DOWN TO EARTH
AFTER LIVING ABROAD SINCE HER TEENAGE YEARS, GLOBETROTTER AND GREEN LIVING ADVOCATE SANDRA SORIANO IS CHANNELING HER TALENTS INTO THE FAMILY FARM BACK HOME.
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.