Plenty of other fish in the sea

Published April 21, 2021, 12:15 AM

by Former Senate President Manny Villar

OF TREES AND FOREST

Former Senate President
Manny Villar

As Filipinos continue to struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic, a different kind of outbreak has caused a shortfall in pork production and subsequently caused a sharp increase in food prices. While the African Swine Fever (ASF), which has ravaged the pork industry, does not harm humans it could potentially threaten our economy and the country’s food security.

The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) noted that the country’s swine inventory decreased by 24 percent – equivalent to three million heads – from 2020 to 2021. Last year alone, the highly infectious ASF disease resulted in the culling of more than 300,000 pigs, or about three percent of the hog population. The ASF outbreak has affected almost all regions of the country and the corresponding large supply deficit has led to an increase in the retail price of pork much to the chagrin of our pork-loving kababayans.

The Philippines is the world’s seventh-biggest pork importer before local demand fell due to the pandemic. Filipinos obviously love their pork. From the breakfast staple tocino to the pulutan favorites crispy pata and sisig, pork has been an enduring presence in the Filipino diet. This is the reason why restauranteurs and households have been feeling the pinch of the low supply and high prices of pork products.

In the same manner as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in some behavior changes to Filipinos, perhaps this ASF crisis might lead us to make some changes in our eating habits. The pandemic and the lockdown, for instance, has made Filipinos more conscious about hygiene, specifically hand washing. The question is, will the high prices of pork drive Filipinos to healthier alternatives like fish and vegetables? Probably not. But I think some Filipinos have started to add more fish and vegetables in their diet. Some media networks have reported an uptick in the sales of chicken, fish and veggies as the ASF threatens the supply of pork.

I understand the allure of pork – the crunchy pork skin, the juicy fat. I myself enjoy the occasional lechon – in moderation of course – during special events and celebrations. But I always have a soft spot for seafoods and vegetables. Simple yet delicious. Imagine grilling a bangus with tomatoes and onions inside its belly with boiled eggplant and okra on the side with a touch of bagoong. Or a paksiw na isda that is sour and slightly spicy. I am not suggesting that everyone suddenly becomes a vegetarian or a pescatarian, but maybe this ASF-induced supply crisis can allow us to introduce more fish and vegetable to the Filipino diet. A more balanced diet to fight the inflation.

Maybe it was because I practically grew up in the market selling seafood but when I was a youngster helping out my mother sell shrimps and seafood our stall was in that section of Divisoria where all the fish and other seafood were. Some people are probably turned off by the smell of seafood but I love it. This probably explains why my first attempt at entrepreneurship was to sell seafood to restaurants in Makati.

And introducing more fish and vegetable to your diet is good for you. While red meat and poultry provide valuable protein and minerals which the body uses for cell repair, vegetables can provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eating fish and vegetables can make you feel more energized. I have noticed that with fish, vegetables and fruits I feel more invigorated compared to pork products which might give you enjoyment while eating but leaves you feeling bloated and sluggish afterwards.

In addition, eating more fish and vegetables have been proven to reduce cholesterol which are triggered by saturated fats commonly found in animal meat. We all know the health benefits of eating more fish and vegetables but now we can add a financial benefit – it will be easier on your pocket and reduce your grocery bills. So eat more fish and vegetables – save your life and save money

 
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