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Empower our country with food technology, not culinary arts

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven - The Philippine Star

After high school at St. Scholastica’s College my younger sister Medy chose Food Technology as a career, while I did AB Nutrition. Culinary Arts did not attract our generation. Today, there is a glut of colleges offering the so-called Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM). CHED declared a moratorium on this program in 2010. Both Department of Agriculture and Department of Science and Technology have been sorely amiss in working with CHED to match the need for labor force that would feed 100 million Filipinos. Hunger is a threat in our unstoppable population growth. Urgently needed are agronomists, food technologists and plant/animal breeders.

The contents of this article are the experiences of my sister Medy Laquindanum, who did BS Food Technology at University of the Philippines, and MS Food Science at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, under Fulbright Hays Scholarship. She had training at UN-FAO seminars on Food Export and Food Engineering in Malaysia and India. She was Research Leader, then Research and Development Manager and Technical Manager from 1972 to 1995 in California Manufacturing, now Unilever Foods. She was Assistant College Dean of the O.B. Montessori College, College Dean of Istituto Culinario, and OBMC registrar from 1995 up to the present.

Employment demands of multinational companies

Medy recalls, “With a Master in Food Science on a Fulbright scholarship, the University of the Philippines became my launching pad into the Philippine food industry. I answered a blind ad for a food technologist for what turned out to be the multinational company Del Monte Bukidnon based in Mindanao. Thinking my prospective employer will not yield to my asking price of four times my UP salary, I was flabbergasted to know they called my bluff.”

“So off I trained in the pineapple tables conveyor belts running one peeled and cored fruit cylinder per second (around 20 tables in all). I sorted out blemished slices and off-center cores to select the best quality for whole fruit slices or chunks. Trimmings or seconds went to crush varieties. The skin was squeezed for juice from which vinegar or recovered syrup was made. The pulp went to cattle feed. No part of the pineapple was wasted.”

The need for huge volumes of agriculture products

It’s not only big industries that need food technologists. In fact, big businesses will not thrive if small or cottage industries cannot survive. One such example is the strawberry supplier from Baguio, who had to deliver tons of his produce to a jam processor in Manila. To survive the overnight trip from the farm, the supplier would boil the fruits with sugar, pack them hot in plastic-lined five-gallon pails for delivery 300 km away to Metro Manila for final processing and bottling. It turned out pre-cooking could be eliminated and alternate packing of fresh fruits with refined sugar was sufficient to protect the strawberries for transport before freezing or preserves cooking. Eliminating the boiling operation not only cut labor and energy cost but improves quality as well.

Forget organic food. The Filipino food supply can be affordable and just as nutritionally sound with a little help from the Food Technologist. Canned foods can be a bargain such as canned sardines and tuna. They have the same protein content as the clear-eyed freshly caught lapu-lapu and are so easy to prepare. 

Pickles? They are loaded with salt but high in vitamin K. It is one way of preserving the once-a-year cucumber harvest in salt stock, making the relish available for 12 months in sandwiches and salads. The cucumber planters of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija can be revived if taught to salt and ferment their harvest in brine. After fermentation and curing for 4 to 6 weeks, the salt content of the brine is gradually increased to 15 to 16% salt (60 to 66 degrees salometer). With proper care the cucumber may be held in this brine almost indefinitely or even sold for export as India does.

Post-harvest handling and storage require DA assistance

Peanut butter is a source of quality nutrition. Eight percent of its total fats are unsaturated like olive oil. It is also high in protein, fiber and potassium. And again, it extends the shelf life of shelled peanuts. Our peanut farmers need assistance from the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the proper post-harvest storage of the crop, to prevent mold infestation that result in production of the carcinogenic aflatoxin. Otherwise, the Philippines will continue to depend on China and Vietnam for importation of peanuts. Our country is a paradise of tropical fruits. We have made inroads in the dried mango exports. So why can’t we do the same for dried fruit mixes of pineapple and papaya and banana figs or chips. All these value-added processed crops will be a big boost for our farmers, not to mention dietary sources of fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium.

We need the assistance of the DA again for their post-harvest handling and storage. We cannot export or compete even with our ASEAN neighbors if insect fragment or rodents’ hair are found in our patis, bagoong or dried fish. It’s a pity because fish sauce has been tapped by Europeans as alternate to the controversial monosodium glutamate. I have seen concrete vats of patis fermentation left unattended after being packed with fish and salt. Even flies are not kept away form bagoong earth jars. The neighborhood cat and dog are also allowed to rest or play on drying racks when empty. Quality control should not be neglected ever for the poor man’s diet.

What makes the food industry a major employer

Adults and even children in early grade school can easily comprehend how much employment is available in the country if taught that we are both producers and consumers at the same time. A bowl of rice or wheat is grown by the farmers. He is assisted by others who weed, water and fertilize them until they are harvested. A driver takes them to the millers. Tons of rice are placed in sacks. Truck drivers or boat, transport them all around the country.  Small stores, market stall or supermarket sellers dispose of them to housewives, restaurants, hospitals, offices or school cafeterias. About 18 different people are employed to bring various food to our table.

Hundreds of kitchen helps – waiters and sellers help wash and store the equipment daily. But the major movers of the food industry are the trained agriculture workers, food merchants, food technologists and animal/plant breeders – the keys to feeding the world in the coming decades.

(For feedback email to [email protected])

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