A quick note before the post: I haven’t published on this blog since August 2013. In an effort to let go (a bit) of perfectionism that halts my ability to post anything that hasn’t been meticulously polished (and then not posting anything because it’s not “good enough), I will be trying to use this site as a workspace, and will be posting less mediated/researched/edited writing. Hoping you enjoy and feel free to comment/collaborate/dialogue!
I grew up with the idea that the Philippines was a third-world country, that my whole family there was impoverished. Visiting didn’t help: when I was 9, my sisters and I went, and took tabo showers (where you fill a receptacle up with water and dump it on you; as opposed to standing under a stream of constantly running water). Even in Manila, if not the political capital, the social/financial capital, during a rainstorm, I saw the streets get flooded, a car half under water, on a dirt driveway. No lanes, at least not ones that people paid attention to, on the roads. The one room that had air conditioning at my uncle’s house in Manila (one room? Not through the whole house?) is where we spent the bulk of our time.
Twenty years later, I’m interviewing my mom about her food experience in childhood; how and when she learned to cook, how her mom cooked. She talks about an abundance of food, not necessarily in quantity, but in variety. She talks about how she grew up with the notion that if you have food, you share it, a principle ingrained in all the Filipinos I’ve ever met. “My dad, when he would sit under the tree in the front yard, he’d talk to people passing by, and then they’d stay on to dinner.” Despite growing up in a less affluent household, her mom would always find a way to stretch, to extend the table, so that whatever she made could accommodate one more.
I wonder, out loud – how, in a country that’s considered so impoverished, are the tables so abundant with food? My mom tells me that it’s a few things: the rich natural resources in the tropical climate, where land and sea are nourished by rain and warmth year-round; and that Filipinos prioritize food, every day with their families, as well as during celebrations. I read, I think in Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, how Americans spend far less on food than people do in other industrialized countries. I imagine that Filipinos spend a higher percentage of their income on food than people in other countries, maybe than people in the States.
But maybe too, the concept of third-world (which has now shifted to “developing”) countries is less accurate. I thought that because they didn’t or couldn’t run water for hot showers, didn’t have central air conditioning, that they were somehow less than, doing without, less civilized. While it’s true that the relatives still happily accept balikbayan (returning home) boxes from the States, i.e. massive care packages filled with clothes, canned goods, etc., maybe my perception of what it means to be successful, rich, happy are less aligned with the US versions. Maybe developing countries didn’t feel the need to develop industrially, when their natural resources were enough, as long as they stewarded the land and learned the seasons. Maybe that’s too idyllic, but I think it’s an interesting thought. If I could eat fresh food every day, and have plenty to share with strangers, isn’t that more than enough?