'Makisawsaw' is a collection of essays and recipes (featuring one comic!) that explores the politics of food. Photograph from Gantala Press on Facebook
Culture Books

This book goes deep into the subject of food but not in the way you expect it

It’s time to take the discourse beyond just flavors, health, and dieting.
Jam Pascual | Oct 19 2019

Conversations about food always seem to go in familiar, boring directions. Culture and lifestyle: this new restaurant in town is fusing two cuisines and packaging the fusion as original! Taste: you can really tell the difference between the tenderness of angus beef and the buttery marbling of wagyu. Health: are you cutting red meat out of your diet for weight loss? Have you tried keto? You get the picture.

These talking points are fine, but rarely do we mention food’s politics, or merge such conversations with environment and ecology. And whenever we mention the chains of production, it’s usually the same (valid but tired argument) about the unethical treatment of animals—the plight of farmers and other blue collar workers who help distribute our food rarely figures in the discussion.

Can we change the world with food? asks one of the essays in Makisawsaw. Photograph from the Official Website

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This paradigm of food discourse is partly what makes Makisawsaw so refreshing. Makisawsaw is a collection of essays and recipes (featuring one comic!) that explores the politics of food—food activism, the production processes that make our food, and the effects of food in both the micro and macro parts of our lives. The book is edited by Mabi David and Karla Rey, writers and scholars who comprise Me and My Veg Mouth, an organization that advocates healthy living and education about the environment. It is their editorial thumbprint that defines the book’s thoroughly intersectional approach, tying together issues of health, sustainability, workers’ rights and women’s rights in its essays. 

The book is published by local, independent and feminist enterprise Gantala Press, and it is befitting that the contributors for this book are all women. As Mabi David notes in the book’s introduction, it is in this way that the book “emphasizes that the work of securing safe, healthy, and sustainable food is so intimately bound to the work of women.” As in most professions and fields, the labors of women are overlooked in the food arena—whether it be a mother making sure her children are well-fed or vendors at wet markets who have to behold the effects of policies such as rice tariffication.

These kinds of topics can be overwhelming when first confronted, and praise is due for the way Makisawsaw eases its readers into this world. The first two essays by Richgail Enriquez and Jennette Vizcocho thoughtfully testify to the personal benefits of a meat-free diet. Charlene Tan, in “Can We Change the World with Food” frames sustainable living as a community effort, instead of being the burden of the individual consumer. 

The issue of land rights is one of the subjects tackled in Makisawsaw. Photo by Erik de Castro, Reuters

After that, we get Padmapani L. Perez taking us into the science and logistics of seeds. Asha Peri, in her piece “Ecology of Food: Healing the Self and the Planet,” holistically investigates how capitalist production processes behind food affect the way we consume and think about food. Worker exploitation and an extreme dependence on GMOs harm both the earth and the organisms that live in it, and Peri’s essay invites us to consider that health should be a more wholistic concept, an idea that sees the planet and our bodies, plus systems and cultures, as elements that we can concurrently nourish, if only we reacquaint ourselves with the complexity of nature.

As in most professions and fields, the labors of women are overlooked in the food arena—whether it be a mother making sure her children are well-fed or vendors at wet markets who have to behold the effects of policies such as rice tariffication.

The book follows this trajectory of light-to-heavy pretty faithfully. Mary Ann Manahan, in her essay “Resilient Lives,” talks about the issue of land rights, by shining a light on the women farmers of the Camansi Farmers’ Association of Carigara, Leyte, whose efforts in farming and bringing their community together helped them recover post-Yolanda. Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women at Rae Rival collectively author a piece to explain the violence of the NutriAsia issue. They even co-write a comic with artist Gelai Manabat about the Rice Liberalization Law, which is prefaced with a piece by Faye Cura (founder of Gantala Press) on the social importance of komiks.

How does one end a book like this? Well, Makisawsaw does it with a list of easy-to-make, Filipino-palate-satisfying vegan recipes, a loving reminder that we can honor this newfound mindfulness toward nature and food with the simple act of cooking. Makisawsaw is a rare kind of book, a fun read that takes its subject of study very seriously. Texts like these simply have to figure into our discussions of the environment now, which can be draining. In the midst of news about forest fires, the apocalypse rhetoric that defines climate change discourse, and Greta Thunberg’s urgent calls to action, it would be of great help to train our sights on what’s in front of us. Specifically, what we put on our plates.