(by Elijah Davalos  10/23/2015)

I asked a five-year old boy why he doesn’t like vegetables. He said vegetables are fibrous and hard to swallow, that they have bitter after-taste; that vegetables do not give him a full stomach like meat can. Besides, meat smells so good that it kicks up his appetite. I said buffalo only eats grass but it is very strong, wouldn’t you like to be strong?

After considering the question for a while, he replied: “a buffalo is an animal, I’m just a kid, I’ll eat happy meal anytime. I like the toy that comes with it too”. I’m lost with his argument but kids have weird sense of logic and I left it to that. Eating habits, like human folly are the most difficult things to change. It is more culturally-influenced than we realize. Snobbish society associates eating vegetables with poverty because a man with no money simply scours around like a goat to pick edible grasses to survive. A dish and its preparation identifies a person’s cultural identity; the elaborately-prepared pancit to a Chinaman’s refinements or pinakbet to an Ilokano’s cavalier attitude as influenced by the adversities and joys of life.

Eating is also defined by climate and environment. Bisayans consume fish more than vegetables because they are surrounded by abundant marine life. No Bisayan can be more than 50 kilometers away from the sea. The Ilocanos have shorter shoreline and is more land-bound than the Bisayans thus vegetables consumption is bigger in Regions I and II. In the jungles of Ilocandia, vines like bagbagkung, kampilan, sabawil, samsamping and alugbati grow. On dry riverbeds sprung papaet and on the parched farm comes tabukol. On rivers are kangkong, aba, pako and baraniw. Kalunay and saluyot grew during the onset of the monsoon with the rest of the weeds including bamboo shoots. There are tree-vegetables such as marunggay, ba-ig, katuday and banana blossom. From the coastlines came seaweeds; pukpuklo, arusip and pansit-pansitan. From rotting banana trunks and hay grew mushrooms and on dried bamboo, kudet. The rest are outright weeds such as pilpiltung and talinum. These indigenous vegetables while resistant to pests, they are not popular and are even vanishing species.

The vegetables we cultivate commercially are not native to us. Some were brought either by our ancestors during their wanderings or by settlers or traders from nearby countries such as eggplant and bitter gourd from India. Most are brought by the Spaniards not from Spain but from their continental colony of Meso- and South America; tomato, pepper, chayote, lima beans, camote, gourds, beans, squash and jicama (answering the query “nagiddaam?”), that is singkamas. It was perhaps through this route that okra and string beans from Africa reached the country; brassicas and crucifers that comprise chopsuey, more so. It’s a huge commercial success to produce these vegetables. Growing horticultural crops demands so much attention and care but in return, vegetables can give you the pleasure of income every other day unlike agronomic crops that only needs casual visits after planting and give a single orgasm of yield after three months of waiting. The vegetable industry is now dominated by transnational seed companies that promote terminator seeds to the detriment of our traditional, open-pollinated varieties.

My professor in College Algebra, while teaching quadratic function in obtaining an area beneath a curve, warned that solving an algebraic equation is NOT like cooking pinakbet where all things are dumped together in a pot and left to cook. She said that after “wronging” our test papers. Pinakbet is a dish where all the taste the human brain can interpret is mixed into a symphony of heaven and hell; sweet (camote), sour (tomato), bitter (parya), salty (salt and bugguong) and pungent (ginger and green pepper). Bulanglang looks like a variant of pinakbet to me but it can hold out its own identity as separate menu. There are more than a hundred variations of diningding in an Ilocano’s heirloom of culinary collection. When broiled fish is cooked with vegetables, the dish is called inabraw. Marcos is known to prefer diningding especially KBL (kamatis-bugguong-lasuna) is-spite of his fabulous wealth. Stomach like brain can be conditioned too. Ramos never eats. He simply chewed on to his tobacco, Out of this hardy vegetable-eating race came religious reformers, writers, heroes, generals and presidents of the republic. Out came also a militant labor leader and communist ideologue too.

Traditionally, a mother’s home-cooking is associated with love, care and family devotion. But modern mothers are overly-conscientious in feeding kids. They prepare especial food apart from her husband’s as if the two are different species of being. Grandmothers are worse. They brought kids to the fast food store. Obesity and early signs of coronary diseases are now detected on children pampered with Western diet. Enzymes and hormones as part of animal feeds are associated with girls ovulating earlier than usual, giving them the fullness of a woman even while still a child. While the Asian diet is considered a healthy diet, we are weaning kids away from it. There is nothing more ironic than to hear kids sing Bahay Kubo of Levi Celerio while craving for Col Sander’s fried chicken.

When the Elohim preferred the bloody offering of Abel over the lame fruits and vegetable offering of Cain, does it mean God suddenly had a discriminating taste for a burning animal fat? Or did it signify that animal husbandry is here to supplement the poor protein content of crops that agronomy and horticulture produce?

The grandfather of the kid in the beginning of the article told me that when I eat vegetables, I am healing myself too and tending a vegetable patch gives therapeutic benefit from the hustle and bustle of modern day life. God not only created Adam and Eve but also Eden, the owner of the Garden. Hey kid, eat your vegetable. It won’t make you less human.

See more Features