Slow food or fast food? Your choice
By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
Remember when you had to wake up early in the morning, pound rice and cook? In the Cordillera, those of my generation and the generation before me still have those memories. It’s not my personal experience but I have heard a lot. I have heard that rice supply would last longer if it is managed this way – pound only what you will cook. In those times (when there was no Tabuk yet), you had to produce your own rice supply so people had to ensure that their produce should last till the next harvest. People worked very hard for this. In places like Besao and Sagada, which has so little arable land and where rice can only be planted once a year because of the cold climate, camote was cooked with rice as extender.
Pounding rice must be easy for those who are used to it. Mid eya. (Doesn’t take much effort and time.) In those days, one’s hunger pangs can wait and one still had the energy to pound and cook the food. The whole process would take about an hour. Wow! That’s slow food. With this practice, people observed that palay can be stocked in the agamang or allang (rice granary) for many many years, as long as 20 years I heard. Once palay is dehulled or milled, we call it rice. Rice won’t last for a year. After some months, it would be eaten by weevils or other pests. Well, it’s good food and people are not the only creatures fond of rice. You can experiment. Meaning, the longer rice is stocked from milling to cooking, the more it would be degraded. Wait, what do rice millers add to the rice so they can be stocked in depos for months and even years perhaps and not be eaten by bugs? Your guess is as good as mine.
By the way, what’s slow food? Slow foods are foods prepared the traditional or indigenous way like the rice mentioned above. This concept surfaced in the 1980s in Europe as an alternative to “fast foods”. With the fast pace of city life, fast food chains like McDo became so popular that they eased out small local eateries.
We tasted our first hamburger in Tropicana in Manila in the 1970s. There was no globalization yet of foods. Tropicana is Filipino. Apparently it couldn’t compete with a giant worldwide food chain like McDo because I don’t see it anymore. Imagine we give our hard-earned money to an already rich foreigner! And because these fast food chains have to serve uniform food, they favor big time suppliers of their ingredients to the detriment of small scale farmers. And because of the volume of their customers, it would be difficult for fast food chains to serve organic. Organic farming is not large scale and it won’t be able to produce enough for such huge appetites.
As Filipinos, we were happy when our very own fast food chain Jollibee opened and was able to compete with these foreigners. As the years went by, however, scientists saw the adverse effects of fast foods, local or foreign, on our health and gave warnings. It’s no wonder. They maybe yummy but they are full of fat and sugar and salt and a lot of artificial additives including MSG (monosodium glutamate) to make them yummy. With the burger or fried chicken, you buy softdrinks. So unhealthy. And they generate so much waste. One evening in Baguio city, I chanced upon a staff from one fast food chain bringing out so many black bags of waste. So even if Jollibee is Filipino, I no longer eat there unless there’s no other choice. One time I went inside, all I can order is rice and it was even white rice.
Fast foods are very convenient – you just wait for some minutes and presto, your food is ready. You can even just drive through the store. They are advertised all around us, in TV, newspapers, billboards. It seems we cannot escape from their clutches. Even government cannot do anything. How come?
Thank God there is the slow food movement to reclaim our traditional way of preparing food, to promote local small businesses and sustainable agriculture. There is an organization called Slow Food founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in the 1980s and it is gaining worldwide membership.
Slow food is not only about how to prepare our food. It is about sustainable food production – small-scale, equitable, empowering. Those who have tried producing rice would know how hard the work is and how time-consuming. First plow the field, then plant, weed, check the water, ward off the tilin, then the harvest, drying, pounding, winnowing, cooking before finally eating it. That is why every grain of rice is precious. Igorots are taught that. There’s a difference between the rice you produce yourself compared to the rice that you just buy from store. The rice you produce was consciously produced with your benefit in mind, from plowing to harvesting. How about the rice that you buy? Do you think the producers thought of your welfare when they produced it? When they applied pesticides, did they think of your health? Do you think they even thought of their own health? How about those who produce milk and hotdogs?
With quarantine, many of us, especially here in the Cordillera, have sought refuge and meaning in gardening, whether in the mountains or in our yard or in our veranda or window sill. Many have reclaimed their green thumbs and first time gardeners have discovered that growing plants, surprisingly, is invigorating and exciting. With gardening, we learn to wait, we learn to care for the plants, we learn to remove the worms naturally, etc etc. Many like meI cannot produce all our food so we are dependent on farmers. So I choose organic as much as possible as these foods have been conscientiously grown. I hope with our lockdown experience, we have realized the value of the farmer/gardener, the value of patience, the value of nature (the rain, butterflies, and many other priceless lessons of life. Thank you, dear organic farmers!
Slow foods may take time to produce, to prepare and eat or drink but that’s precisely why they are so life-giving. Imagine the love and energy that goes into growing the pechay or beans. Imagine the love and energy preparing rice as compared to just buying rice or bread in the store. Imagine the love and energy that goes to producing and preparing dinengdeng as compared to just frying hotdog. As in everything in life, the more time we invest in something, the more valuable it becomes. How much do you value your health, your self? How much do you value your family? The decision is yours.**
“Keep on doing what is right, and trust yourself to the God who made you, for he will never fail you.” 1Peter 4:19