“TELL ME what you eat,” French food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said almost two centuries ago, “and I shall tell you what you are.” In modern-day Philippines, those words still ring true, with the contents of a dining table revealing much about the diner, including the size of his wallet. Where one usually eats is a good indication of one’s status in life, especially in the cities like Metro Manila, where the dining divide is vast and prices and restaurant protocol discourage a commingling of paupers and princes. Of course, from time to time, the princes cross over and eat at Jollibee. Money, after all, gives one the privilege of having choices, which increase in proportion to the amount one can and is willing to spend. But it’s no guarantee of a discerning palate or good judgment, which is why restaurants with mediocre food and atrocious prices continue to exist and why well-heeled parents fill half their grocery carts with instant noodles for their kids
Food has always been a central part of Philippine life and culture. We eat to celebrate a birthday and to mourn a death. A fiesta is nothing without a long table groaning with food. We eat for religious reasons as well as profane ones. For us, eating is the ultimate social lubricant: we dine as easily with new acquaintances as with long-time friends, with those we hate as much as those we love.
THAT WASN’T your imagination, that was really the sound of your seatmate’s stomach growling. Or maybe it was yours. It’s already a given that more and more Filipinos are going hungry. The question, however, is why.
LIKE MANY others in her generation, 11-year-old Clara Buenconsejo was bigger than her mother was at that age. In fact, she could no longer wear the clothes sold at the children’s section in department stores and her mother Malou had to scour shops selling surplus goods from the United States to find something that would fit her. But Clara’s size left Malou worried, not proud. The girl weighed 143 pounds, and by the time Malou brought her to a pediatric endocrinologist, Clara sported dark circles under her eyes and similar dark pigmentation on her nape, which the doctor would later point out as markers that a child is overweight.
PARANOIA AND guilt are among the occupational hazards of covering the environment. I have not had too many moments of ease while learning all I can about the overwhelming threats to the planet.
You can feel self-righteously detached from other subjects like government corruption and crime (i.e., the guilty ones are not me). But on the environment beat, it’s hard not to imagine a personal responsibility for at least some of the ills our earth is heir to-garbage, air pollution, or even open-pit mining (oh no, this computer I’m using contains mined resources).