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Rising prices challenge content creators on how they present food

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Rising prices challenge content creators on how they present food
Farmers rights advocates sell produce at a 'bagsakan' at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City on June 12, 2022.
Philstar.com

SAGADA, Philippines — Filipino street food is more than just a "convenience for those without time to cook, or an economic phenomenon that flourishes during hard times" food writer and researcher Doreen Fernandez writes in "Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture."

"It is a lifestyle," she adds, pointing out that it was documented in art as early as 1858 in a painting of a woman steaming puto bumbong by German painter Carl Johann Karuth.

Fernandez was a writer and editor, a literary scholar, cultural historian and teacher for more than 30 years. A revised and updated copy of her book of essays was published in 2020.

Food has always been a staple in legacy media, from cooking shows to restaurant reviews, and with content creation now possible through mobile phones, it is a staple on social media as well.

In an ideal world, media consumed by audiences is representative of the community that created it and accepts it, Professor Vladimeir Gonzales tells Philstar.com in an e-mail.

"Pero dahil sa mga usapin ng intensyon, access, purchasing power, paghahati sa uri, nagiging mga kaso ng pagbubura ng mga storya ang mga dapat sana ay simpleng pagbabahagi ng produkto o kwento," Gonzales adds.

(But because of issues like intention, access, purchasing power, division among kinds, stories on media become cases of erasure of narratives instead of a simple sharing of a product or story.)

Like curated Instagram feeds, flashy content about aspirational lifestyles may, for example, contribute to a false sense of how life in the Philippines is like for many Filipinos.

Gonzales is a scholar of fan and pop culture and Filipino literature. He holds a doctorate degree in Filipino, major in Pagsalin from the University of the Philippines Diliman, where he also teaches.

Kevin Garcia of food vlog "Eat's a Small World" tells Philstar.com that as someone new to vlogging, his "Number One goal is to help restaurants, food vendors and consumers all over the country by producing honest-to-goodness short food-related content."

And it is not difficult to do just that: Street food and local store-brought meals long been one of his staple contents.

Garcia is a Manila-based vlogger with 130,000 followers on Facebook and who aims to help locals and tourists where to eat through highly entertaining food content.

He adds he believes that if the food and story are both good, "you deserve a spot and get featured in [his] content no matter what the price point is."

Just a taste

Bryan Caleb Simbria, a 20-year-old student who grew to love cooking at a young age thanks to his parents, says he developed the habit of watching food TikTok videos in recent months.

He says he would sometimes try to recreate them if the recipe is not too complicated and the ingredients are readily available. If an ingredient is expensive or if he has to go to a specific store to buy it, he would try looking for alternatives.

"But more often than not, the meal would taste different so I end up not cooking the meal and just finding other recipes that have cheaper or more accessible ingredients," he adds, noting that prices of commodities have been rising too.

Latest data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that inflation quickened at a pace not seen in the last three years at 6.1% in June. Transportation costs soared the highest at 17.1% while prices of food commodities rose at 6%.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas also raised interest rates this week to make businesses and consumers spend less and lower demand for goods to address inflation.

For many consumers of food content on social media, it will likely be, as Simbria himself acknowledges, viewing for entertainment only. He says he sometimes 
saves recipes he sees to try some other time.

A sense of community

Fernandez writes that the "the Filipino idea of community may also explain why meals outdoors, in the streets, among strangers, are comfortable." 

In agricultural and riverine communities, "there was dependence among members of a community—for the plowing and planting of fields, for the mending or setting of nets, for harvesting and winnowing."

Through this sense of community, "the family groupings become communities; the communities become families." 

Among the draws of vloggers and social media content creators is their authenticity and relatability but Gonzales suggests vloggers can take the extra step of being more aware of issues surrounding their content like rising food prices and lack of food security.

They can do that by immersing themselves in communities in sectors directly affected by the food crisis like farmers, workers and families in need.

"Mula sa pakikisalamuha, bubuo ng mas mapagpalayang anyo ng media," Gonzales says.

(From that immersion, they can contribute to a more liberating form of media)

Groups like Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women Advocates and Gantala Press are already contributing to changing how writing about food is usually done. They worked with communities in Cavite, Laguna, Iloilo, and Rizal for recipes for "Lutong Gipit: Mga Recipe sa Panahon ng Krisis".

Aside from showing how many Filipino households get by during crisis, the project also looks into that crisis and related issues that communities like Lupang Ramos in Dasmariñas, Cavite continue to contend with.

"Sa aklat na ito, bukod sa pagtipon at pagbabahagi ng mga recipe mula sa mga babaeng magsasaka, inilatag din ang mga kaso ng panggigipit, militarisasyon, at kawalan ng ayuda sa panahon ng pandemya," he adds.

(In the book, aside from collecting and sharing recipes from women farmers, issues like harassment, militarization and lack of government aid during the pandemic were also laid out.)

Not a job for content creators alone

Actress and food vlogger Judy Ann Santos recently made ripples with her decision to stop content production for now because, she says, she does not want to create videos for food that viewers might not be able to afford to prepare.

"Ayokong hindi maka-relate ‘yung viewers sa kung anumang lutuin ang gagawin ko kasi parang napaka-unfair naman."

(I don't want what I'm cooking to be something that viewers cannot relate to because that would be unfair to them)

In 2020, more than a dozen social media influencers and internet personalities joined the petitions against the Anti-Terrorism Act, saying it "presents a clear threat on the free exercise by the citizens-netizens of their fundamental right to speak on issues of national importance, albeit online."

Many social media content creators were also active during the campaign for the May elections and some have continued producing fact checks and other content against disinformation.

"Munting kislap pa lamang ang nagmumula sa ating mga mulat na social media content creator, pagkain man o ibang produkto ang tuntungan ng content," Gonzales says.

(There has only been a small spark from our socially-aware social media content creator, whether their content is food or any other product)

That spark, he says, is just a taste of what a people can achieve when they are conscious of what others are going through and are open to interacting with other sectors and organizing towards a better future.

Santos' decison was an admirable start that other vloggers or influencers can consider, Gonzales says, but he stresses that while social media content has an impact on the consciousness of society, the task cannot fall only on them.

"Maaaring ang pinakamataas na anyo ng kamulatan ay mahuhugot mula sa mga magkakaugnay na progresibong pagbabago ng edukasyon, pamahalaan, sa media, at sa iba pang espesyo ng paghuhulma," he also says.

(It may be that the highest form of awareness will come from the interconnected progressive reforms in education, in the government, the media and other spaces for formation)

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