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December 24, 2016

COOKING UP CHANGE (Part 1 of 2)

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

As we end 2016 with a new president steering the country’s direction for the next six years, we can only wait to see if the promised platforms will create a better future for the Philippines. And although we are looking for a larger vision that will guide this transformation externally, the bigger challenge may actually lie within us. I do believe that each of us should be responsible for making positive changes that can make a difference within the small circle that we live and work in.

In the foodservice sector, we have observed key players—including chefs, producers, managers and restaurateurs—take on more pro-active roles in supporting the local food system. We have seen them evolve from their traditional behind-the-scenes roles to messengers and advocates—delving into issues that impact community sourcing, food production, health, sustainability, resource conservation, and preservation for the future.

In this industry, restaurateurs and chefs can be fundamental change-makers who affect the community and environment while creating delicious dishes. The significant link from customers to producers equips this group with a unique perspective of the food system spectrum that can effect positive changes.

FOOD SECURITY
What do we mean by food security?  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” 

The Philippines seems to be distanced from the abovementioned situation, especially for an agricultural nation and economy where roughly 41% of the country is arable land, farming comprises 32% of total employment, and agriculture contributes to 11.3% of GDP. But it is also a country where the state of the farming community is at a subsistence level with the average farmer getting an annual income of P23,000 or less than P2,000 a month. The nature of farming has been culturally shackled, with derogratory terms such as “nangangalabasa,” “nangangamote,” or “hampas lupa, resulting in an occupation that is looked down upon, with the next generation unwilling to continue the farming tradition.


It was this state of food security and local agriculture that Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan touched on during his keynote speech at the CCA Manila Future of Food conference. “If we want to secure our food, we have to secure our farmers. To understand the state of our agriculture, we have to understand the state of our farmers,” he says.

The solution does not rest on one sector or one entity alone, according to Sen. Pangilinan: “The benchmark for any intervention would ask: is their income increasing? This has to be a multi-sectoral approach, involving business and culinary leaders and the government.”

Sagip Saka was one of the successful bills that Sen. Pangilinan spearheaded in 2010. “This bill, among other things, intends to mandate that national and local government agencies should directly purchase agriculture and fishery products from accredited farm organizations and fisher folk cooperatives, amending the procurement law. This bill will also grant tax incentives to companies and private entities that purchase directly from our farmer and fisher folk accredited organizations or will donate equipment, machinery, facility to these accredited farm organizations and such donations will be deductible in corporate income taxes. By doing so, we prioritize support for our farmers. This will effectively increase the incomes of Filipinos in agriculture, and provide investment toward a more robust agriculture sector,” he adds.

Sagip Saka tested the concept with Nestle and coffee farmers in Surigao del Sur, whose average annual income doubled in over a year, with a nursery, post-harvest facility, farmer education, technical and entrepreneurship training provided through local government partners.

Sen. Pangilinan tackled the correlation between agriculture and food security, citing Sagip Saka as an example of how to start solving the agricultural dilemma: “The program and its namesake bill seek to achieve sustainable modern agriculture and food security by transforming agricultural communities to reach their full potential, improving farmers’ quality of life and bridging gaps through public-private partnerships.”

The path towards food security and sustainable agriculture involves everyone, whether we indirectly support farmers and fisher folk through local produce purchases or active direct involvement to improve the profit potential of farmers and protecting natural resources. Even Sen. Pangilinan concurs about the place of agriculture and fisheries in establishing a progressive and sustainable future. Programs like Sagip Saka are “meant to give agriculture and fisheries the primacy that it deserves by focusing on improving the quality of life of our farmers and fisher folk and, in doing so, building sustainable farming communities nationwide as a means to achieve food security. And only through strong partnerships can we achieve this.”

 

GO SLOW

One of the solutions to attaining food security lies in sustainable agriculture and improving agricultural biodiversity. One of the strongest advocates for this would have to be Slow Food International. Slow Food is “a global, grassroots organization, founded in 1989 to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us.”

In the Philippines, Slow Food Manila and the other convivia have been integral partners in promoting awareness about the farming community through activities that celebrate both the produce and the farmers. “This means that we carry this movement of connecting plate and planet together,” shares Slow Food Manila President Paula Aberasturi.

The recent Onboard the Ark of Taste lunch was one such opportunity to gather food advocates and farmers in a bountiful feast prepared by Chef Margarita Fores. “The idea behind the benefit lunch was an opportunity to dine with farmers, be familiar with ingredients used in the special menu prepared by Chef Margarita, for chefs and culinary enthusiasts to understand what the farmers is trying to do at their farm and for farmers to see what chefs are trying to do with their produce,” explains Slow Food Manila member and ECHOstore Sustainable Lifestyle Owner and Founder Pacita Juan.

Chef Margarita echoed her sentiments as she covered the menu’s conception and creation: “This menu is a mix of celebrating iconic and historic ingredients that we never really knew we had in the Philippines, that we took for granted all these years. It is the best way to celebrate the wonderful relationship with farmers and to celebrate cooking techniques.”

Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Berna Romulo-Puyat emphasized the role of slow food in a sustainable food future. “Meeting farmers and shaking the hand that feeds you, to see how they produce food and see how food is grown, you appreciate farmer more. To be a slow food advocate, buy local and buy ingredients indigenous to country.”

The fish station offered modern touches to the traditional kinilaw, using sustainably fished tuna, parrot fish and mackerel from Meliomar Inc. Although the tuna is traditional, “we crisped the skin of the parrot fish, and combined the parrot fish with ark of taste ingredients of tabon tabon and sua (local lime endemic to the south) from Mindanao. The mackerel is a unique dry sinigang with batuan to sour it,” Chef Margarita explained.

The classic adobo used black heritage pork from Down to Earth, serving the dish from an authentic palayok made by women of Cordilleras. The adobo was slow-braised in the clay pot, and served with smoked kesong puti, achara red onion homemade chicharon, and tinawon rice.

Chef Margarita prepared the bistek with local grass-fed beef from Bukidnon (Ark of Taste southern yellow cattle), drizzled with a bistek glaze, roasted kalabasa mash, onion hay, garnished with alugbati flowers from Malipayon Farms.

Dessert was coconut served three ways: panna cotta from coconut milk, with a latik crumble, latik glaze, and a grey meringue of smoked coconut paired with local Philippine coffee and chocolates.


To be continued…

 

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