 

Annika: Where are you originally from in China and when did you move to Japan?

Momo: I was born in Beijing in 1983 and my parents moved to Japan when I was 2 years old. My grandmother was Japanese and lived in Kyushu (southern part of Japan) so my parents moved there to live with my grandmother. 

Annika: Where do you live now?

Momo: Before I got married, I lived in Tokyo most of my life. I met my partner who is Australian and working in Oita prefecture, Kyushu (coincidentally it was my grandmother’s hometown!) so when we got married, I left Tokyo and came here to live with him.

Oita has the largest number of hotsprings in Japan and Beppu city is the center of it. There are literally hotspring baths in every corner of Beppu! I’ve heard some birth centers here use hotspring water to bath newborn babies. I think it’s pretty awesome that newborns get to have hotspring as their first bath!  

Annika: Would you say Tokyo is very vegan friendly? Where would you recommend visitors and newcomers to go in Tokyo to experience delicious, local vegan cuisine?

Momo: Tokyo has growing numbers of vegan restaurants, but we are still the minority. I find it difficult to dine out with non-veg people as vegan option is almost nonexistent  in regular restaurants. Some macrobiotic restaurants serve plant-based dishes and some fish and maybe eggs too so it’s a good place to go with non-veg friends. 

If people are traveling to Tokyo, I recommend a vegan ramen shop called “T’s tan tan” inside Tokyo station. Delicious food, convenient location when traveling. There’s also a doughnut shop right in front of the ramen shop and they have a few vegan doughnuts!

Annika: What is the vegan community like in Beppu City?

Momo: I haven’t met any vegans in Beppu yet. But it seems more people here follow macrobiotics so I’ve met quite a few people who is almost plant-based. I would really really like to meet other vegan mums though.

Annika: When did you become vegan & why?

Momo: I’ve stopped eating meat in 2009 when I was 25 years old. I was a backpacker and traveling around in South East Asia and India. At the beginning of the year, I met one vegan, two vegetarians, and one non-meateater within a few weeks. I was not educated on this subject so I didn’t understand why some people didn’t eat meat or any animal products at all so I asked them what’s their reason to become vegetarian/vegan. One said for the environment, one said for the animals, one said for their girlfriend, and one said “just got sick of eating meat”. It didn’t make sense to me at that time. Then in the following weeks I was staying in a temple and eating vegetarian meals everyday. It was surprisingly delicious and satisfying. It made me wonder why all those years I thought meat was necessary because I actually felt better and clearer without it. That’s something you wouldn’t understand until you experience yourself. So that’s how I was first introduced to vegetarianism. I started doing research on health, environment and animal agriculture. It broke my heart to know the truth but it made me 100% sure that I never wanted to go back to my old way of eating. Two years later in 2011, I decided to go vegan and have been vegan since then.

Annika: Did motherhood have any influence on your vegan outlook?

Momo: A lot of people asked me if it was “safe” to be vegan during pregnancy. I was very confident that plant-based whole foods would nourish my body and my growing baby, but I did become a little more health conscious since becoming a mother. Though I think we all do vegan or not so I don’t think motherhood influenced much on my vegan outlook, but being a vegan definitely has influenced on how I raise my baby. For example, since I am aware of how our lifestyle choices impact on our health and the environment, I try to do my best for my son’s health and reduce my ecological footprint by using cloth diapers and practicing elimination communication, not buying any baby food and make everything from scratch, using natural cleaning products rather than chemicals in our home, etc. As a vegan mum, I want to make conscious choices as much as I can because little things can make a big difference!

Annika: How old is your child and is he vegan?

Momo: He’s 19 months old now, exclusively breastfed (still bf-ing today). We introduced him to solid food after 6 months in Baby Led Weaning style. He’s 90cm tall and weights 13kg.  People often think he’s 2 1/2 years old!  He’s a big healthy vegan boy!  

Annika: What are some of your child’s favorite foods?

Momo: He loves rice, bread, pasta, miso soup, sun-dried shredded daikon, onions, nori, baked sweet potatoes, kale chips, chia pudding, nicecream, amazake, smoothies, coconut water, etc. He loves food but sometimes all he wants is boobs!

Annika: Is your child’s pediatrician very vegan friendly?  Did they express any specific concerns with your child being vegan?

