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.

You are what you eat
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.