Town & Country (Philippines) - - T & C - By Pierra Calasanz Labrador

A con­ver­sa­tion with the glo­be­trot­ting san­dra so­ri­ano re­veals a true mod­ern swan whose pas­sions lie in food pol­icy and ad­ven­ture travel.

I’m not quite sure how to do this,” Maria Alexan­dra “San­dra” So­ri­ano says, by way of in­tro­duc­tion. We are sit­ting by the win­dow at a café, San­dra fresh from a work­out at the nearby gym, still sport­ing sweats and a bare-faced glow that be­lies her 32 years. Typ­i­cally pri­vate and unas­sum­ing, she as­sures us that her life­style is “not very ex­cit­ing,” but we beg to dis­agree as she opens up about her pas­sion for food pol­icy, her mind­fully min­i­mal­ist life­style, and thirst for ad­ven­ture.

San­dra first left the nest at the age of 12 to at­tend board­ing school at Santa Catalina in Mon­terey. “I liked it; it was very ‘Cal­i­for­nia,’ in many ways, and re­li­gious with­out be­ing… [dog­matic]; world re­li­gion as op­posed to just Catholi­cism.” For col­lege, she at­tended the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, where she ma­jored in His­tory and mi­nored in Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, then moved to New York and worked at Ogilvy, do­ing brand­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing. When an op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self, she moved to Lon­don. “New York is sup­posed to be a big city, but I find Lon­don a thou­sand times more in­ter­na­tional and cos­mopoli­tan. Though I don’t have im­me­di­ate fam­ily there, many of my friends from dif­fer­ent stages of my life are there; I con­sider it my sec­ond home.”

When she first moved to Lon­don, she worked for a small film fi­nance com­pany, be­fore pur­su­ing a grad­u­ate de­gree in Food Pol­icy at the Cen­tre of Food Pol­icy at City Univer­sity. “When I say food, ev­ery­one thinks restau­rants,” San­dra says. In­stead, her life­long de­light in food has led her to “fur­ther study­ing the much larger po­lit­i­cal, cul­tural, health, and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pli­ca­tions of the global food in­dus­try.” Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, she worked on sev­eral start-up projects, in­clud­ing an ur­ban farm­ing pro­gram, a food waste cam­paign, and an ed­i­ble school­yard ini­tia­tive. “I hope to con­tinue to work on greater en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cacy, im­prov­ing sus­tain­able food pol­icy, and en­hanc­ing pub­lic health, by mak­ing bet­ter qual­ity food more ac­ces­si­ble.”

Mak­ing bet­ter qual­ity food more ac­ces­si­ble is what even­tu­ally led her back to Manila, where she’s now taken a more ac­tive role on her father’s dairy farm, Ha­cienda Ma­calauan in La­guna, as well as its Vir­gin Co­conut Oil di­vi­sion. “When I was re­ally young, I re­mem­ber it was a place to go for the week­end. We had chick­ens and ducks and pigs and sheep—I once tried to keep a baby sheep [as a pet]. That didn’t go so well,” she chuck­les. “There were— and still are—a lot of fruit trees; in san­tol sea­son, my grandma turns them into jam for us. Then, there’s the gar­den where my mom (Menchu Men­chaca So­ri­ano) grows her plants. It’s re­ally beau­ti­ful.” Over the years, the fam­ily stream­lined op­er­a­tions, and fo­cused on its (cash) cows; what was once a pet project nearly 20 years ago is now a full-time op­er­a­tion. Its dairy prod­ucts—fresh milk, yo­ghurt, cheese—are avail­able in most gro­ceries, just look for three cows on the la­bel. Its VCO is made mainly for ex­port, but its lo­cal brand, Coco Boost, can be found at holis­tic stores like ECHO­s­tore and Holy Carabao.