Momo: I haven’t told the pediatrician that we are vegan. I think there might be some differences in the systems between Japan and the U.S. In Japan, it’s not very common to inform your lifestyle when you go to children’s clinic. But when I had checkups at the clinic when I was pregnant, my doctor and nurses were very understanding.

Annika: What are some of your favorite foods?

Momo: I love herbs and spices so Vietnamese, Thai, Indian foods are some of my favorites. Also love pasta, pizza, burrito, tacos, quiche, hummus, falafels, sushi, tempura, soba noodles with lots of wasabi, etc… I love all kinds of food! 

The weather is getting really hot here so I am starting to enjoy raw food these days. I can make some raw soup, zoodles, and raw desserts, but I need to experiment more! Saying that, my husband makes amazing raw oreo!

Annika: Favorite meals to make for your family?

Momo: Spaghetti genovese, daikon steak, chickpea curry, vegetable tempura, pizza, sautéed balsamic daikon and wheat gluten meat, lotus root sandwich, raw spaghetti and soup for summer, etc. We buy mostly organic and seasonal vegetables so what we cook depends on the season.

Annika: Any specific challenges you face as a vegan mother & how you handle them:

Momo: The only challenge I have faced so far was to convince my parents that plant-based diet was suitable for people of all ages including pregnant women and small children. I showed them the results of blood tests I took during pregnancy all perfect including iron level, and they see how healthy and thriving my son is so while they may still disagree with my lifestyle (to not eat any animal products) they don’t say anything. My son is still very young so I haven’t faced any real problems yet, but I expect them coming as he gets older and starts going to schools and realise that we are little bit different from other families. 

Annika: Favorite vegan travel memories with your child? 

Momo: We haven’t traveled long distance since our son is born, but we just traveled to our favorite bakery/cafe called “Hibino” which is 1.5 hour by car. The bakery is run by a young Japanese woman and she uses mostly locally grown ingredients and tries to be organic as much as possible. I have trust issues so I don’t normally feed my son store-bought bread (I’m concerned about GMOs, pesticides, sugars and chemical additives) but you don’t need to worry about that when you go to Hibino. Not only are the ingredients safe, but in our opinion, she bakes the yummiest bread in Japan! We had organic focaccia with potatoes and salad for lunch and our son had the same thing. We all loved it. So Delicious! 

The cafe is built inside an old refurbished kindergarten and has a playground, really nice wheat fields and mountain view. When we went there, we saw many little frogs jumping on the balcony and huge dragon flies in the sky. There’s a lot of nature so great for kids to play.

Annika: I have been exploring your IG posts and love all the references to local food culture!  You get local fresh produce delivered right to your door which is wonderful.  What are the differences in local produce by season?  

Momo: Thank you! We are very lucky we can buy organic fresh produce directly from a local farmer. We get a lot of root vegetables during winter, like lotus roots, carrots, daikon, etc. Lots of green leafy veggies and bamboo shoot during spring. Tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchinis and eggplant during summer. Fresh ginger and chestnuts during autumn. 

Annika: Do you have farmers markets year round in Beppu City? 

Momo: We have a few small markets here in Beppu, but the one my husband and I love is in Oita city (15mins train ride from Beppu). Oita organic market is on the second Saturday every month. It’s the best farmers market to buy cheap, fresh, organic vegetables. Great thing is that most of the lunch boxes, breads, and cakes sold there are plant-based. It’s a very vegan friendly place!

Annika: What are some classic Japanese dishes that you eat regularly in your home that are vegan or easy to veganize?

Momo: I make miso soup quite often because my son loves miso soup! Broth is very easy to make vegan. I love making my broth with organic onion skin (the brown part, don’t throw away!), dried shiitake mushrooms, and, if I have any, sun-dried shredded daikon. 

Annika: I saw from one of your IG posts that you went to a 79 year old grandmother’s plant based cooking class!  Was this in Beppu City and what did she teach the class?

Momo: Yes it was in Beppu city. The 79 year old grandmother’s name is Tomoko Wakasugi (known as Wakasugi grandma). She is quite famous in macrobiotic world and had written several books to promote shokuyo style of eating. Shokuyo is plant-based and uses all natural grains and vegetables to maintain health and fight disease.

