I am hoping you are familiar with the comedic skit in the movies about a wretched man and his tuyo or sun-dried fish, usually a sardine.
In the skit, our wretched hero’s finances were by no means equal to his necessary outlay for food. But his miseries did not, in any way, affect his appetite nor did he forbid himself sustenance.
Our hero, making do with his downtrodden circumstances, threaded a piece of tuyo, then proceeded to hang the prized fish from above down to where his dining table was, the fish precariously swinging there, but just enough for its aroma to waft before his nose.
And every time he ate in the next several days, he didn’t eat the fish, merely savoring the aroma of tuyo as he shoveled mouthfuls of rice. He was a picture of one contented creature, losing magically his lugubrious visions of hunger.
The skit has many variations, but one of my favorites is that of the late comedian Babalu. He not only savored to his obvious satisfaction the aroma of his tuyo, he also massaged it with his fingers and then dipped those fingers into a saucer of vinegar.
“Sinasawsaw ko yung amoy sa suka (I’m dipping the smell into vinegar),” he informs his puzzled audience.
Interactive note: If you have Internet access, go to YouTube for the Babalu slapstick with this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87eZ0o4q2Ro.
Whether this farce on survival occurs in the real life of poverty, I have no competence to say. But certainly, if such should happen, that wretchedness will get my sincerest sympathies and condolences.
But last week, condolences clearly weren’t sufficient. The tuyo was about to be taken away. In fact, the news on tuyo was so farcical I attempted to pull the pillow over my head on the dawn I woke up when I heard the news on early morning TV. Couldn’t do it.
Forced to listen to the news on the Department of Health’s (DoH) proposal to increase taxes on salted food, including taxes on tuyo, daing and bagoong, my usual breakfast of eggs and tuyo suddenly took on airs of luxurious indulgence than being day-to-day typical.
Gourmand notes: “Daing” is typically prepared by soaking fish varieties in a mixture of salt and water before drying them out in the sun. “Bagoong” is either salted and fermented tiny fish or tiny shrimp. “Tinapa” is dried salted beef.
“We’re studying increasing taxes on salted food. This may produce a positive outcome on our health,” so announced a newscaster, reading a dry statement of Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo.
The news jolted, of course, and later on in my considered judgment, became a slippery slope about the ludicrousness of the times.
In essence, the DoH was saying the salt in a typical dried sardine was sufficiently redolent of sin, much like the cigarettes I still smoke and the liquor I don’t drink and whatever else there was that wasn’t good or healthy for me.
Like the earthquakes in Mindanao, the proposal also seems to have immediately jolted just about everybody, including scores of our senators who couldn’t just junk the preposterous proposal without airing a piece of their minds, albeit singing the same tune that the proposal was outright anti-poor.
One typical reaction, admittedly couched in strident polemics, went like this: “It is not the sin of the poor that they can only afford a poor person’s diet. It is their concrete present abject condition in our country that prevent them from getting healthy food.”
So, the proposal was blown out of the water even before it could be tabled, even during this time when the considerate seasonal good humor of the nippy cool air calls for indulgence. Instead it hassled 64-year-olds, like me, preparing for holiday somnolence into concluding the year is still far from over and that it still has many surprises in store.
Nonetheless, the DoH could count its blessings. The news didn’t catch the attention of someone claiming divine powers who could halt, without qualms, anyone monkeying around. Unlike the Philippine Institute of Volcanology, which had to contend with Davao City’s “Appointed Son of God” declaring he stopped a temblor after an after-coffee whimsy, God-forsaken clearly was his dictate for another earthquake came.
Anyway, the DoH still deserves to make its case heard. Offhand, the proposal isn’t some sort of “tuyo ang utak (dried-out brain matter).” It seems the DoH derived its inspiration on the tuyo tax on warnings the country tethers on a dangerous medical precipice regarding its consumption of salty foods.
What medical emergency could possibly precipitate such a warning?
The DoH says the average daily salt intake in the country is more than double the prescribed recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO). The recommendation is a daily salt intake of no more than five grams. But Filipinos’ salt intake is twice that, with Filipinos consuming on the average about 11 grams or roughly two teaspoons of salt daily.
Too much salt in our bellies coupled with the other sins of no exercise, smoking and binge drinking were determined to be the main risk factors for noncommunicable diseases (NCD) like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and chronic respiratory diseases.
NCD, says the Health department, account for 68 percent of all deaths in the country. Health officials are confident taxes on all salty foods — tuyo is just a stand-in for all the salty foods out there — will reduce the premature deaths of some 350,000 Filipinos in the next 15 years.
This aside from rosy future taxes of some P377.7 billion, as well as the country saving some P765.5 billion annually in health care expenses and lost productivity. Oh, okay.
The health issues are grim and the economic benefits are enticing. But no. We, poor and rich alike, don’t want anything to do with taxing dried fish.
Now, I don’t know if Filipinos eat more tuyo per capita than citizens of any other nation. But I am proud to say I have contributed my fair share of making tuyo as something proudly Filipino. Give us our daily tuyo then, without the taxes.