Walang Gutom

While we were in Bacolod, a package arrived in Manila containing our aprons. We were relieved and a bit surprised that they were not held up at customs. The aprons are printed with a version of the Spatula&Barcode logo that replaces the gingham pattern of the Foodways series with a pattern of rice grains and includes the words WALANG GUTOM, which can be translated as an imperative to END HUNGER or the descriptive phrase THE END OF HUNGER.

A stack of white aprons with the Walang Gutom logo

“End Hunger” is a catchy phrase, suggesting an aspiration for a global state in which no one is ever chronically hungry. However, hunger action is done piecemeal and only works to end hunger for a limited number of people one day at a time. What can it mean to proclaim or demand “end hunger”?

In our most recent conversations, we are thinking about hunger in three ways:

First is the hunger addressed by hunger action, which we might refer to as a Levinasian response to the hunger of another individual for whom I have empathy. (For Levinas, it is in the face-to-face encounter that we recognize our ethical responsibilities to one-another).

Second is the systemic hunger which is caused by the violence of capitalism and our tolerance for the unequal distribution of resources. This hunger cannot be redressed through individual or even collective action but only through (revolutionary) social change.

A foundational condition for these two hungers is the condition of the human animal, but really of all living things, that the possibility of hunger is inherent in existence, which connects to death as a constituent possibility of living. This third hunger (some would probably name it first) which we will call “existential” is paradoxically intrinsically material at the same time that it is an awareness that drives many to ongoing philosophical or spiritual inquiry.

While the phrase “Walang Gutom” may be the basis for solidarity and action, it is always realized in context of its ultimate impossibility.

Jazmin, Laurie Beth, Michael, Tricia, and Lance posing wearing Walang Gutom aprons

As unbelievable as it seemed, it turned out that printing our aprons in the United States with someone we know was the easiest and most cost effective way for us to get aprons for this project. We would much prefer to work (as we did in Melbourne) with a local artisan, but the apparent shape of the printing industry here, plus a combination of language and pandemic closures, made this seem insurmountable in Manila. We are quite happy to have worked again with Dorla Mayer and Screen Door Studio, an independent shop with a long history in the Madison community.

Michael in a grey Walong Gutom mask
While shipping, we also asked Dorla to include 50 WALANG GUTOM facemasks.

Our bowls, on the other hand, were produced in an extremely local way by a rural cooperative in Tiwi, a small town in Bicol province known for ceramics. We’re happy about that relationship, though we got into a lot of research that amounted to a lack of precise understanding of what glazes are completely “food safe” (the potters are confident in their process, and we’ll advise recipients not to leave acidic foods in them for long periods). The bowls are beautiful and charming as well.

Brown ceramic bowls with "walang gutom" stamped into the glaze on the inside

Our plan is to use the bowls at meals we organize in Bacolod and Lian but if those do not pan out, we might bring them back to one of the two Kalinga venues where we record guests talking about their favorite foods as well as their experiences of hunger.

All of this sounds very ambitious at the same time as we are aware of the dwindling schedule. We have less than two months remaining in our stay and a great deal of travel blocked into that time. We’ll keep you posted about how this unfolds.

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