Eating Pinoy is an experience like no other

Last week’s signing of a memorandum of understanding involves key government agencies in planning and executing programs and activities for National Food Month

HANDS DOWN AN ENJOYABLE EATING EXPERIENCE Kamayan or boodle fight is the traditional practice of eating with bare hands

Food binds everyone together. Beyond mere sustenance, it is valued as a social instrument, a representation of culture and life. The Philippines’ diverse geography and rich history are reflected in our ever-evolving culinary traditions as well as in the flavors unique to our regions. Amid the pandemic where social gatherings are limited, the significance of food in social and cultural context could not be more apparent.

In 2018, through Presidential Proclamation 469, April was declared as the Filipino Food Month (FFM) or Buwan ng Kalutong Filipino.

Observed all over the country, FFM is envisioned as a month-long national celebration aimed at establishing culinary tradition as an art form and ensuring its transmission to future generations. It also aspires to heighten the appreciation, preservation, and protection of culinary practices and distinctive heritage ingredients. After all, implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act 10066 or the “National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009” stipulates culinary traditions as part of our cultural heritage, utilized to highlight the nation’s character as well as to foster national pride and a sense of belongingness.

First celebrated in 2019, FFM was interrupted by the pandemic in 2020. It has since pivoted itself, adapting to the ongoing health emergency by going digital. The upcoming 2022 commemoration of the occasion is now in the works.

EATING TOGETHER Virtual ceremonial signing of the MOU on FFM 2022 clockwise from left: PCHM president Chef Jam Melchor, PCHM’s Clark Lim, agriculture undersecretaries Evelyn Lavinia and Kristine Evangelista, tourism OIC-undersecretary Verna Covar-Buensuceso, tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, NCCA chairman Arsenio Lizaso, and NCCA executive director Al Ryan Alejandre

Last week, the proponents of FFM inked the memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the observance of National Food Month in the future. Acknowledging its noble mission, which necessitates the involvement of the entire nation, the MOU involves key government agencies in FFM’s goals and pursuits. As stipulated in the agreement signed, the primary agencies tasked to spearhead the planning and implementation of programs and activities in line with the celebration of FFM are the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Tourism (DOT), together with the non-profit organization, the Philippine Culinary Heritage Movement (PCHM).

“Our food culture as a people is continuously threatened by rapid commercialism, globalization, and the pandemic. We take for granted anything that is considered traditional as we gratify ourselves with what is new, trendy, and fast,” says PCHM president Chef Jam. “This is why this convergence among public and private sectors, and the implementation of the annual national food month is extremely important. It will help strengthen and preserve our local food systems especially in these trying times.

“This quadripartite cooperation has produced so many programs that support, educate, and inspire current and future Filipino food heroes,” says NCCA executive director Al Ryan S. Alejandre. “While COVID-19 is here to linger, it is important that we continue to innovate and produce programs adapted to the new normal, which will further support our goals.”

‘Our food culture as a people is continuously threatened by rapid commercialism, globalization, and the pandemic. This is why this convergence among public and private sectors, and the implementation of the annual National Food Month is extremely important.’

Also promoted in FFM are the industries tied to food, including agriculture and tourism. The affair also gives a spotlight to the place of origin of local dishes, the farmers and producers who make food available and accessible, food history, and its role in culture.

“Aside from providing nutrition, food links us to the past, present, and future,” says DA Secretary William Dar. “This cooperation will not only promote Filipino culinary tradition and unique food tourism experiences but will also benefit stakeholders, farmers, and agri-communities.”

EGG-XOTIC Balut, considered by foreigners as exotic food, is steamed fertilized bird egg eaten directly from the shell

The MOU was signed by DOT secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, the agriculture secretary represented by undersecretaries Evelyn Lavinia and Kristine Evangelista, NCCA chairman Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, and chef Jam Melchor.

“From now on, we would not only intensify our efforts to promote and safeguard authentic Filipino cuisine, we would also use the unique food culture as a link to all Filipinos in the world,” adds the NCCA head Nick Lizaso.

Likewise, Sec. Berna pledged the DOT’s full support of and cooperation with the initiative, underscoring the immense potential of Filipino food in tourism prior to the pandemic. “Our own internal studies in the DOT have revealed that prior to the pandemic in 2019, inbound tourists spent 22.4 percent of their total expenditures on food and beverage (F&B) items. For domestic tourists, eight percent was devoted to F&B expenses and a big chunk of shopping expenses were also spent on foodie treats,” she says.

“As we look forward to every annual celebration of FFM, we would like to use this as a platform to promote travel for a taste of a place in order to get a sense of a place,” explains the tourism chief during the virtual signing ceremony.

Based on the 2020 Food Travel Monitor, a comprehensive market research report released by the World Food Travel Association, seven out of 10 travelers choose a destination for its food and drink. The same study shows that food travelers seek “eclectic and authentic” experiences, and spend 24 percent more per day than other kinds of travelers. Meanwhile, DOT’s data reveal that 30 percent of a foreign tourist’s expenditure is spent on F&B.

“As we shine the spotlight on our diverse culinary heritage and our agricultural producers, let us also experience the fun of food tripping in the Philippines,” Sec. Berna beams. She elaborates the ongoing efforts in harnessing the potentials of food tourism. The plan is to formulate regional tourism circuits with food and farm experiences as the centerpiece of itineraries, as well as to conduct food tourism resource inventories and mapping of key food tourism destinations in the country through DOT regional offices and their respective local government units.

To ensure the smooth implementation of the activities and responsibilities enclosed in the document, a Technical Working Group (TWG) will be formed.