Advocating for ecological agriculture and mindful consumption

Last year, I was inspired to learn about the positive side of technology in Rappler’s Innovation + Social Good event. This year, I got to actively participate in the Social Good Summit (SGS) as I was able to share the campaign of #IAmHampasLupa.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the video:

Rappler also wrote about our story here. Thank you, Rappler!

The SGS with the theme, “#HackSociety 2017: Innovate with purpose, leave no one behind,” focused on media and democracy; environment and climate change; peace, governance, and local development; and public health and well-being. It featured innovative solutions to society’s real life problems. It was also an opportunity for different groups to showcase the projects and the work that they do contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Speaking of SDGs, The 2030 Project organized “LEADERS Unite 2017: #OurGoals.” This is a youth initiative committed to supporting the attainment of the United Nation’s 17 SDGs Agenda by 2030. For this activity, I was invited as a Youth Champion for SDG#12: Responsible Consumption and Production where I discussed how our consumption behavior can contribute to climate change.

Both of these events were a reaffirmation of how this generation, branded as indifferent millennials, is actually doing its part to solve the problems of the world. So despite all the negativity these days, it’s nice to know that there are still a lot of good things happening around us.

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Legazpi Weekend Getaway

“How can something so beautiful turn out to be destructive at the same time?”

This was what came to mind when I first saw a glimpse of Mayon Volcano as the plane descended at the Legazpi Airport. The volcano, completely visible except for a small patch of clouds covering the top, took my breath away.

According to Wikipedia, Mayon is the most active volcano in the Philippines erupting over 51 times in the past 400 years. The most destructive eruption was in 1814 that buried the town of Cagsawa. Aside from volcanic eruptions, Albay is also frequented by typhoons. But the province is a model for disaster resilience and zero casualty for their impressive disaster preparedness efforts.

Arriving so early in the morning, I got to walk around Legazpi, also known as the “New Albay,” which is reminiscent of a quiet, sleepy town but contrasted by a cluster of malls in the area. It was around 6 AM and all the shops were closed and most activities were centered in the market nearby. For me, Old Albay District had more charm with its old structures, quaint cafes, and hip and modern restaurants.

As a first timer in the place, having a perfect view of Mt. Mayon was the goal. For this attempt, we went to Daraga Church, Cagsawa Ruins, and Camalig (where Japanese war tunnels and the chocolate hills of Albay are located). Too bad, the volcano was not at all sociable and hid behind a veil of clouds the whole time.

Despite, this, we comforted ourselves with Albay’s one of a kind culinary offerings – traditional Bicolano dishes from Waway’s Restaurant which used to be a turo-turo (eatery); Bicolano fusion options from the famous Small Talk Café; and sili (chili) ice-cream from 1st Colonial Grill which also offers other interesting flavors like kalamansi (lime), malunggay (moringa), and tinutong na bigas (burnt rice).

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The following day, we got lucky as Mayon finally displayed a full view of it’s perfect cone, its unbelievably symmetrical conical shape. What better way to enjoy Mayon but through an ATV tour with Your Brother Travel & Tours. For someone who doesn’t drive and can’t even ride a bicycle for the life of me, riding the ATV was a lot of fun as we threaded through rocky slopes, a river, and long and winding roads.

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Legazpi is definitely a must-visit place. You get to go sightseeing and do fun activities, you’ll enjoy the food that will surely satisfy your palate, and you’ll revel in Mayon’s grandeur. How about that for a quick weekend getaway.

Live to Eat and Eat to Live Long

It may not be obvious but I love to eat. However, participating in the Food for Life campaigns of Greenpeace and being a part of #IAmHampasLupa, a group advocating mindful consumption, made me put more effort into choosing the food that I eat. After all, “You are what you eat.”

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“…This is the tenderloin for the sophisticated restaurants. The Mexicans love the feet. I know. Go figure! We all love the face and the anus, as American as apple pie! Hot dogs. It’s all edible. All edible, except the squeal.” -Nancy Mirando, Okja

I watched Food, Inc. (2008), Super Size Me (2004), Okja (2017), and other documentaries, films, and Youtube videos related to food. I also read articles and books, and participated in advocacy events that further discussed the topic. I know, it seemed like I was brainwashing myself but aren’t we supposed to be concerned about stuff that goes into our bodies? Well, from all these so-called “indoctrination,” I came up with the following (obvious) conclusions:

  1. We have a broken food system. We are disconnected to nature, to the food that we eat; that we don’t know how it’s produced and where it comes from.
  2. Processed food is bad news. But we know that already.
  3. Corporations, as always, are in control of the food available in the market.
  4. We don’t know the long-term effects of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) but we’re probably eating them every day.
  5. We eat more meat and less fruits and vegetables leading to health problems.

In an ideal world, you would be growing and cooking your own food. You would be buying local produce and would constantly check the label of products you buy. You wouldn’t be wasting food. Who does that, anyway. Did you know that it’s the third best way of cutting greenhouse gases? And you would eat more fruits and veggies because aside from its health benefits, it can curb greenhouse gas emissions, too.

