TARA NA!

The title for this post is the Filipino phrase for “let’s go.”  It is our working title for the first phase of this project in which we get to know our context and potential partners.

Our first working week on the Foodways Philippines project included site visits to three potential partners for the project. We were able to observe (and sometimes lend our hands) to the hunger action work that De La Salle groups are doing in partnership with local organizations in three very different contexts.

Jazmin smiling at the camera, seated outdoors.

Jazmin Llana (De La Salle professor, performance studies scholar, and hunger activist) is our partner for all of this work. For two of these trips, we were joined by Jazmin’s research assistant Trisha Concepcion and her friend Lance Yu, who is recording some of the Foodways activities on video.  

Lance and Tricia wearing Spatula&Barcode logo aprons and giving a thumbs up to the camera.

15 JUNE:  BAGONG SILANG

On Tuesday, we traveled to the outskirts of Manila to connect with the work of the Federation of Persons with Disability in Bagong Silang, Caloocan. Technically, this barangay (a word that means both neighborhood/community and political unit) is still part of Manila, but the city is so large and the traffic potentially so slow the we stayed overnight in Fairview, a spot closer to our destination, in order to be able to join them first thing in the morning. 

A performer holding a picture book and extending a microphone to a group of children seated on the floor.

The group working together in Bagong Silang was described to us as a coalition of ten different organizations (and in some cases multiple subsidiaries or offshoots of those groups). For example, a primary partner is REKASAKA, a group made up of the families of people with disabilities, who do most of the cooking, but on the day we were there, we also saw theatrical literacy work performed by a locally formed youth collective (Tanghalang Balaguy, performing below) who decided to add their efforts to these gatherings at daily meals.  

People sitting around a low table with fast food boxes

From the De La Salle side, the partner unit is Tulong Lasalyano.  Within this, a specific sub-group works on nutrition and health, while others focus on areas such as disaster relief and livelihood.  

A boy standing against a pillar, having his height recorded by an adult

On the day of our visit, the De La Salle group was beginning to set up the metrics for the nutrition program. Each child was measured and weighed and that information, along with name and age, were recorded in spreadsheets that would be used in the future to calculate actual gains in height and weight against standards.  Because of this unique measurement activity, an unusual treat was provided for the group in the form of fast food super meals from the national chain Jollibee–rather than the usual home-prepared meals using the enriched ingredients provided by Feed My Starving Children in the form of Manna packs.  

Two children on small chairs eating from fast food boxes

Everyone on hand (roughly 250 people), whether a child in the program or a sibling or caretaker, was given a super meal box that contained fried chicken, rice, spaghetti with banana catsup, and a burger patty as well as a fruit drink.

The whole activity took place on a basketball court adjacent to a community center, and while the part of the day that preceded lunch included seated waiting as well as queueing, the time after lunch was a festive scene including basketball and other games.

Our next step, in addition to conferring with our De La Salle partners, is to visit again on a day when ordinary eating takes place, to talk more with those that prepare the meals as well as with the youth doing the literacy work, and learn about the recipes by cooking together. One idea we have for engagement here includes connecting this group of children with counterparts overseas. 

16 JUNE: A. J. KALINGA FOUNDATION

On Thursday, we joined the team at the A J Kalinga Foundation in central Manila, who make and distribute meals for “street dwellers.”  The center is part of (and situated at) the offices of the Society of the Divine Word in the Tayuman neighborhood of Manila City. The team that prepares meals includes some of the Brothers as well as several former aid recipients who have been part of the center’s on the job training program.

A cook in a pink apron adding a spoonful of something to a large pot with meat and bay leaves in it.

Prior to COVID, meals that were served at the center included a shower and counseling.  During the pandemic lockdowns, the center redefined its operations to distribute packaged meals in the neighborhoods where the homeless were confined (as well as arranging housing for many).  At the peak, one thousand meals per day were distributed (and hundreds of people were housed) but at present they’re reducing the volume as they prepare to resume on site operations and discontinue street distributions.

Michael in a patterned face mask chopping okra with two large bowls of okra in the background

When we arrived in the morning, cooking operations had already been underway for many hours and most of the cutting, chopping and squeezing were already done.  However, we were able to chop a lot of okra and join the last stages–the actual combination of ingredients in huge batches as well as the packaging–and then to accompany the team members who distributed food from three locations.

10 large crates stacked up, each full of cardboard to-go food boxes
an open food box containing rice, stew, and okra

The boxes we prepared contained rice, okra and Bistek.  Here is a recipe for the meat. We also prepared a separate dish of chicken, labeled for distribution to Muslim participants.