She told the class that her husband (now passed away) loved meat and alcohol and that kind of eating style caused him to get cancer. When he found out he had cancer, doctor told him he has 2 more months to live. It was a death sentence to him. Wakasugi grandma wanted to put him on a strict shokuyo diet and he agreed to give it a try. After several months, when he went to the checkup, the doctor found his cancer got smaller. And every time he went for the checkup, his cancer got smaller and smaller, and he was still living. After 6 years, his cancer had disappeared completely. It was such an inspirational story. She explained how animal products negatively affect on our bodies, how different vegetables from different seasons and different locations work in your body and why it’s important to eat naturally grown, local, seasonal vegetables. 

The class was in January so root vegetables were in season and she showed us how to make homemade cough medicine tea from vegetable scraps (from lotus roots). I was so glad to attend her class and learned about medicinal uses of food! When my son catches a cold, I brew homemade lotus tea. It’s a safer, healthier alternative to western medicine and doesn’t mess up gut flora or immune system. I am actually very new to the idea of shokuyo so I will continue to learn to protect my son. 

Annika: I know  dairy consumption has historically not been very popular or common in Japan, correct?  How is it today?  In the USA, consumption of other animals milk is still very mainstream so this can be one of the more difficult discussions for vegans to have with non vegans.  What is this discussion like in Japan? 

Momo: Japanese people did not consume dairy products traditionally, actually none until after World War II. The history of dairy consumption in Japan may be short, however, the dairy industry has successfully brainwashed Japanese people. In primary school and middle school (total 9 years), we eat school lunch everyday and every single meal is served with a bottle of cow milk. Doesn’t matter if the meal is rice and miso soup, or spaghetti, or dumplings, cow milk is always served so the combination of food is often very weird. Dairy is in everything these days, most Japanese bread has dairy in it, and even some Asian food that is traditionally dairy-free now has cheese and butter. Some people pour cow milk in miso soup. (I think it’s gross)

Japanese people are hooked on dairy just as much as Americans. I don’t usually talk about the negative health effects of dairy to people because I know people just won’t agree though sometimes I share information on my Instagram and facebook because I hope more people will be aware of what they are eating.

Annika: I was introduced to seaweed in many dishes while living in Hawai’i but still have a lot to learn about incorporating seaweeds into dishes.  What are some of your favorite ways to cook with and eat different seaweed in meals?

Momo: Actually I try to avoid seaweed in general. The only seaweed I buy is nori and maybe some hijiki that is locally produced in Kyushu and without any use of chemicals in processing. As you know, we had Fukushima nuke meltdown in 2011 and tons of contaminated water was released into the ocean so if you don’t know where it’s grown and produced, it’s better to avoid.

With nori, I either make sushi rolls or I put nori flakes, tempeh and veggies on rice, topped with hot sauce and mayo to make an easy dinner bowl. 

I love hijiki paste to have with bread or rice. 

Annika: I saw a fantastic photo on your account of pancakes made by your husband with chestnut cream. They looked delicious!  Was the chestnut cream used in the batter or as a topping?  What else do you use chestnuts for in baking and cooking?

Momo: Thank you! He would be pleased to hear this! The chestnut cream was used as topping. In Japan, one of the popular ways to eat chestnuts is with rice. They cook rice with chestnuts and seasoning.

Annika: Another food photo I saw at your account I was curious about (there are so many!) was of a “lazy dinner bowl.”  What were the ingredients in that delicious looking bowl?!

Momo: Thank you! Do you know natto (fermented soybeans)? I put natto, green salads, radish, snow peas, nori and avocado on top of rice. You only need to cook the rice, and cut veggies and throw everything on top. So easy!

Annika: I love to eat tofu and know that it is very common to use in Japanese cooking as well.  What are some of your favorite uses for silken tofu?  Firm tofu?

Momo: I don’t normally buy silken tofu, but I used it to make a custard like cream before. It was good! With firm tofu, I like to marinate in mix of soy sauce, olive oil, maple syrup, garlic, cummin, salt and pepper and make a tofu steak.

Thank You Momo!

Check out Momo on IG @veganmomo

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All images provided by Momo

This interview is part of an ongoing interview series by Annika Lundkvist with vegan mothers and fathers around the globe.  For more interviews and information please visit this page: Interview Series: Vegan Pregnancy, Parenting & Kids.

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