The redundancy of our consumerism

Published January 10, 2021, 12:25 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Philip Cu Unjieng

Over the course of 2020, the term “redundancy”  was often been used to refer to one’s dismissal from one’s job; but I’d like to go back to it’s original definition of exceeding what is normal, of being superfluous, for my column today. If there’s something that’s really grown over the last year, it’s the range of variants being offered for basic household items and regular food purchases. It’s gotten so that one isn’t sure if one is merely riding on a trend, or indulging in an actual better, healthier version of what one was used to.

I’m a supermarket junkie. A week doesn’t pass by that I haven’t perused the aisles of my go-to supermarkets, checking out what’s new and interesting. And during the pandemic, I’ve also noticed how social media feeds have been inundated by budding, stay-at-home entrepreneurs offering a bevy of food products – all aching to be familiar, and yet unique, different enough to catch our notice. While one part of me welcomes all these choices, another part of me also questions how necessary this all is, and wonders when does it stop.

For example, I’m old enough to remember a time when the question was as simple as whether to buy butter or margarine. All we had to know was that butter is a dairy product made by churning cream and composed mainly of dairy fat, while margarine is a vegetable oil-based product designed to imitate butter. And I was OK when we could choose between salted, unsalted, whipped (fluffier and lighter texture), and cultured (European-style, so more fat and less moisture) butters. These were all “real” butters.

But now, we’ve gone crazy with nut butter; which is the spreadable foodstuff made by grinding nuts into a paste. What we’re left with has relatively high fat content, and can be spread like real butter, but is actually completely unrelated. Peanut butter used to be the well-known variety of this; and we now have Almond Butter, Hazelnut Butter (which when mixed with cocoa, palm oil, and other ingredients results in nutella), creamy cashew butter, pecan butter, and I’m just waiting for macadamia butter and pistachio butter to hit our food shelves. We’ve gone “nutty” in this regard, and is it a better butter? Is the question even valid, as they’re not really butter at all.

If you think the world of butter just got confusing, spare a thought for milk and the cows that theoretically are supposed to be producing milk. How many kinds of milk do we need? At one point, it was about choosing between whole or skimmed, full cream being very similar to whole. Back then, you were making a decision on the fat content, calories, and cholesterol of your milk intake. And flavored milk was the other option available. All very reasonable.

I’m lactose-intolerant, so I appreciated the substitutes that came on the market, like soy milk and almond milk. But if you go to the milk section of any well-stocked supermarket now, it’s like the world has gone berserk when it comes to milk. For beyond soy and almond, you’ll now find rice milk, hemp milk, flax milk, hazelnut milk, coconut milk, oat milk, cashew milk, and hey, surprise, it’s actually from an animal’s mammary glands, goat milk.

It’s obvious that each milk has its own qualities. Rice milk for example is great for the lactose-intolerant and retains a lot of sweetness compared to the other hypoallergenic options; but it’s downside is that it contains far lesser amounts of protein and calcium than whole milk. It’s fat-free and cholesterol-free, but high in calories and sugars. See what I mean, one needs a chart to glean which whole milk substitute is the best for your particular needs. Plus you have to figure out what you’re using the milk for. Is it for baking, with your cereal, or simply for health purposes? Both coconut milk and oat milk are great if you’re after health purposes, but who’s explaining all of this to us consumers?

Thanks to the pandemic and enterprising homemakers, even the simple pandesal has undergone its own makeover. Far from just being your carbs during breakfast or merienda, that you’d smother with butter, jam, or insert some filling like corned beef; it’s evolved to being a dessert unto itself! Ube halaya cheese pandesal is simply one of the sweetest things on earth, and it’s popularity has made offering whole wheat or Sourdough pandesals a mere basic & rudimentary evolutionary step.

People often wax philosophical about how the pandemic has made Life simpler, made us reassess what’s really important or essential; but I certainly don’t get that feeling when I’m traversing the supermarket sections of today.

A three-peat ‘Best Host’ Aliw Awardee

Issa Litton is Best Host at the 2020 Aliw Awards.

Couldn’t let this month pass without mentioning how happy I am that Issa Litton was given the Best Host trophy during the 2020 Aliw Awards Night held at the Manila Hotel in December. It’s the third time she’s been honored with this award, and I know it was extra special to her because it comes during a year when live events were wiped off the landscape, and with job security threatened, freelancers such as her had to transition online, and prove they could still be just as effective.

That may sound simple or basic for us passive observers; but having shared moments with her behind the scenes and watching her “at work,” I’m witness to appreciating how the transition takes a lot of effort, and a keen understanding of the new medium. There’s no audience energy you can feed off, you’re always ‘on’ in your Zoom box, and the technical glitches that can occur are now of a different nature.

That she makes it look effortless, can maintain the energy level, with minimal loss of eye contact with the laptop’s camera, and that she’ll juggle paying attention to the speakers and resource persons while receiving instructions from the technical and floor directors on her earpiece are all something she continuously works hard on, and thoughtfully prepares for before each engagement. And with the number of online events and webinars I’m invited to and attend, I’ve watched other seasoned live hosts get flustered traversing this new medium. Believe me, it’s not as easy as it looks.

So full kudos to her, and if I’m right, this third win means she’ll enter the Aliw Hall of Fame.