So what’s stopping us from eating healthy? Let’s start from home. Busy parents have no time to cook and resort to the convenience of fast food takeaways and processed food. Kids get used to eating junk early on. And then these big corporations which don’t really care about your wellbeing offer the “best-tasting” food in the planet, with the demand further fueled by these #hugot-inspired advertisements. Witty as they appear to be, sometimes how corporations take advantage of values, relationships, and emotions as marketing ploy can be disturbing.

If you live in the city, the readily available options you have are of course fast food and processed food yet again. Organic choices may not be that affordable to many but that begs the question, “How much value do you actually put on your food and yourself?”

Another eating habit issue is this notion that meat is normal, necessary, natural, and nice which drives us to consume more meat with less or no veggies at all. A 2003 World Health Report, however, estimates that 1.7 million deaths worldwide is due to low consumption of fruits and vegetables. You don’t have to be a vegan or a vegetarian but health experts encourage a more plant-based diet for a healthier you.

Climate change and the environment, and animal welfare may not faze you in terms of your diet but if you want to live long, that should motivate you to give more thought to what you’re eating. Quite literally, it’s a matter of life and death.

You are what you eat

If you’re an environmentalist, it would be expected or assumed that you’re a vegetarian considering the fact that eating less meat helps the environment. The meat industry requires massive amount of land, food, energy, and water; in short, it has a huge carbon footprint. Add to that the issue of animal cruelty. So vegetarianism seems to be an ideal diet option.

You can also choose to be vegan (no animal byproducts), pescetarian (no meat but eats fish), or a flexitarian (occasional meat eater). People have different reasons for their diet whether it’s for the environment, health, or just a matter of preference. But choosing to be a vegetarian in the Philippines is a challenge where Filipinos are practically carnivores who love lechon (roasted pig), crispy pata (pork knuckle), bulalo (beef soup of shank with bone marrow), kare-kare (stewed oxtail with peanut sauce), and the list just goes on. Our idea of a vegetarian dish is vegetable with meat bits in it.

I haven’t been mindful of what I eat in the past but as I became immersed in sustainable consumption especially as a volunteer for the ecological agriculture campaign of Greenpeace, I began to make an effort in eating fresh, local, healthy food. I still eat fast food but I try to choose the “healthier” option. I also avoid softdrinks and junkfood.

Watching different documentaries on food made me realize how broken the food system is. Food, Inc. (2008) examined the inhumane and environmentally unsustainable food production in the US and the control of big corporations on our food. Super Size Me (2004) showed how a daily fast-food/McDonald’s diet can be detrimental to health. And there are more movies and documentaries revealing the truth behind our food.

We’ve heard news about how processed meat can cause cancer, the “pink slime” (meat-based product with ammonium hydroxide) being added to ground beef, chicken being pumped with growth hormones, and fruits and vegetables contaminated with cancer-causing pesticides.

Aside from food safety, food security is also being threatened due to climate change.

Where does that leave us? We’re encouraged to cook and grow our own food. And that may be difficult if you live in a big city where it’s all about fast and convenient way of doing things. However, there is a decline in fast food sales and a growing demand for organic and healthy food. Some farmers are now transitioning to organic or sustainable agriculture. And urban and container gardening is being promoted in schools and in communities.

Food safety and food security are complex issues. We have a broken food system and we can start fixing it by choosing and demanding for healthy, affordable food. As has been said, you are what you eat so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake.

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lovethispic.com

The Reaping

You reap what you sow. And reap we did as we harvested the rice we helped plant three months ago.

Taking an early morning bus trip from Manila to Capas, Tarlac, I got re-acquainted to the rice farm as my two feet plunged into the mud and started cutting rice stalks using a sickle. This didn’t entail much leg bending compared to our rice planting experience and I easily got into the grab-cut-toss rhythm.

The overly bright sun was up so sweat trickled down my forehead the whole time. I didn’t mind the itchy scratch of the plant as I gained some “battle scars.” Frogs, grasshoppers, and snails were everywhere as I trudged through the cool mud. I quietly, with serious concentration, I might add, worked on five lines or so of rice stalks. It took me around an hour to complete that. Typically, the 200-square meter area would be harvested by a farmer for two hours.

We then had to haul the harvested rice stalks, dry them up, and remove the grains from the stalks. These later on would still have to undergo the de-hulling process before they can be ready for cooking.

I asked how much rice we would be able to produce and was a bit surprised to learn that it’s just a cavan or roughly 60 kilos which would cost about P1,600. All that time, work, effort, and sweat for that amount of money!

Bawat butil ay mahalaga (Every grain is important). This line resonates with me even more as I got to see the behind-the-scenes of rice production. In a culture of excess such as ours where food is taken for granted and is thrown away or wasted, I wish everyone would be required to grow their own food so we could realize how difficult it is.

