By Angeli Lacson,

Last November 7, 2020, I visited Salu-Salo Agroecology Festival: Pagkain Para sa Lahat, a food festival organized by food advocates from the Agroecology Exchange, peasant organizations, and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, among others. Numerous booths featured a variety of local produce directly from farmers, vegan and vegetarian meals like “Langkatsu” (langka katsudon) and Ginataang Halu-Halo, products from small local businesses, and books, zines, stickers, and other art discussing peasant and social issues.

The highlight of the event was Kalansingan sa Tanghalian, wherein food advocates and festival participants struck together utensils and plates to symbolize the call for genuine agrarian reform and food systems change. Throughout the day-long event, several spokespersons discussed the state of the current Philippine food system, calling attention to the issues facing the peasantry, such as landlessness and land grabbing, militarization in the countryside, and the devastating impact of the Rice Liberalization Law.

Consumers must see themselves as interdependent with food security frontliners—farmers and tillers, fisherfolk, and indigenous peoples. (Kel Malazarte)

Anticipating a bountiful veggie haul, I came to the festival with two empty ecobags and left with bags bursting with food and goodies: cacao fruit (which I had never been able to try before), native corn, strawberry preserves, kapeng barako, local tablea, homemade leche flan and palitaw. More importantly, I went home with the irrefutable certainty that another way is possible—that we can create food systems that are just and sustainable.

When land is returned to the tillers and farmers can grow native and seasonal crops, soil retains its nutrients and biodiversity protected. When the peasantry is supported through free irrigation and post-harvesting facilities, government-sponsored cash and food aid, tariff protections against imported goods, and social services like free healthcare and housing, it paves the way for everyone to have access to nutritious and sufficient food.

As consumers, we must see ourselves as interdependent with our food security frontliners—farmers and tillers, fisherfolk, and indigenous peoples. The food we eat does not appear out of nowhere, and it is sometimes difficult to remember this when the peasantry is forcibly absent from national conversation, consistently ignored by the government, and brutalized by armed forces. We can be active participants in our food systems by standing with our farmers, which entails not only buying local produce but also fighting with the peasantry for their right to land, food, aid, and justice.

Part of what the ongoing pandemic is teaching me is how essential food is to our survival. When Metro Manila was under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and people were mandated to stay indoors, some of the only establishments allowed to stay open were grocery and food markets. It is likewise through food that we can build strong immune systems resistant to illness and disease. Quite literally, we owe our lives to our farmers and food security frontliners. Our collective future, too, relies on what happens to our farmers and the land that is rightfully theirs. We are already living with the disastrous effects of the capitalist-driven climate crisis—a crisis that disproportionately harms the poorest and most vulnerable among us. As the pandemic rages on, it is clearer than ever that we still have a world to win. Let’s choose to stand with our farmers.

Photo by Kel Malazarte