Yes, we have no tomato, we have no tomato today

Tomatoes are becoming a luxury.

Friends and I have been comparing online what we were spending on food, what we were scrimping on, what little joys and luxuries we decided to do without.  And we all agreed about making these sacrifices during these times, but what about the greater number of indigent Filipinos? What were they eating given the rising prices of food, such as tomatoes?

Last year, we had an onion shortage eased by efforts of cause-oriented organizations like Kapatid, which works for the welfare of political prisoners, to do rescue buys of farmers’ products through direct selling, thus eliminating the middlemen.

But those were drop-in-the-bucket gestures. The government’s presence in rescuing our onion, and now our tomato, farmers has hardly been felt. A friend has taken to buying canned tomatoes so he could afford what’s specified in a recipe. But another friend protested, “I would still prefer to buy from a farmer than get a can from a supermarket shelf.” She had a point.

Sometimes government officials rub salt on wounds, like suggesting that the poor tighten their belts further. Don’t these officials realize that diet is crucial to the formation of good, productive citizens from Day One when they are formed in the wombs of their mothers? What are our mostly young mothers eating if not instant noodles cooked in boiling water? With an extra P7, can a mother afford to add a beaten egg to add some protein to the noodles? But is this in fact a decent meal?

Our food insecurity is troubling. The Philippines’ oldest nonprofit organization, Gota de Leche, located in Sampaloc, Manila, has been providing supplementary feeding to young children since after the Revolution against Spain when malnutrition was on the rise. 

For that length of time, it seems our country has not solved the hunger problem. Gota de Leche is also addressing the diets of mothers in the Cordillera, where there is a disturbing percentage of children with stunted growth. It seems these children had been fed a diet of white rice and sardines instead of the highland vegetables grown by their parents. The veggies are sold in the market for cash, which is then used to buy sardines in tin cans.

Another form of struggle is weaning the younger generation from the advertising and marketing lure of fast food. Fast food has been cited for its convenience by working parents. But would it hurt, if one must work with canned sardines, to mix them in a soup of miswa (thin noodles) and sliced patola (sponge gourd)?

The late lamented TV host Anthony Bourdain once said, “It’s why Ronald McDonald is said to be more recognizable to children everywhere than Mickey Mouse or Jesus. Personally, I don’t care if my little girl ever recognizes those two other guys – but I do care about her relationship with Ronald. I want her to see American fast-food culture as I do: as the enemy.”

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. still holds the concurrent position of agriculture secretary. Isn’t it time, after more than a year in office, for him to appoint someone permanent, also someone who can address the rising cost of food from rice to tomatoes? Ever wonder now how Pinoys cook their guisado with just slivers of garlic and onion and no tomato?

Those in the food business—and I’m speaking of the small entrepreneurs—complain that the prices in the public markets are rising weekly and that they have no recourse but to up the prices of items in their menu.

Enough of foreign trips to Formula 1 races in the guise of networking with world leaders, Mister President. If they see you rolling up your sleeves and working, not singing “Imagine” with a band, maybe those investments will come in. 

Meanwhile, we need a qualified someone at the Department of Agriculture as soon as possible, preferably someone whose depth of compassion for farmers and fishers is unquestioned. We need someone who can turn the tide of hunger before the future is compromised. Let us not turn into a nation of cretins or zombies subsisting on cheap burgers and limp fries.

See: Food security? Ease the plight of farmers first

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