[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: 'Unli-rice' and unlimited possibilities

So she was clobbered online after suggesting to ban unlimited rice because, she said, it’s bad for our health.

Let’s get one thing straight: Senator Cynthia Villar meant well. She may have said something most of us didn’t want to hear, but she didn’t say anything that isn’t true. Anything in excess is bad. Adding vegetables to our diet makes us healthier. “’Pagbawal na natin ’yang unlimited rice kasi nagkakasakit tayo gawa ng unlimited rice na ’yan; we should learn how to eat vegetables.”

Her remarks at a Senate food committee hearing should have sparked much-needed conversations about nutrition and food security at a time when we’re hooked on war, drugs, and a disappearing president. But, no, we chose to make memes out of the statement and say in so many words, how dare she!

The sad truth is, our national staple – polished and milled to perfection – gives us a false sense of nourishment. The Philippines’ increasing rice consumption indicates an imbalanced diet and reliance on carbohydrates, which is what the dominant type of imported rice in the market mostly has.

The sadder truth, however, is that Filipinos have no choice but to eat it. Most Filipinos spend on rice more than on any other food, and that is primarily because it is what is readily accessible and affordable, especially among poor communities. Wealthier countries have more diverse diets.

It is thus unrealistic for public officials to expect Filipinos to expand their diet when they have nothing else – except government-supplied rice – to begin with.

But is it too much to expect big private companies to do their bit of public health responsibility here and rethink the sugar that they are serving unlimited to a nation that has more people taking long lines in hospitals than in public markets?

And for better measure, can we not extend this call to other giant companies that have snatched farmlands to convert them into huge subdivisions, such as what the Villars have been doing over the years? While the Philippines is one of the biggest rice consumers in the world, it is a fact that it also is one of the smallest rice producers, no thanks to the invasion of unbridled commerce.

Thus the unli rice controversy shouldn’t just stop in the hashtags that trended because of it. 

It is all about opening up all possibilities of discourse, conversations, and policy debates: preservation of agricultural lands that are planted not just to rice but to other food crops; support for existing research initiatives on more nutritious rice varieties; active promotion of and government support for healthy but still affordable diets; public awareness of how affordable junk is competing with affordable rice in consumption; and, ultimately, improving family incomes. – Rappler.com