In the age of fast food and junk eating, some angry Filipino chefs are starting to take over. These rebels are doing everything in their power to promote everything from bio-diversity and heritage dishes to sustainable production and unethical growth.
Included in these efforts are feeding programs like the one that the Slow Food Youth Network Philippines (SFYN Ph) has been hosting for the past three years. “We are mobilizing food warriors and brigades early, asking each one to prepare cups, cutlery, graters, knives, peelers, plates, and sandok for our third World Disco Soup Day,” says Chef Jam Melchor, head of SFYN Ph and the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement. The event is “a feeding of the multitude at Saint Scholastica in Manila on April 27.
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“Our recipe always starts with collecting, cleaning, and cutting rejected veggies from farms, including ones rescued from wet markets. Ingredients are weighed before volunteer chefs whip up protest soup and other dishes,” explains Chef Waya Araos-Wijangco, owner of Gypsy Gourmet and executive chef of the feeding event. “It is held simultaneously with other SFYN groups in their respective countries. The local and global actions show that thousands of kilos of rejected food products can feed millions of people worldwide.”
This kind of radical teaching from the kitchen is a reaction to the report of the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) that every year 1.3 billion tons of food globally is wasted because of rejection. The amount represents one-third of food produced for human consumption. And saving 25 percent of it can feed 870 million hungry people worldwide.
“We are being asked to bring our dancing shoes together with our cooking utensils. We dance and celebrate before every end of World Disco Soup Day,” says food activist Patricia Anne Santiago, a St. Scholastica student who became a member of SFYN Ph this year.
Apart from mass feeding at St. Scholastica, SFYN Ph has a “slow fish” exhibit, which tackles hard to digest topics like artisanal fishing, management of protected areas, and sustainable use of marine and coastal resources. It will also introduce ancient sanctuaries in central and southern Philippines which have mouth-watering marine products like the managat, a local variety of salmon and sea bass off Iloilo, danggit (Cebu), tuna (General Santos), and other deep sea fishes off Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
“SFYN Ph is a growing movement,” Melchor says. “The Philippines has one of the most participated events compared to others held in Southeast Asian SFYN countries.” These include ASEAN members such as Indonesia and Thailand.
“The movement received a donation of 200 kilos of rejected food products allowing chefs, cooks and students to whip up almost 1,000 meals for a community,” says Santiago of last year’s Word Disco Soup Day. The food was distributed at Enderun Colleges on April of last year, and the event was simultaneously held with 70 other countries. The year before that, they served champorado and dried fish to street children at the Poblacion Dining Room, March of 2017. “The champorado was made of a combination of black rice, sticky rice, thawed frozen nonhomogenized milk, and cacao. The dried fish was from Negros. We also made bean soup, fish wraps, and sandwiches,” Santiago shares. She adds that a total of 25,000 meals were made from 5,000 kilograms of rejected and donated agricultural and other food products during 70 World Disco Soup Days in 29 countries in 2017.
Melchor linked up with SFYN International in 2017 because he was attracted to its encouragement of the young. These budding food activists hold their respective local events to echo food issues globally. He said he saw the link as the best antidote to multinational food industries that have been destroying Filipinos’ palate and their heritage food.
SFYN’s main attraction is Italian Carlo Pertini, 69. He and other food activists launched SFYN in 1989, the culmination of their David and Goliath-like campaign against McDonald's which opened a fast food store near Rome’s Spanish Steps. The campaign initially began in defense of Italy’s cuisine and its romantic sense of good food. Now, SFYN has a comprehensive and political criticism of all multinational food industries’ domination of food production, a rejection of their practices and sense of unified taste imposed on every nation. There are now SFYN members in 160 counties, a network that could create revolutions in every kitchen worldwide.
SFYN’s call is for responsible choices, responsible eating habits, and responsible philosophy—that food should be “good, clean, and fair,” prepared with “care and respect” without plastic and dangerous additives. They should be grown as sustainable as possible without pesticide and dangerous food chain, forced-feeding, and fair to farmers and producers, not to multinational companies. A lot of talk has been done on how to stop food waste and how to feed everyone.
In an online letter to SFYN members, Petrini tells slow foodies that the “defense and promotion of animal, plant, and gastronomic biodiversity is the driving force that has been pushing us forward for over 20 years. We pioneer the creation of a new model of socioeconomic development that puts harmony between humans and nature at its center.”
He thanks the Presidia and the Ark of Taste, adding, these groups have “given back an identity to many communities and created values within them. These communities are working tirelessly, driven by love and passion to defend their local environment, tradition, and culture.”
In his call for stronger bio-diversity, Petrini asks SFYN member countries to add to the list of 5,000 (local food products) in 150 countries that have been catalogued for rescue and revival, rescued, adding, “It shows us the direction of the incredible work that we must do from 2020 on,” He explains. “Behind the products listed on the Ark catalogue are communities working to reaffirm the importance of local food production, traditional knowledge, and common goods. They spearhead an alternative and modern economic paradigm.” The University of Gastronomic Sciences that Petrini founded in Oct 2004 is part of this project.
SFYN embraces other political-food advocacies. To help bio-diversity for the future and stop reliance on a narrow range of conventional crops which is threatening food systems, farming systems, and ecosystems, SFYN groups have been learning from elderly people and farmers on the preservation of seeds using traditional methods; convincing farmers and residents to plant local and indigenous herbs, traditional grains; encouraging chefs to create new recipes using local indigenous herbs and grains.
The organizers says that SFYN country leaders and members troop “like happy activists” to SFYN bi-annual congress in Turin: Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, where they elevate discussions and actions on sustainable food system and other issue, apart from joining exhibits of artisanal food and country food products.
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Chefs Nino Laus and Jam Melchor give advice on sustainability at the Slow Food Youth Network Philippines’ World Disco Soup Day in 2018.
(From left) Philippines’ food activist Gina Lumauig; Slow Food Councilor for Southeast Asia Pacita Juan; SFYN Internationals’ convivium head Paula Aberasturi; SFYN Ph’s head Chef Jam Melchor; and Echo Store’s Reena Francisco after World Disco Soup Day in Makati City in 2018.
Philippine black rice and adlai
Lugang silas, siling labuyo, batwan and chesa—rare species from the Philippines listed in the Ark of Taste catalog.
Cacao and coffee from the Philippines
Food prepared by Chef Jac Laudico
Food prepared by Chef Jonas Ng
Food prepared by Chef Waya Araos Wijangco
Chefs and Slow Food Manila members at the display at Madrid Fusion 2017.
(From left) Food editor Nana Ozaeta, Pacita Juan, Chef Robbie Goco, food writer Marilen Fontanilla, and Chef Tatung Sarthou
Pacita Juan, Slow Food Councilor for Southeast Asia
The PH stand at Terra Madre 2018
Chef Gaita Fores with Gina Lumauig and Slow Food members
Ark of Taste lists souring ingredients like batwan, sampaloc, kamias, and tabontabon.
Heirloom rice from the Cordillera
Different types of mangoes
Chefs and Slow Food Manila members at the display at Madrid Fusion 2017