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There is such a thing as free lunch

By Bea Trinidad Published Nov 19, 2020 5:00 am

The Philippines is a vulnerable country, as it is seated on the Pacific Ring of Fire. In a span of a year, we could endure an onslaught from typhoons, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Some of these occurrences can generate 10 times as much energy as the Hiroshima atomic bomb. This month alone, there have been four typhoons.

The most recent, Typhoon Ulysses, hit the country on the eve of Wednesday, Nov. 11. The roaring winds and intense rainfall kept people awake, worried about the aftermath. Households, local and national governments, were surprised and unprepared. Murky water flooded their driveways, garages, living rooms, and kitchens. The water levels reached 22 meters, when the local government of Marikina only projected the water to reach 18 meters high.

The gates of six dams were opened without prior warning, causing floods in several areas. A mother and coworker living in Marikina, close to the overflowing river, shared with me, "With the adrenaline, Bebong (her husband) and I were able to carry our fridge to the first step of the staircase.”

For her, feeding her family was the priority. This situation happened not only in one home. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of displaced and distressed families. As I write this, the death toll is 67. A student from Bicol mentioned to me, “Marami pang hindi nahahanap (A lot have not been found).”

A typhoon attacks all the basic human needs, such as food, warmth, rest, water, security, and safety. I work as a storyteller for the Center for Culinary Arts Manila. Most of my day job is to share heartwarming stories about the local food industry, our students, and alumni. Last week was tough for our community. I received footage from staff and students who were stranded in their own homes. We were meant to have a virtual culinary competition that same week.

We were all anxious for those affected. How could the students create single-plated dishes to be judged while others were hungry and stranded? How could students prepare mise-en-place (meaning “everything in place,” or the act of setting up) when the country was scrambling for relief goods?

The current reality reminded me of an Italian proverb: "Teach him how to fish, and you feed him for this lifetime." Our founder and my grandmother, Annie Guerrero, would frequently speak of this proverb to emphasize that teaching people to cook is a solution to end hunger.

But what happens when there is no time? Can a free lunch be the next best thing to bring warmth and sustenance to a displaced person? Can we feed people well and healthily for P50, or less than a dollar? Can we comfort people by addressing their hunger?

As the first culinary school in the Philippines, we felt that we had a bigger role to play than to plate a single dish. We are, above all, a food institution shaping the chefs of the future. And this includes chefs with empathy.

An economic expression goes, "There is no such thing as a free lunch," which means that nothing is ever for free. I am here to counter that very idea. There is such a thing as a free lunch. Heroic acts of service can happen when the needs of the people are surpassed by others' desire to help. In this situation, our students and community are seeking your help. We want to cook for the community. We need to cook for the community.

This Nov. 20 and 21, through the initiative of our students, we will be holding a food drive in partnership with Kusina Kalinga, a project of Gawad Kalinga. We are seeking donations of food, logistics and financial assistance. Our goal is to feed as many people as we can with healthy and substantial food.

Food is a basic need. And healthy food is not a luxury. At the core, we are a culinary community that fights for healthy food to be accessible for all. We are driven by this very quote from my grandmother: “For me, cooking is more than a chore, a means to an end or even a hobby.” I must admit the influence of Zen here, which has taught me that cooking is a personal spiritual act and that food is a part of the great cycle of life. That is why I recommend the use of fresh ingredients, the maintenance of an absolutely clean kitchen, the practice of cooking with whatever is on hand, of cooking frugally, of recycling leftovers and eliminating wastage.

This is cooking with respect, harmony, purity, and tranquility: cooking with love. Which is a redundancy, perhaps, for what else is cooking but a gesture of love?”

We’d like to acknowledge that the food drive is an immediate solution for aid. Longer term, there are 12 initiatives, as outlined by The Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger that we can emulate: Increase awareness. Learn about hunger. Talk to your neighbors.  Help set up meal programs for kids.  Get involved with schools and communities. Talk to your healthcare providers to understand hunger. Meet with legislators and local government officials. Volunteer to teach healthy cooking and stock foods needed. Talk to your favorite food businesses about supporting local communities. Donate your time and money. Start a local and urban garden. Support local farmers.

Similarly to Coloradoans' systematic approach, we want to start, not just a food drive, but also a framework here for a better thought-out plan when it comes to hunger, not only in cases of natural disasters. These 12 initiatives will take time and planning by Filipinos in the private and public sectors.

For now, every bit counts. We know that breakfast was served cold, rainy, and windy. It left us with empty stomachs and hunger pains. But we still have lunch to think about.

To donate to CCA Manila’s food drive, please contact us at www.facebook.com/ccamanila or www.instagram.com/ccamanila.  

The areas affected are Bicol, Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Cordillera Administrative Region, Metro Manila. If you are a graduate or student of CCA Manila near the area and you have a kitchen, come cook with us.

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Bea Trinidad is the communications manager of the Center for Culinary Arts Manila, which was founded by her grandmother, Susana "Annie" P.  Guerrero and mother, Marinela "Badjie" Guerero Trinidad in 1996.

You can reach Bea at [email protected].

To donate locally in cash, give to BDO savings account 004600083779 under the name Marie Dominique Quilicot. To donate food, message @ccamanila to get delivery details or contact 0917-840-8400. Those overseas can donate at Go Fund Me.