  • Marinate pork in calamansi lime juice, soy sauce (lots of it), oyster sauce (enough to help darken the meat), patis (just enough to make it salty), and sugar for five minutes. No salt is added since the fish sauce is already salty.
  • Saute the garlic, ginger, and onions, all finely diced.
  • Put all the pork and sauteed vegetables in. Put in thickly cut potatoes. Add bay leaves (whole and powdered) and peppercorn. Cook for up to two hours until soft. 
close shot of two people handing a food box and a bag of bread to a man's hands

In July, regular feeding at the center will resume and on our return visit we’ll get a better sense of how the operations are embedded in the organization’s mission.  We’d also like to have more in-depth conversations about how recipes are devised and transmitted, as well as a clearer sense of how the spiritual and educational mission of the center is bound up with the provision of meals.

JUNE 17: LIAN BATANGAS

On Friday, we drove to the community of Lian in the province of Batangas–about 120 km from central Manila. Traveling with us that day was Leo Tadena who works for De La Salle as coordinator of the Lasallian Sustainable Development Program of the Center for Social Concern and Action and has been collaborating with this community for the last six years on sustainable fishing practices that enhance the quality of the coral reef and the sustainability of the catch.

several people, including Michael and Jazmin, seated outdoors at tables set in a square in the shade

There, we met first with the newly-elected mayor and several of his division directors to learn about what they consider their community’s most urgent issues, notably the almost complete absence of jobs that introduce cash into the community.

Then we spent the rest of our day with representatives of the community of “fisher folk”–a term which includes both the men who fish and the women who run the market stalls.  We met with them for a conversation, shared a lunch (of beef, not fish) and then visited their mangrove nursery where they raise saplings that are sold to the enterprise maintaining the Mangrove forests.

a concrete bridge leading into a forest

We did not encounter “hunger” in Lian in the same ways as we did on our other two site visits. In fact, this is a community that produces much of what it eats locally and therefore was only minimally challenged by the pandemic food shortages. Rather, the hunger work in this case is future-oriented, as sustainability initiatives look to ensure that food sources will continue to produce at present or improved rates. Fisher folk told us that those most at risk of near-term hunger are the most marginal of fish vendors, especially single mothers, whose income is less stable.

a mangrove forest with water and tree trunks

In sharp contrast to the variously attributed adage about “teaching a man (sic) to fish,” one fisherman told us that if a man only knows how to fish, he will be hungry, as fishing is seasonal and must be supplemented by other forms of labor. We were reminded of how many farming families back home rely on having at least one member employed off the farm–preferably in the public sector–to secure benefits and a stable supplementary income.

We hope to return here to learn to cook a local fish specialty called Sinaing na Tulingan and, while doing so, to continue conversations about community, identity, and sustainability.

INITIAL REFLECTIONS

Beautifully orchestrated by Jazmin, and fortuitously curated, this first week of work included three contexts (urban, “suburban,” and rural), for three different populations (undernourished children, homeless adults, and members of a fishing and agricultural community), as well as at least three different sets of organizational values (secular support to poor families with disabled children, religious/spiritual formation coupled with physical sustenance, political/economic development and sustainability).

The challenges we see with this work going forward include our lack of language proficiency for Filipino and other locally spoken languages, our sensitivity to the long term relationships that our partners have with the communities they serve, and the question of what value that outsiders like ourselves making a brief visit can bring.  

a wide-angle high shot of lots of children gathered in a large covered pavillion

The opportunities are to think about the ways that hunger has its own foodways–as do efforts to mitigate it. Food may be eaten communally or distributed individually. It may be pre-packaged or home-cooked, familiar or foreign, healthy or expedient. The giver and the recipient may look for or avoid (eye) contact.  The context may be somber or ludic.  And there may be associated expectations–from prayer to measurement. Specific foodways take shape around these circumstances and objectives but are also shaped by the creative humans undertaking them.

We find ourselves most drawn to labor and interactions that directly involve food; the way that someone’s eyes light up and their face and body animates when asked to describe a recipe is particularly compelling to us.

For the next few weeks we’ll be turning our attention to the upcoming Performance Studies conference and our multiple roles in it. In addition to the ways that we will grow and our thinking will evolve from having to present our activities to an audience, we also look forward to the enriched theoretical framework that we will gain from listening to presentations on hunger and its mitigation as it is being performed and studied all over the world.

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