“Part of what we’re try­ing to do is to make a more pre­mium prod­uct, yet at the same time, to make it more ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able. And in mak­ing healthy, bet­ter food for peo­ple, its not just about pro­duc­ing a cleaner prod­uct with less ad­di­tives, it’s also tak­ing care of the en­vi­ron­ment that im­pacts the food.” San­dra’s eyes sparkle when she talks about how the team cares for the an­i­mals on the farm, from grow­ing their own high-qual­ity feeds, to show­er­ing the cows six times a day to reg­u­late their tem­per­a­ture. “If they’re healthy, there will be the right amount of fat, the right amount of pro­tein, the right amount of things in the milk….” And, putting it in terms we can ap­pre­ci­ate, she adds: “If the milk doesn’t have the right pro­tein, it’s not go­ing to froth in your cof­fee, you know?”

San­dra de­scribes a reg­u­lar week as fairly typ­i­cal: In the morn­ings, she med­i­tates (“I use an amaz­ing app called Headspace,” she says), works out, and walks Hi­biki, her beloved Shiba Inu, be­fore head­ing to the Makati of­fice or the farm when needed. At least twice a week she heads to Manila Polo Club to ride in the

evening when it’s cooler. She’s in bed by 9 p.m. (“I like my sleep, and I like wak­ing up early, when it’s still cool and quiet”)— no won­der she has such flaw­less skin. “Week­ends, I’ll try to go to our farm or out of town with friends. I feel like it’s such a busy, hec­tic city that it’s nice to ven­ture out for the week­ends.

“The Philip­pines has some re­ally beau­ti­ful is­lands; Aman­pulo is al­ways amaz­ing; El Nido is re­ally beau­ti­ful, with a dif­fer­ent kind of land­scape… Tub­bataha was an in­cred­i­ble, in­cred­i­ble ex­pe­ri­ence. To see how rich the Philip­pines re­ally is in terms of its ma­rine wildlife—that was re­ally spe­cial.” San­dra also loves hik­ing, and says that there are a num­ber of spots just over an hour away where you’ll dis­cover beau­ti­ful trails and falls. “In Rizal, there’s this sort of moun­tain rope course [Ma­sungi Ge­o­re­serve]; ba­si­cally, you’re hik­ing through the canopy of this rain­for­est, so it’s a dif­fer­ent view­point. You see we have so much green­ery, and there are so many an­i­mals; you sit and lis­ten for a while and you can hear so many birds, see so many dif­fer­ent things fly­ing,” she mar­vels.

San­dra shares that grow­ing up, she and her fam­ily spent a lot of time in Beaver Creek, Colorado, a moun­tain range where she learned to ap­pre­ci­ate ski­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, river raft­ing, and fly fish­ing. On the eve of her 30th birth­day she reached the sum­mit of Mount Kil­i­man­jaro. The year be­fore that, San­dra rode through the Mon­go­lian steppe, par­tic­i­pat­ing in tra­di­tional no­madic life and con­nect­ing with re­mote rein­deer herd­ing tribes. “I saw some of the most spec­tac­u­lar plants and an­i­mals on both jour­neys, and loved the hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing to sur­vive in very raw en­vi­ron­ments,” she says. Other ex­pe­ri­ences she de­scribes as un­for­get­table were road trips to Marfa, Texas; Ro­den Crater, Ari­zona; and In­ho­tim, Brazil. “They’ve given me a much deeper un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the works, the artists, and the larger com­mu­ni­ties that helped cre­ate such beau­ti­ful and com­pelling ex­pe­ri­ences.”

San­dra just got back from a trip to Naoshima, a three-is­land en­clave in the Seto In­land Sea, Ja­pan, which she de­scribes as a “mag­i­cal, spir­i­tual place” that is home to breath­tak­ing mu­se­ums, art in­stal­la­tions, and ar­chi­tec­ture. As a vo­ra­cious reader, she’s now de­vour­ing the book on the place. “It’s kind of nice af­ter you’ve seen it and ex­pe­ri­enced it to then read about the artists and what they were try­ing to con­vey in their work.”

