Bernardo M. Villegas
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Food Stolen From The Poor (Part 3)
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Food Stolen From The Poor (Part 3)

          One of the most active organisations in the Philippines in combatting food waste is WWF-Philippines.  Last May 25, 2019, it conducted a workshop in Tagaytay City entitled “Savour Planet 2019:  No Place for Waste in Tagaytay City.”  The event was catered by Silo Modern Filipino—one of the the project’s  partner restaurants in Tagaytay City who has been very active in educating their diners on the importance of using locally-sourced produce in promoting authentic Filipino cuisine.  The workshop series aimed to empower and educate Filipino diners, partners from the media, the academe, as well as other non-government organisations and food security projects on the importance of sustainable food  systems and sustainable dining.  The theme of last year’s workshop was about equipping Filipino diners with knowledge and practical approaches on how they can prevent, manage, and divert the food waste they have at home.

         Melody Melo-Rijk,  the Project Manager for Sustainable Consumption and Production in the Philippines, clarified many issues related to food waste in the Philippines.  She said that Filipino diners often associate food waste with leftovers, those that we either choose to take out or leave whenever we dine in restaurants.  Melo-Rijk stressed that it is also important to look at  how we source and cook food, and how we look at the ingredients used in preparing some of our favourite dishes. “In restaurant kitchens, we also lose food in the delivery and preparation process.  In our homes, we contribute to food loss whenever we choose to ignore what’s referred to as ugly produce in markets and groceries.”  Here, “ugly produce” refers to produce that are misshapen, undersized, discoloured, bruised, or those with unusual spots or marks.  These “ugly” products are generally ignored by the market.  Consumers opt to go for “perfect-looking” items, believing that they would taste better and would contain more nutrients than their bruised or battered counterparts.  The Japanese are famous for their high regard for aesthetics in the food they eat.  But aesthetics alone does not guarantee food safety or nutritional value.  In order to avoid food waste in our homes, we must give these so-called ugly produce a chance.

         On the part of the restaurants, much can be done to avoid food waste.  Mylene Reyes, the Quality Assurance Manager of View Park Hotel in Tagaytay and Siglo Modern Filipino, shared the different ways by which their hotel and restaurant contribute to the promotion of sustainable dining and the lessening of food waste.  “Here in Silo, we support local farmers and our advocacy is to promote heirloom ingredients that we don’t usually use nowadays.  We want to revive Filipino traditions and the value of Filipino food and to do that, we actually created our own farm here in the hotel called Siglokalikasan.”  According to Reyes, their restaurant gets most of their ingredients from their own farm.  Whatever is excess, they turn into new products that they sell at their Silo Sari-Sari store.  The existence of the farm has been especially helpful when it comes to diverting the food waste produced in the hotel and restaurant into compost which provides nutrition to the soil in their garden.

         Another not-for-profit organization in the Philippines that is doing much to help producers or consumers avoid “stealing from the table of the poor” is the Philippine Food Bank Foundation (PFBF).  This food bank was established in 2017 by a group of business executives who wanted to respond to the appeal of Pope Francis to do something about the “throw away” culture that has resulted in an excessive reliance on the so-called free market system.  With a very lean staff of five people, PFBF has developed the necessary logistical or supply chain expertise to distribute soon-to-expire (SOTEX) food products from food manufacturing enterprises or restaurants and other dining facilities (like those in social clubs) to establishments and households where there are hungry or undernourished individuals, especially children.  In less than three years, the Foundation has assembled some 19 donor enterprises donating SOTEX food products to close to 190 institutions which include orphanages, technical schools for the children of the poor, homes for the aged, feeding clinics run by local government units or by Catholic parishes and other religious outfits, hospitals run by religious orders or congregations, and other similar institutions catering to the needy.

         The very first donor in 2017 was the Alaska Milk Corporation that donated much appreciated powdered milk products to orphanages and schools where there are undernourished children from zero to six years old.  In no time at all, the example of Alaska Milk Corporation was emulated by an expanding list of  food manufacturers or restaurants such  as Allegro Beverage Corporation, Concept Foods, Del Monte Philippines, Inc., Dole Philippines, Dunkin Donuts, Energen, Krispy Kreme, Mama Sita’s, Meadow Fresh Milk, Nutri-Asia, RFM Corporation, Starbucks, Unilever Philippines, URC, Mary Grace and Makati Sports Club. These enterprises make available their surplus food products to the Food Bank which takes the responsibility of collecting the food products from designated warehouses or factories and deliver them at the shortest time possible to the respective beneficiaries. Among the more well known beneficiaries are St. Jerome Emiliani  Church (Alabang); Tuloy sa Don Bosco (Alabang); Elsie Gaches ( Alabang);  the Dualtech School in Canlubang, Laguna; Mangyan Mission, Roxas, Oriental Mindoro; Casa Miani Orphanage, Muntinlupa; San Lorenzo Ruiz Home of the Elderly, Pasay; San Isidro Labrador Parish, Las Pinas; Munting Tahanan ng Nazareth, Pampanga; Missionaries of the Poor; etc. etc.

         In its three years of operation, the Food Bank has distributed surplus food valued at P67 million to an estimated  4.7 million individuals, most of them children and senior citizens under the care of close to 190 institutions scattered  in the Metro Manila area and surrounding provinces in Luzon.  The officials of the Foundation are now involved in a major fund raising effort to expand its capability to reach other regions outside of  Metro Manila and Luzon by acquiring more transport equipment to improve its logistical capabilities.  Although the surplus food is donated free by the cooperating food enterprises, the Foundation has to spend for the distribution of the food products to its network of beneficiary institutions and to cover the salaries of its staff.  It has succeeded so far in raising some P7 million for its operating expenses and is now mounting a crowd funding effort to raise more.  It is also adding to its list of donor enterprises more domestic and multinational corporations that are being convinced to channel part of their CSR activities towards this most important means of avoiding food waste so that our economic system cannot be accused of stealing food from the table of the poor, to use the phrase of Pope Francis.  Those who are interested in helping the Philippine Food Bank Foundation to achieve its noble objectives may get in touch with its Operations Manager, Mr Danilo Navarro at  ndanilo91@gmail.com  The website of the Foundation is www.foodbank.org.ph  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia