Mediterranean or Slow Food?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Chit U. Juan - The Philippine Star

They say that many follow the Mediterranean diet to live longer or to avoid the usual causes of lifestyle diseases – usually an inflammation of something in the body. “-Itis” is the suffix for anything inflamed like tonsils, tendons, bursa and any other part that swells up. Thus, we hear of tonsillitis, tendonitis and bursitis.

The Greeks and Spaniards have long lived on olive oil, nuts, feta cheese while we Filipinos have the equivalent healthy choices in virgin coconut oil or VCO, peanuts and cashews and white cheese.

But we Filipinos also assimilate foreign food and eat whatever is trending –  kale, quinoa and the like –  from the West. Our local counterparts are camote tops, kulitis, adlai and our root crops like camote, cassava and taro.

Healthy food trends are nothing more than what our ancestors actually used to eat – until hotdogs and burgers became fashionable in the days of the American occupation and the advent of US Military Post Exchange or PX goods, as we called them in the 60s and 70s. One could even buy K-rations (what servicemen ate in the battlefield) and the usual American fast food staples – corned beef, Vienna sausage and instant coffee at these PX goods outlets. There was Dau and Nepo mart in Angeles, and Cartimar in Pasay.

Today, we call the trends by various names – Slow Food and Farm-to-Table cuisine. But Slow Food is more than just a trend as it really is a grassroots movement meant to encourage consumers to think about good, clean and fair food. And it involves producers or farmers producing good quality food whilst  preserving heirloom varieties and avoiding genetically modified organisms or GMOs. Slow Food is also about preserving biodiversity by planting a variety of crops rather than mono-cropping.

If everyone practised Slow Food principles maybe we will have less cases of inflammatory disease and lifestyle illnesses. After all, what we eat is what we become. We need not look for imported Mediterranean diets but look at local fare and see what is good for our optimal health.

Our old folks always used ginger or turmeric for inflammations. Whether it’s a sore throat or laryngitis, we steep ginger to make a brew called salabat. When one has a wound, we wash it with guava leaves boiled in water. I also use guava gargle when the throat is itchy or sore.

Natural food is abundant if we want to choose local fare that is good for our bodies. Ampalaya is good for diabetes, and it is what drug companies now produce in powder form or in capsules. But for me, I like eating it fresh in a salad, pickled or just sautéed with scrambled eggs. All these dietary choices have been passed on from one generation to the next and we incorporate these good food in our promotion of Slow Food, the global movement. It takes time to inculcate these simple tips in the minds of today’s consumers.

Today is the last day for Slow Food Philippines (www.slowfood.com) at the World Food Expo. We are thankful that PEP Tarsus, the show organizers, have been supporting Slow Food for almost ten years now. As we are a grassroots movement, we exist with support from like-minded people in the food industry like Joel Pascual and Randy Manaloto, who are true advocates of sustainable food and who help us promote the producers of our diverse culinary gems. Through our displays at WOFEX we are able to educate consumers and spread the word about our food culture – that is our mission in Slow Food Manila.

Last year’s top hits at the Slow Food stand were the wild cucumbers (pipinito) from Cavite, souring leaves for sinigang called libas from Bicol, langkawas or galanggal/ ginger from Camarines, sampinit berry from Quezon, siling labuyo from Cavite and Kapeng Barako or Liberica and Benguet Arabica.

Slow Food Negros also sent us Criollo Cacao, asin tibuok (natural salt), kadyos (black eyed pea) and various other ingredients you may only see at this event. People wanted to buy them, take them home or plant the cuttings they saw on display. Our coffee seedlings sold out! There was high interest in planting various food stocks for biodiversity.

And this year, we will do it again. We will showcase Ark of Taste (www.fondazioneslowfood.org) products – around 66 products listed in a global catalog along with 160 countries of our rare fruits and vegetables, including coffee and cacao. We will have pili nuts, souring agents found in leaves and roots, seasonings and even rare fruits like tabon tabon and sua, coming all the way from Cagayan de Oro. It is heartwarming to know that people are interested in knowing about our natural food and those which are almost forgotten because we have stopped using them.

The key to preservation of diverse species is the continued use of these ingredients. Thanks to chefs like Jam Melchor, Margarita Fores and Rica Buenaflor, who include all these rare species in their menus. After almost ten years of promotion, adlai has become mainstream. After our displays at WOFEX, you can now find sampinit cake, bignay jam and pili cheesecake. Chef Rhea Sycip uses ube kinampay from Bohol and pili from Camarines in her cakes. While Chef Jayjay Sycip uses wild cucumbers and other Cavite finds in his menu at his Tagaytay resto.

Chefs and farmers meet in a real farm-to-table experience by using heirloom ingredients. The winner is the consumer who gets to taste these rare finds, and then asks for them again and again. That makes the farmer plant these varieties again.

It takes three. The farmer, the chef and the consumer. Or sometimes even just two – the producer and the consumer – who is a co-producer. When you stop eating something, the farmer stops planting. It’s quite simple. Our only task as consumers is to be aware that consuming local varieties of food ensures its continued appearance in markets and on our tables.

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