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Sunday, August 2, 2009


(This is an excerpt from the essay 'Revolutionary Food' I wrote in 2001 as part of a collection of essays I was amassing for the book "This Is Not A Cookbook". I share it now that President Cory Aquino has passed away in the hope it will remind us all of the dreams we had for our country in 1986. It is my fervent wish that those dreams are still with us. And that we are working towards their becoming real.)
"We've all heard of Marie Antoinette's famous quip re: the peasants' clamor for reforms wherein she allegedly retorts "Let them eat cake!" eventually leading to her neck being under the guillotine. In Classical Greece, specifically Athens, the upper class males ate separately from the females. These privileged males usually were served and entertained by hired lower class males (hmm). The females dined separately with the servants and children. In Classical Rome entertaining by way of banquets was observed to preserve the pervading patron-client relations. Centuries later in Medieval Europe, the food one got depended on his status. Mere laborers had less quantity and variety when it came to food as compared to the higher ranking scholars, military, abbots, etc. One got bigger portions and more types of food as he ascended the social ladder. Throughout history food has not only played a crucial role in society but was indeed a reflection of the society it was feeding. Rich civilizations enriched their cuisines with exotic foodstuffs from faraway places through trade and barter. Big cities today boast of mixed cuisines reflective of the peoples that inhabit them.
"Emilio Aguinaldo's assumption to the presidency was marked with a banquet to rival those of the Spaniards. Imported ham and other foodstuffs were included in the predominant Spanish menu. A telltale sign that our 'revolutionary heroes' had not totally let go of the Spanish influence. After World War II, the Americans did not waste time in reversing the centuries-old Spanish influence. They set out to 'educate' the Filipino by deploying Missionaries to most parts of the islands. But subliminally, they pacified the Filipino people by giving him Spam, Hershey's, and other PX goods that beguile us up to now. Today they threaten regional palates by infusing cities with their franchised fastfood worldwide. In turn hoping to have a control of the global economy.
"In February 1986, the Filipino people toppled a dictator in less violent means compared to what befell the French monarchy of 1789. We have all heard of that little boy who decided to celebrate his 8th birthday in EDSA with cake, balloons, family and all amidst the drama that was to unfold leading to the strongman's exile to Hawaii. Such is the Filipino character, always involving 'food' in major events be it baptisms, fiestas, weddings, graduations, (the measly) payday every 15th and 30th of each month, and not surprisingly even during ousters of despots. Back in Baguio, during and after the elections in 1986 my mother and an aunt set out to volunteer as poll watchers in our city. Their headquarters were at the old Cafe Amapola. The eve before elections, my mother and aunt were busy preparing sandwiches to be given to the other poll watchers. Basins of prepared diced luncheon meat and sandwich spread were spooned onto countless loaves which were individually wrapped in paper napkins ready for distribution the next day - -election day. I remember them laboring till the wee hours of the morning with hushed tones of the yet uncertainty that would befall our nation. Hushed talks of another martial law looming, or a civil war, or chaos pervaded the evening. Along with Manila's Coryistas who ascended to Baguio that fateful February my Mother and Aunt did their best to feed the pollsters, keep abreast with the latest election developments and also to keep the family calm.
"My more radical friends at the UP Baguio had chided me for being centrist as opposed to their stand to boycott the elections. During the eve of February 25, the entire 'vigilant' Baguio had a gathering at the Baguio Cathedral at the top of the city proper. The more progressive groups (mostly students and organized forces) were, not surprisingly, assigned to occupy the left side of the church with the centrist and right-leaning groups spilling out of the service into the right side of the cathedral. It was thus announced from the 'right' side of the cathedral that Marcos had indeed fled for Hawaii escorted by the Americans. (The moderates had better communications systems - this was after all pre-egalitarian-text-messaging).

"Shortly thereafter, delegates from the studentry, labor force, NGO's, church, etc. gathered in Taloy, Tuba to 'exorcise' the Marcos bust. We gathered in jeep loads to the foot of the bust where speeches and cultural presentations were exchanged. The main event would be the pouring of fresh blood from the sacrificial pig onto the cement monstrosity that was the Marcos bust. Much like the blood serving as a giant pin to the bust that was a giant voodoo doll. The Ibaloi representatives, (the Marcos bust was erected in Ibaloi ancestral land) proceeded to do a cañao. In a cañao, a sacrificial pig is butchered by an elder of the tribe. This elder or mambunong is a shaman/priest presiding over the ritual. The manner in which the animal is butchered depends on the occasion or purpose of the feast. The shaman aided by other males from the tribe slaughter the animal eliciting loud wails from the pig. The innards particularly the bile sac is 'read' by the elder for omens or signs from the Gods. When all is well, they methodically burn the pig then cut up the carcass to specific cuts for the varied dishes to be cooked. Blood is saved and sometimes mixed for dinuguan or for blood sausages called pinuneg. Most commonly the meat is boiled in water and salt and thus served with a bowlful of minced chillies and salt or soy sauce. Much to the appalled expressions of my lowlander friends, they were in fact admonished by our group leaders to partake of the food, with scoops of rice on cut out banana stalks for plates and pieces of cut bamboo as utensils. I remember thinking that even with the dictator out, much had still needed to be done to unite the nation -- culturally, psychologically, sociologically and above all, gastronomically, we were and still are a divided race.
"But such was the character of EDSA 1 and 2: a spontaneous reaction of fed-up Filipinos eager to replace first a dictator and second time around a corrupt incompetent. But the provisions of food were just like the act of the gathering itself, spontaneous and from the heart. The infamous gathering of May 1, 2001 was engineered, planned and even catered. We all saw the styro trash that thronged the highway. We all heard of the matinee idol donating styro-packed lunches/dinners for the erap-crowd. Oh well. Erap's much publicized lunch with the urban poor on banana leaves and sans utensils was very good application of semiotics I must say. But that is what the former president excels at; image building, him being a former actor. He could have saved us a lot of trouble had he resigned at the onset of jueteng-gate. The great French chef Vatel opted to take his life in 1671 instead of facing a life of ignominy from serving a bad meal. Such was his dedication to his craft and sense of duty to those he served. Our politicians have lots to learn from Vatel.
"Today there is unrest in Muslim Mindanao and in the mountains of the Cordilleras. For as long as there are hungry mouths, there will be no peace."


  1. Your posting this last week was prescient, Martin! And now we have Marie Gloria Antoinette dining in Le Cirque for a cool $20,000!

  2. Grabe talaga! She's just like Imelda. If not worse. Hopping over to your blog now...