Where have all the real foods gone? On our way to Marikina this morning in a van, I was talking to the van owner who was also driving the van for us. As we were talking, one thing led to another until our conversation focused on food. We both love vegetable plants and gardening and farm animals and I started talking about native chicken tinola and sinigang na bangus sa bayabas.
We decided that traditional native foods were real foods compared to what millennials like eating today. “I can’t understand why these kids eat chips, hotdogs, doughnuts, fries, sundaes, shakes, cakes and pasta all the time?” I asked. If it’s not rich in carbs or sugar, then it’s nothing but junk. Nothing more. Then the van owner, Nars, shared how his children loved drinking sugar-overloaded coffee with ice and copiously topped with cream. “Nothing but sugar and bad cholesterol,” I said. He agreed laughing.
In my time, we had salabat (ginger ale) and kamote (sweet potato) for snack. Or else, we picked ripe guava and aratilis (a local wild cherry) from our backyard—well, these fruits were common in almost all backyards in the neighborhood then before other people took over these properties, cut all the trees and covered everything with concrete.
And kids then easily identified different trees even from a distance—kamagong, caimito, guava, narra, santol, avocado, kamias and sampaloc, to name a few. Try asking kids today if they can name trees they see around them—that is, if there are still trees around them. I was shocked to see some kids unaware what makahiya and tutubi were. Aside from these creations being near extinct, most kids today just aren’t interested. As with junk food, most kids prefer junk entertainment (digital games).
Nature and the Basics
I tried teaching my kids about trees and how to ID them but they just didn’t have the interest. I even tried to help them appreciate real, nutritious food like sinigang na isda sa bayabas (fish cooked in stew soured with guava) but they said it smelled like cat pee. “What?” I said, almost shouting. Fastfood fried chicken and gravy were good enough for them, they assured me.
They need to go back to nature and the basics—listen to bird chirps in the morning and try to identify what birds they are, raise up farm animals, do gardening, learn to cook outdoors on open fire, hunt, gather firewood and chop logs, start fire manually for cooking, learn how to use hunting knives, ax and farming implements, stuff like that. When I was young, those were part of training for manhood. So was Filipino martial arts. And cooking and developing a taste for real food.
Discipline, Patience and Some Art
It’s exciting adventure to grill or barbecue food outdoors from the fire you yourself built, or cook rice and viand on the same. I was in grade 4 when I started learning how to build fire for cooking, cook rice and native food dishes and grill fish and meat. I also learned at a young age how to use banana leaves in place of plates and how to eat outdoors or in the woods. In high school and college I was an expert griller. My dad had me grill various types of fish, vegetables, and even pork, meat and chicken. I also often cooked family dinner meals like pinakbet, sinigang, diningding, almon bigas, sarsyado, tinola, asado, etc. aside from frying food (frying pork chops was my favorite).
Outdoor culinary activities and cooking real food dishes develop discipline, patience and some art in you. Traditional cooking encourages simplicity. Cooking in general makes you systematic and hons your accurate approximation (or common sense), judgment and imagination. At first you need measuring utensils for mixing ingredients and seasoning. But later you develop quick acumen and do everything with sleight-of -hand mastery. And everything comes out perfect.
Real foods are gradually disappearing on family dinner tables and replaced with either fastfood or processed food—chicken nuggets, hotdogs, burger patties, sausages and the like. Plus chemical-flavored shakes, sundaes, iced teas and powdered juices. I’m happy that eggs are still around, and so is a glass of water.
I wonder—who’s been taking all the real foods away and hiding them from us?