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“I do not politicize food,” I read from the social media status of a friend. Across platforms, I’ve seen several people echo this sentiment, which baffles me truly.
I could not imagine saying that to NutriAsia workers, whose continuous fight for their rights have been hampered by those who still supported NutriAsia products during their ordeal. If we as consumers stop buying from companies who abuse the rights of their workers, these corporations will realize that we are serious in supporting the plight of underpaid laborers. Due to this pressure, they will most likely cave in and give the proper employment benefits as mandated by law, on pain of public disdain and bankruptcy. (READ: PH still among world’s ‘worst’ countries to work in – report)
Neither could I imagine telling that to people who have little choice but to eat bukbok rice, or double-dead meat, or pagpag. And I definitely can’t say that to sellers of ultra-expensive vegetables in the local markets, whose sales are going down and whose fresh produce are starting to rot because fewer people can afford to buy them. These problems in food supply and quality are primarily brought about by a government filled with bad administrators installed in their positions by even worse politics. (READ: The long wait to ‘Zero hunger‘)
The concept of food being apolitical is like saying rainbows are colorless. What about the marine resources of the West Philippine Sea and the Philippine Rise? It is pure naiveté to think that China is after “just” the petroleum deposits there; these areas are rich with fish and other seafoods, and the Chinese want to control the supply because of the exponential increase in the unsustainable demand for sushi and other marine food products in the greater Chinese market alone.
From these recent examples, it is clear that food is directly connected to politics. And this idea is not limited to the Philippines alone, or even in contemporary period.
Food and political history
Mid-Renaissance, Europe “discovered” new routes to the East in the quest for spices. Spain and Portugal even decided to split the world in half, via the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, in search of more flavorings for food. The first recorded circumnavigation of the world resulted from such explorations, as well as the establishment of stronger contact between European traders and the greater Asian continent by sea. Colonization ensued afterwards, and the world was never the same again.
The Boston Tea Party stemmed primarily from American indignity at British taxes on American-consumed goods, including tea. It was one of the first acts of outright defiance by the American colonists against Mother England, which eventually led to the American Revolution and the founding of the United States of America in 1776.
“Let them eat cake,” Marie Antoinette reportedly said, in response to the French people hungry for bread.
“Off with their heads,” the people replied. Thus, the French Revolution, and the death of monarchy in the French Republic.
In fact, even in today’s modern age, some of the world’s poorest countries, despite having highly fertile agricultural lands and access to rich natural resources, suffer from hunger because of the ineptitude of their political elite. (READ: Farmers still hungry after 30 years of agrarian reform)
The sociopolitical following of individuals may also be food-related. In the 1930s, one man’s hunger strike brought an end to the political systemization of the age-old caste system in colonial India. Similarly, the popularity of the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain is rooted not only in his exploration of food, but also the human conditions surrounding it, including politics.
There is a myriad similar examples in history, so much so that entire books have been written about them. Suffice it to say that food is clearly a huge global economic and political issue, and a discussion on food can never be apolitical. (READ: Self-rated hunger in PH returns to downward trend at 9.9%)
Consumer action is political action
Even in our daily interactions, food is a social symbol, and as such, it has underpinnings of power. Posting pictures of caviar and vodka, or foie gras de canard, or gigolette de lapin on social media is a way to assert an individual’s way of life, that it is different from that of the regular person’s. In the same vein, this is why it is important for politicians to post pictures of themselves eating, kamayan–style, with common folk; it makes them seem likeable, reachable – votable.
Our purchase and consumption of food is a political statement as well. Supporting local farmers, street vendors, and small-time business owners translates to more equitable distributions of wealth. While this is not enough to counter the systemic oppression that these people suffer, a culture of support can go a long way in easing the lives of people in underprivileged, underserved urban and rural communities.
So please, before we say that we should not politicize food, consider this fact: literally EVERYTHING we put in our mouths is political, and we haven’t even started talking about sex.
As a last note: a modern urban legend is that the current avid support for Delimondo keeps the compulsive liar Juan Ponce Enrile alive. Allegedly, every can consumed adds one hour to his life.
Bon appetit and may God save us all. – Rappler.com
Chad Osorio is a highly-concerned citizen of the Republic of the Philippines. He is a graduate of the UP College of Law, a foodie enthusiast, and a strong advocate for more nutrition to the collective Filipino brain.