How eating well can lead to nation building

(Kindel Media/ Pexels)

The destiny of nations depends on what and how they eat.

                                                         Brillat-Savarin (French politician and gourmand who had a cheese named after him)


(Kindel Media/ Pexels)

It’s said that a man’s heart is through his stomach, and so it is with countries. A well-fed person has a better capacity to think and to make better decisions. 

Anyone who has experienced being hungry knows that it is impossible to think properly on an empty stomach. Not only is it difficult to concentrate when one is constantly preoccupied about filling one’s belly, research has shown that chronic hunger and malnutrition can adversely affect the brain, resulting in a decline of cognitive abilities including comprehension and judgment, as well as increasing chances of experiencing anxiety and depression. In short, a hungry person is not someone who has the capability to function properly.

The kind of food one consumes plays a part in how well their brain and body functions as well. Everyone knows that eating healthy food—preferably made from scratch from whole ingredients—is better than eating junk food, which may be calorically dense but nutritionally empty, though many people think this is just for weight loss. In reality, eating nutritionally dense food and limiting calorie consumption to just or a bit under one’s daily needs also contributes to one’s cognitive ability. The growing body of studies on the human gut microbiome show a link between gut and brain health. Beneficial gut bacteria live on what we call healthy food: a varied, nutritionally balanced diet enhanced by regular movement (aka exercise). 

This is apart from the importance that culture plays in this as well. The act of eating is often linked to pleasure. It is an activity that engages all of the senses. A dish has to look appealing. It has to smell good. It has to have good texture, both in hand and in the mouth. It must even sound good (eat a bag of chips and tell me this isn’t true). Not only must it be nutritious, it must also be culturally relevant to the eater, because the act of eating isn’t just limited to feeding oneself, but of connecting to one’s community as well. 

Unfortunately, nowadays, especially with surging inflation, food supply chain issues, and a sedentary modern life, it can be expensive or time consuming to eat the right kind of food on a regular basis. 

The Philippines likes to pride itself on its agricultural roots. At the same time undervalues farmers, keeping them one of the poorest sectors in a developing country, and then wondering why so many people are leaving the industry, and why young people refuse to join it.

Many Filipinos have a narrow view of agriculture, thinking of it as just the act of farming or fishing alone, beginning when the first seed is planted or the first net is thrown and ending with harvest. Many people sincerely think they are helping farmers when they condemn people who make money in the industry, when it is precisely this lack of treating farming or fishing like a business that keeps farmers and fishers poor. It’s a sad state indeed when farmers and fishers, the folks tasked to feed our nation, are the ones who are starving.

We have to secure our food future if we want to move forward as a nation. We have to start from the bottom, the bottom being how to fuel our stomachs. We have to address systemic ills in the agriculture system, which ranges from lack of resources to incompetence to corruption in order to encourage local growers and slowly remove our dependence on imports. Bolster farmer support in terms of infrastructure (irrigation, roads, storage facilities, etc.) and education. Encourage a more robust cooperative system to help small farmers achieve economies of scale. And so on and so forth, a list that many industry practitioners already know.

What is needed is to be able to help the regular Filipino understand these needs. That agriculture isn’t important only to farmers and fishers (most people don’t even count other industry practitioners as in agriculture, something that needs to be rectified), but to everyone who eats. That the industry needs support, not charity. The country is in the middle of an onion shortage where, to paraphrase an international publication, “a kilo of onions costs more than minimum wage,” and our first impulse, as always, is to rely on importations instead of informing and educating citizens on the factors that led to the shortage and giving local farmers much needed support for future croppings. Until we successfully untangle the murkiness that is the Philippine agriculture industry, we will continue to be a nation who struggles to eat. And if Brillat-Savarin is to be believed, it will not bode well for nation building.

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Yvette Tan
Yvette Tan is Agriculture magazine's managing editor’s web editor. She is an award-winning writer who likes to eat, travel, and listen to stories about the strange and supernatural. She is dedicated to encouraging people to push for sustainable food sources and is an advocate of food security, food sovereignty, and the preservation of community foodways.

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