Food helps us realize the importance of the past in building the future

Published November 14, 2021, 6:15 AM

by Jules Vivas

Back to the future!

Beef kinilaw crackers, part of the ‘Across The Seas’ main course of Chele’s holiday 2021 tasting menu

These days, most of us tend to overlook the past at our peril. Perhaps, this is because, in the same manner that we choose to believe in ideas aligned with our respective world views, we intentionally forget the miserable or tragic yesterday for our own convenience.

We live in the present and plan the future, but how do we guess where we are headed or how do we understand what progress is like without looking back at where we came from?

History helps us rise above our selfish perspectives. We tap into the vivid realm of the past, the sufferings and joys, losses and victories, not only to avoid repeating previous mistakes but to take inspiration from what we accomplished despite the challenges.

While modern technology helps us do things more efficiently, history tells us why we do things in the first place. The present and the future, after all, are modeled after the past—a reality we often fail to appreciate. Only when we realize the importance of history can we really begin to move forward and make progress.

Among the industries that do recognize the significance of the past is food. The food scene is quick-changing, fast-evolving, exactly because of its respect toward the cultures of old and the fundamental techniques developed in past.

In the Philippines alone, paying homage to the past is a norm in food.

Take, for instance, Chef Chele Gonzalez, whose restaurant Gallery by Chele takes from the culinary wisdom and techniques of Filipino communities from far-flung areas, effectively giving spotlight to Philippine cuisine otherwise unexplored.

So, in the same way that ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,’ history flows through generations and goes full circle even when we are not fully aware of it.

Like the Spanish chef, many promising, young talents in the country, now big names in progressive Filipino dining, like Linamnam’s chef-owner Don Baldosano, and the dynamic trio of Hapag, chefs Kevin Villarica, Thirdy Dolatre, and Kevin Navoa, build contemporary cuisine on the foundation of tradition or the tried and tested.

FILIPINO CLASSIC MODERNIZED Chele’s kare-kare bonbon is made of peanut praline, beef cheeks, and bagoong mayo

We have plenty of food historians like Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, Ige Ramos, and the late Doreen Fernandez, who are instrumental in preserving food history and heritage. In media, prominent food journalist, Angelo Comsti, has been helping keep records of traditional cuisine.  

Because of the bourgeoning population paired with global warming, we have discerned the increasingly dire situation of food security. This newfound consciousness gave birth to culinary concepts that bring us closer to the future by first taking us back to the past, such as the Slow Food Movement, farm-to-table, organic food, and even plant-based diets, which are all a return to a purer approach to living, removed from artificial colors and flavoring, genetic modification, and what we now call frankenfood.

Among these food advocacies, the Slow Food Movement, present in the Philippines since 2012, envisions a food system founded on the value of high quality, taste, sustainability, and social justice, or in other words, a food system that is clean, fair, and good. To achieve its goals, the campaign focuses on preserving regional and traditional cuisine.

So, in the same way that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” history flows through generations and goes full circle even when we are not fully aware of it. This time, however, we are intentionally making it happen as a way to make the future more palatable.