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Firebrand

BENT ANTENNA - Audrey N. Carpio (The Philippine Star) - April 5, 2013 - 12:00am

The year before she went full veg, Bianca Mabanta decided to go all out and then never look back. She was living in Barcelona at the time, that temple to all things jamon, and enjoyed every carnal bit the city had to offer. But ever since she gave up meat she noticed that people’s reactions to the green diet were either of disdain or confusion, and judgments of how boring her food must be. Bianca wants to prove to you that vegetarianism is not boring, and she’s doing it by kicking up the heat. The 23-year-old entrepreneur just launched her vegan-friendly hot sauce brand Aeta Organics, a label that supports sustainable livelihood in the Aeta village of Pastolan in Subic.

The idea for the piquant concoction came together at a dive bar in Barretto, the red light district of Zambales. “There was a US veteran who made this hot sauce, and it was pretty good, but I thought I could do better,” says Bianca, whose family is no stranger to the food industry, vegetarian or otherwise (Corner Tree Cafe and Mexicali are in her blood lines).  She had just visited the Aeta community in Subic and was moved by what she saw and also what she didn’t see — any teenagers, for instance, since most of them start having babies very early and leave the community to find work. 

The Aetas, like many indigenous peoples the world over, had their land taken away, condemning them to neglect and poverty. In Zambales, the Aetas were displaced after Mt. Pinatubo erupted and were abandoned when the the naval base closed down and the Americans, whom they had heavily depended on, left. Bianca had partially grown up in Subic when she was very young, and moved to Spain where she spent most of her life, so coming back to this place gave her the conviction to pursue a different path from her life in the advertising world, which she had just packed up and left behind. “I refuse to go back,” she says. “I don’t have a stable income right now, and I’ve only just started, but this is a lot more fulfilling.” 

Now she applies her knowledge of branding and design to her own social venture start-up, which she calls a one-woman show, designing the labels, putting the labels on the recycled bottles, making the hot sauce, and programming her website all on her own. In Pastolan, the Aetas grow the necessary ingredients like sili labuyo, herbs and peanuts on a 1,000-square-meter farm she created. By selling the produce, Pastolan villagers are provided a sustainable source of income. Much of the proceeds from Aeta Organics’ peppery products will go back into the community, through improving education at the elementary school level. 

Bianca’s been involved with a growing movement tentatively labeled “Filexers,” which is slightly different from balikbayans. “These are Filipinos who’ve never really lived here but are moving back and feeling super patriotic,” she explains. In the mere six months that she’s been back, she’s been surrounded by like-minded Filipino re-expatriates who mutually inspire each other with their passion to do things out of the ordinary, even risque.

Hence the slogan “Rebel with a cause,” and a brand identity that incorporates chalk-like type drawn on a black background. Her own public image is building up to be what she calls “a little racy.” She’s selling hot sauce after all, and Bianca is both hot and saucy, beautiful and brainy. Who says you can’t change the world, one condiment at a time?

 

AETA AETA ORGANICS AETAS BIANCA BIANCA MABANTA CORNER TREE CAFE AND MEXICALI IN PASTOLAN IN ZAMBALES MT. PINATUBO SUBIC
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