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Cooking (and dining) for the planet



Growing up in the province, I treated food as simply something that has to be present and appreciated when I am hungry. I took for granted where it came from, how it is grown and how it ends up in my plate. As a sickly child, I was encouraged to eat plenty to put on weight to the point that the sight and smell of food bothered me. Food meant tears, mild threats and not leaving the table until my plate was all clear.

As a grownup, food has somewhat turned into an enemy, something to avoid and that needs to be taken in measures of calorie counts and fat content or suffer the consequences of indulging too much like bloating and weight gain. Food intake also shows in check-ups and there’s no mistaking one’s medical tests results. Thus, the irony of food for me.

HERBS and plants have corresponding medicinal uses to different parts and organs of the body.

This is a fairly common experience for my generation. But earlier Filipinos were known to eat well and healthily. And, it is common knowledge that they ate more vegetables and fruits, rarely eat meat or livestock and only do so on special occasions like fiestas and holidays.

But diets today have changed and have become much more complex. People are more conscious and sophisticated in their food choices. But unlike before when food were aplenty, with a smaller population then and more land for food production use, the issue now is sustainability in food production.

“A sociologist friend of mine once told me that a hundred years ago, we, Filipinos, ate vegetables, beans and grains, but somehow because of our colonial history, our diets changed. Being sustainable, for us, is actually going back to basics. We were like that before and we can do that again now,” Joel Palma, CEO and president of WWF-Philippines, candidly shares this anecdote whenever he’s talking about sustainable food in the context of our country.

ROASTED vegetable salad.

As he mentioned, this is nothing new to Filipinos. Before all these fads on food sustainability, reduced carbon footprint and the whole back to nature-ism came to light, the earlier generations of Filipinos cultivated their own gardens, raised farm animals and were practicing food self-sufficiency.

The arrival and successive influences of foreign countries changed all this, particularly our food sourcing, production and sufficiency. Filipinos began consuming canned, processed and packaged food and this started the detachment or lack of curiosity of where we source our food.

Then there’s also that problem on food wastage. People are wasting so much food while ironically, there is food shortage and hunger in some parts of the world. This great imbalance towards food needs to be corrected.

In Metro Manila alone, some 2,175 tons of food end up in trash bins daily, a development partly caused by the proliferation of food service establishments.

“Another fact, one-third of the food produced globally is wasted, so that’s about 1.3 billion tons of food wasted every year. By 2030, if we don’t do anything about this, the world’s annual food waste can increase to 2 billion tons,” Palma reiterates.

SWEET potato and carrot soup with roasted veggie salad.

Sustainable consumption

In line with this, WWF-Philippines’ pioneer project pushes sustainable consumption and production through the “The Sustainable Diner: Key Ingredient for Sustainable Tourism.” As part of this project, the event gathered participants to “Savour Planet: Cooking with a Purpose” recently at the Nurture Wellness Village in Tagaytay City.

The said workshop, the third in a series, aims to empower and educate Filipino diners, partners from the media, the academe, as well as fellow non-government organizations and food security projects on the importance of sustainable food systems and sustainable dining.

The main focus of the event was the Healing Kitchen cooking session, where the participants were grouped and given their own stations.

Initial realization: I was surprised to learn that one can still use discarded vegetable parts such as potato peelings, tomato seeds, or the hardened parts or the stems of broccoli or cauliflower. During our cooking session, these leftover parts were all boiled together and used as stock for purees and soups. (This, however, reminded me when my mother would boil these discarded parts and leftovers as meal for our pigs. It didn’t sit well with my sensibilities, and there was a slight resistance in my mind though, in hindsight, it does make sense.)
During the cooking session, we were given access to the Nature Farm’s garden to pick herbs to garnish or flavor the dishes we were cooking as well as the edible flowers to decorate and make the presentation more colorful.

With our tummies already churning with hunger, and all the while being tempted with the smells and aromas wafting from the meals we were preparing, we had to hurry cooking since it was way past lunch time.

The menu was composed of bruschetta; sweet potato and carrot soup; roasted vegetable and salad with local vinegar dressing; tanigue with dill served with potato mash and sidings of broccoli and cauliflower; mango buko sundae and pandan tea.

After lunch, guests were given a tour of the Nurture Farm wittingly called Nurture Farmacy that featured all kinds of herbs, vegetables and medicinal plants. What struck me the most is how all the herbs and plants have corresponding medicinal uses to different parts and organs of the body. A bokashi composting tour showed how Nurture Wellness Village manages the bio-waste to further nourish the soil for farming.

“Sustainability practices have been integrated in our operations with holistic living in mind. Our restaurant serves vegetables from its own organic garden which uses compost from our kitchens as fertilizer. As part of the Locavore movement, most of our ingredients are sourced, if not from our own gardens, from nearby areas to guarantee freshness and to support our local communities,” says Leslee Benitez, Operations Manager of Nurture Wellness Village.

For the part of WWF-Philippines, the project gives one a look at the bigger food sustainability issue.

“From our experience in conducting The Sustainable Diner project, we have discovered that a lot of Filipino diners are still having difficulties relating sustainable dining with environmental protection. Did you know that about 70 percent of biodiversity is lost when producing and consuming food? That food production and consumption contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions?” explains Melody Melo-Rijk, project manager of The Sustainable Diner project.

“Because dining is a constant part of our daily lives, we often overlook how much our food choices affect the planet. And with how much Filipinos love food, changing the way they look at food can be quite a challenge,” she reiterates.

By Lourdes Florian M. Hernandez,