| Book covers courtesy of Gantala Press
“Hunger is the greatest leveler of the humankind, if it wishes to be leveled.”
– Banana Heart Summer, Merlinda Bobis
There is nothing like scarcity to make people value the things they usually take for granted. And there is perhaps no scarcity like food scarcity to expose the underlying socio-economic and even political crises of a nation. Hence, one of the corollary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic (and its many resulting lockdowns) is how it gave rise to conversations about food security and sovereignty, including longstanding agrarian struggles of Filipino farmers.
This article is a review of two different but equally important Filipino cookbooks that reflect such conversations. Both published by independent Filipina feminist publisher Gantala Press in 2021, the two books contain not only nutritious recipes that showcase native Philippine produce but also essays on the politics of food, particularly during a national crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Philippine government’s militarized response to it.
Makisawsaw vol. 2 is a project under the Food Today, Food Tomorrow program of Slow Food Sari-sari, a “coalition of small farmers, urban growers, community organizers, activists and advocates for food justice, and volunteers working together for solidarity and change in our food system.” Lutong Gipit, meanwhile, is by Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women, Rural Women Advocates, and Gantala Press.
Makisawsaw vol. 2 (144 pages) is a collaborative effort of over 30 contributors, with chapters dedicated to every vegetable type (Rice, Gourds and Squashes, Flowers and Leaves, Fruit Vegetables, Roots and Tubers, and Legumes) and special chapters for sauces and condiments, as well as a guide for composting. The diversity of contributors is apparent in the diversity of featured dishes, from plant-based reimaginings of classic Filipino ulams like adobong papaya, jackfruit adobo flakes, and eggplant relleno; to Asian fusion numbers like kangkong kimchi, Indian-style gising-gising, and saluyot nasi goreng; to intricate and creative original recipes like the Bahay Kubo, which is composed of various components that make use of all the vegetables featured in the folk song of the same name.
Lutong Gipit is a much more concise volume (60 pages) featuring recipes collected from farmer and fisherfolk women in Pangil, Laguna; Rodriguez, Rizal; Dasmarinas and Bacoor, Cavite; and Leon, Iloilo – five rural areas that have all been subject to years of struggle in the form of land grabbing, large-scale land-use conversion, and harassment by State and corporate forces, among others. The simple, low-budget dishes are meant to reflect the challenge of putting together a nutritious dish at a time when jobs were scarce and government aid was not enough to cover the costs of pandemic living. All the recipes in the book also include a cost breakdown of ingredients.
“This kind of solidarity is what both Makisawsaw 2 and Lutong Gipit also highlight: solidarity with farmers, fisherfolk, mothers, the urban poor, and every Filipino. Because at the end of the day, food – and the earth where it comes from – is what ties all of us together, especially during times of crisis.”
In online food spaces, one common sentiment among readers is that unnecessary personal anecdotes from the author usually ruin the entire recipe, but the charm of both these books is that while there are short essays that complement them, the recipes serve as political essays themselves. In fact, the very core of both these books is the context in which the recipes were written and developed.
In Lutong Gipit, the role of rural women as kusinera is highlighted, along with all the burdens that come with it. During the pandemic, this role involved not just cooking dishes but also scraping for ingredients, making do with what little money their families could earn amidst a lockdown, and of course, shielding their families against the horrors of the coronavirus. This is why every recipe becomes a statement of strength, a testament to the ability of Filipino women to create and nurture despite dire conditions. In Makisawsaw 2, the importance of community in tackling food security is emphasized by encouraging the use of local, organic, in-season ingredients with an understanding and consciousness of where they are coming from and the people planting them, as well as advocating for community gardens and community kitchens. As one of the essays in the book describes, “More than just recipes, this book endeavors to make cooking a shared experience between the contributor, the community, and the person following the steps in making a dish.”
“Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan; kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” (Give what you can; take what you need.) This became a household phrase for Filipinos in 2021 when a community pantry revolution took the country by storm. But beyond fulfilling immediate needs, the boom of community pantries also pushed to the forefront the concept of mutual aid as opposed to the more familiar ayuda or government aid.
This kind of solidarity is what both Makisawsaw 2 and Lutong Gipit also highlight: solidarity with farmers, fisherfolk, mothers, the urban poor, and every Filipino. Because at the end of the day, food – and the earth where it comes from – is what ties all of us together, especially during times of crisis.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jess Pacis is a regular columnist for Know Your Philippines in our Lifestyle section. She is a writer and development worker based in the Philippines.