The “one rice, one ulam” culture

Photo by Patrick Amoy on Unsplash

Been watching food vlogs around Southeast Asia and I came to the realization that the “isang kanin, isang ulam” phenomenon is an exclusively Filipino thing. In an Indonesian carinderia, it is almost unimaginable for someone to order just a single ulam and kanin. Typical Indonesians usually eat a cup of rice in a sea of ulam and side dishes. Same with Malaysia, Thailand, et cetera.

And you know why that is? It isn’t because Filipinos are minimalists like the Japanese. Our fiesta culture is anything but minimalist. The “isang kanin, isang ulam” phenomenon is a necessity due to the sorry state of our agriculture. It keeps our food prices higher compared to many of our neighbors. We live in a country where an iCloud subscription is cheaper than a head of cabbage.

The Philippines is following an unorthodox path to economic development. Before many developed countries became service or industry-oriented economies, they were agricultural. This didn’t happen in the Philippines. We skipped the sectors of agriculture and industry and made a beeline for services.

Kumbaga, chupa agad, walang foreplay, foreplay.

Services today comprise the biggest chunk in our national economy. It is also the reason why we are one of the most severely hit economies in the ASEAN. Our economy lacks diversity.

The future looks grim as many young Filipinos would rather become YouTubers or TikTokers than farmers. Who can blame them? They have American reality TV stars as role models. A gamut of other social and historical factors (the residual hacienda culture, etc.) are putting a damper on the development of our agriculture. It’s a complex issue, truly, that will take a generation or two to resolve.

So, how do we go about starting to turn this around?

I do not have an easy answer. What I know is that if we keep doing the same thing, we will keep getting the same results.

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