One thing San­dra misses about Lon­don is the va­ri­ety of health­ier food choices avail­able. “You go to a restau­rant and there will be a lot more op­tions that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily de­signed for vege­tar­i­ans, they will just al­ways of­fer a side of veg­eta­bles, for ex­am­ple.” Though she doesn’t de­prive her­self of any­thing, she is try­ing to cut down on an­i­mal prod­ucts and su­gar. The food geek that she is, she’s also con­scious of eat­ing not just for plea­sure, but for well­ness. “It’s just be­ing con­scious about what you’re eat­ing and how you’re feel­ing; know­ing

your body and what it needs. Use food as medicine.”

Learn­ing all about food and the ad­di­tives in it has also made her vig­i­lant about beauty prod­ucts. “I’m more con­scious about what I wash my hair with, or what I put on my skin. Like food, I look for some­thing that’s less pro­cessed, that has fewer chem­i­cals. I’m a big be­liever in less is more; you don’t need 10-step cleansers for your face.” She’s mind­ful about the Tri­closan in tooth­paste, the alu­minum in de­odor­ant, the sul­fates in sham­poo, even toxic fra­grances. “There are a lot of re­ally harm­ful chem­i­cals in a lot of ev­ery­day things. They are like hor­mone dis­rup­tors; so when you’re di­et­ing and try­ing to lose weight and you can’t seem to, a lot of it is your per­fume, your makeup, your face wash—again, your health is in every­thing.” So what brands does she trust? “Tata Harper—it’s one of the few that started this whole plant/botan­i­cals and us­ing fewer chem­i­cals in its skin­care prod­ucts. But there are ac­tu­ally so many now.” She also raves about their farm’s own co­conut oil, which she likes to use as a mas­sage oil, food sup­ple­ment, and is for oil-pulling too, if she had the pa­tience for it. “It’s cleaner, it’s sim­pler, it’s one in­gre­di­ent, and it’s or­ganic.”

Her “less is more” phi­los­o­phy also ex­tends to her wardrobe, which con­sists mainly of sim­ple, clean lines, and oc­ca­sional prints. “I love Cé­line, Etro…more min­i­mal­ist and util­i­tar­ian— but not ath­leisure,” she adds quickly, lest we mis­take her work­out gear for a style state­ment. She’s so un­fussy that her ear­rings are ac­tu­ally screwed in. “I had to get my pass­port re­newed and they asked me to take them off, and I lit­er­ally had to ask, ‘Do you have pli­ers?’” She does en­joy dress­ing up though, and misses chang­ing things up for four sea­sons. “Coats and vests and hats and boots,” she gushes dream­ily.

Is she back for good? “For the mo­ment. But while I’m here, I want to spend time be­ing here. Con­nect­ing and re­con­nect­ing, spend­ing time with fam­ily, with my life here.”

This sum­mer, she’s look­ing for­ward to join­ing a med­i­cal mis­sion of the An­dres So­ri­ano Foun­da­tion. “It’s a very small foun­da­tion that ba­si­cally helps liveli­hood pro­grams in the Cuyo is­lands, which in­cludes Aman­pulo. Be­cause they’re so re­mote, the foun­da­tion does a lot to em­power them by giv­ing them liveli­hood. Ev­ery year, about 20 to 25 doc­tors go from is­land to is­land, and it’s ba­si­cally the only time they have ac­cess to pro­fes­sional health­care. It’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing to see all th­ese dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and spend time with them.” Ul­ti­mately, she aims to help build the fam­ily busi­ness and make a dif­fer­ence through food. “More than just pro­vid­ing some­thing that peo­ple eat, [we hope to] im­pact the way peo­ple think about their food, think about their en­vi­ron­ment, and also how they feel—if they’re eat­ing health­ier food, they’re less likely to get sick,







At hER PEAK clock­wise from left: on a re­cent trip to nepal, San­dra vis­ited the Dhawla­giri range, Kath­mandu, the vil­lage of Ghan­daki, and a school in Pokhara.

LIV­InG In thE prESEnt San­dra lounges at home with her dog, hi­biki.

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