- CARALIE M. WEGENG
Nourish the Soul with O.G. Lola’s Sustainable Vegan Filipino Cuisine and Kamayan Feasts
At O.G. Lola’s, vegan Filipino cuisine takes center stage, celebrated through kamayan feasts and to-go orders at pop-up events nationwide. This culinary venture created by Chef Mary Dee Moralita sets itself apart by offering an all-vegan menu handmade with love that delights the palate and nourishes the soul.
Moralita’s triumph in plant-based Filipino cuisine did not happen overnight. Rather, it was the outcome of years spent learning her family’s cooking traditions and eventually transitioning to a vegan lifestyle herself. She began cooking when she was 15 years old, developing her craft and culinary skills from the teachings of her grandmothers. Lola Cleofe taught Moralita how to cook savory dishes, and Lola Leonida imparted the art of making baked goods and desserts.
“My Lola Leonida baked for the community. Sometimes I would help her in the kitchen until four in the morning,” Moralita said. “I was always interested in cooking, and it felt natural for me to help out in the kitchen.”
Moralita, whose family lineage can be traced to Pampanga and Samar in the Philippines, cherishes these moments and expresses gratitude for her grandmothers through O.G. Lola’s.
“I’m thankful to have had time in the kitchen with my lolas. The name is about honoring my ancestors, the O.G.s who created these recipes and passed them down to us,” Moralita said.
In 2012, Moralita became more mindful of her dietary habits upon learning about the financial relationship between the food and pharmaceutical industries and the societal push to promote unhealthy meat-centric diets.
“These corporations work within a cycle of keeping us unhealthy for profit, and I want to get to the root of why so many people in this country are becoming sick,” she said.
In response, Moralita adopted a vegan lifestyle, forgoing many Filipino dishes she once enjoyed. But her passion for her ancestral foods remained unshaken.
She established O.G. Lola’s in 2019, eager to share a plant-based spread of traditional Filipino dishes and pay homage to kamayan — meaning “with hands” in Tagalog and refers to the traditional form and communal style of eating before Spanish and U.S. colonization in the Philippines. Customers in Las Vegas, Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Pensacola, Florida can enjoy O.G. Lola’s catering menu, packed with crispy empanadas and banana spring rolls, savory potato-jackfruit Adobo filled steamed buns, childhood favorites sinigang and kare kare, and sweet desserts like biko, cassava cake, and ube halaya.
O.G. Lola’s also became a platform where Moralita could explore food sovereignty and build community, collaboration, and creativity with others committed to food sovereignty, including the Remagination Farm on Pomo land and From the Ground Up, a community farm based in her hometown of Pensacola.
“Food sovereignty is an important aspect of my work. Practicing a holistic and decolonized approach to health has made me realize that we can take control of our wellness and take consumerism into our own hands by being mindful of where our food comes from and what we consume as medicine,” Moralita said.
Moralita’s journey with O.G. Lola’s is an ongoing adventure filled with passion, dedication, and a commitment to food sovereignty and environmental sustainability. As she continues to advocate for more compassionate plant-based cooking and knowledge, she shares not only her love for vegan Filipino cuisine but also a message for a better future:
“Getting back to our ancestral roots of tending to our lands, healing our natural resources, and becoming sovereign is essential for the liberation and protection of our younger generations’ future.”