Food has always been a central part of Philippine life and culture. We eat to celebrate a birthday and to mourn a death. A fiesta is nothing without a long table groaning with food. We eat for religious reasons as well as profane ones. For us, eating is the ultimate social lubricant: we dine as easily with new acquaintances as with long-time friends, with those we hate as much as those we love.
Filipino diets, however, are changing, as convenience becomes the main consideration for choosing what to eat. Although we still prefer the salty and the sour in our food, we now want these in cans, or better and cheaper yet, plastic packs and sachets.
The dietary revolution that is taking place is wreaking havoc on our health. Filipinos are fatter now, but not healthier. And the prevalence of eating-related ailments ranging from diabetes to hypertension has become a social leveler.
But not all are created equal as far as food is concerned. While millions are stuffing themselves with the wrong kinds of food, millions more are going hungry. Because of poverty and high food costs, more families are now subsisting on only one real meal a day.
So in this sense, too, food defines what we are: a society cleaved in two, the haves and the have nots, those who eat amid plenty and those who can barely eat.
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