In a culture of excess such as ours where food is taken for granted and is thrown away or wasted, I wish everyone would be required to grow their own food so we could realize how difficult it is.

The rice harvest farm trip organized by Good Food Community was participated in by more than 20 individuals. It was refreshing to see kids joining in the fun.

After the day’s hard work, we rewarded ourselves with a boodle fight style lunch of rice, fish, and fresh organic vegetables. Rice couldn’t be tastier at that time. And of course, there was no rice or food wasted at all.

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The Farm Trip participants.

Photos by Marvin Almonte

Of planting rice and the broken food system

Since childhood, we’ve been hearing the folk song, “Magtanim ay di biro” roughly translated as planting rice is not a joke and I was able to confirm this when I joined a farm trip last weekend at Capas, Tarlac.

The farm trip is an activity of Good Food Community that allows participants to do farm work and get to appreciate and understand where our food comes from. Good Food Community is an organization that promotes Community Shared Agriculture and aims to bridge the gap between producers and consumers.

It’s always refreshing to get away from the buzz of urban living and be re-acquainted to the land and attempt to once again find that connection which we seem to have lost. My grandparents were vegetable farmers in Benguet and my childhood summer days would entail me and my brother going to the mountains to help out in the work – tilling the soil and watering the plants. Kids in the area would taunt how us, the city boys, didn’t know what we were doing. They couldn’t any more be right.

These were my thoughts while we traversed through dirt mounds to get to the rice field. Once we got to the field, we couldn’t wait to plunge into the mud. Time to get dirty, although soil is not dirt or dirty for that matter. And apparently, soil has anti-depressant microbes. No wonder it was fun walking around the mud barefooted while we applied carbonized rice hull to the soil (this helps retain moisture). It could just be the novelty of doing something new but it could also be the “happy” microbes working its magic.

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Applying carbonized rice hull with glee. (c) Ernest Barreiro

Using a tilling machine, our farmer guide plowed the soil effortlessly then we started planting. There were 11 of us who worked on an area which is around 200 square meters and it took us almost an hour to finish. Typically, a single farmer can do the work for two hours and gets paid P80.

I already knew that 57 is the average age of farmers in the Philippines. That despite being an agricultural country, our farmers don’t get much support from the government. And farming is looked down upon. The farmers themselves wouldn’t want their children to follow the same path as they don’t see any hope in it. I couldn’t blame them but the problem now is who would feed us in the future?

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Time to work those knees! (c)Charlene Tan

It was a good workout after all the bending under the scorching heat of the sun. We rewarded ourselves after with snacks of corn and freshly harvested bananas. While munching, we talked about food and how broken the system is. We don’t exactly know where our food comes from, how it’s produced, what’s in season. We rely on junk food and fast food which are readily available. However, the farm trip participants make an effort to eat healthy, organic food mainly due to health and environmental reasons. As a challenge though, organic food tends to be more expensive. But if you factor in the production process plus benefits of eating healthy, the price is actually reasonable.

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Food conversation over corn and bananas. (c) Marvin Almonte

It was a nice experience overall. Waking up the following day to sore legs reminded me that indeed planting rice is not a joke. So the least we could do is to show appreciation to food and the people who grow it.

Good-bye Bacon?!

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thelibertarianrepublic.com

World Health Organization has spoken: processed meat and red meat are carcinogenic.

All hell breaks loose with meat-eaters in a panic, shaking their heads in disbelief. Of course, in between mouthfuls of bacon, hotdog, and salami.

Fat, cholesterol, preservatives, cancer-causing charred meat. It’s old news. The key, as always, is eating meat in moderation

That’s where the problem lies. We lack self-control to stay within the limits. And who would say what moderate amount is? Right before you feel your veins constricting?

It is a struggle to stay healthy these days. The fat and skinny stay as they are or become worse. Those who opt for healthier diet have less options. And these options, the so-called organic food, are pretty pricey. So we choose the readily available and abundant, and relatively cheaper processed food, canned goods, fast food. High calorie, high sugar, high salt, zero nutritional value. Just wonderful!

In an attempt to prolong one’s life, the health conscious would try cleansing programs, juicing, going organic, be a vegetarian/vegan, etc. But you hear of people who are super healthy, non-drinkers, non-smokers, they exercise and all that, and ending up mysteriously sick, contracting cancer, and even dying. The culprit? Diet, lifestyle, genetic, environment, stress, or maybe it’s spiritual? Or demonic? Or some kind of a curse?

The bombardment of researches or studies of what’s healthy and what’s not don’t help. They release a study stating one thing followed by another countering that it is inconclusive. Where does that leave us? We might as well stuff ourselves with bacon, and cake, and soda and all the foods labeled bad but taste so good (life is unfair that way, deal with it)? At least we die happy, right?

Seriously, though, more than diet and exercise, perhaps we should follow the advice of those gifted with longevity. To stay curious about life. To be with friends and relatives. To be calm and be happy.