Food as national security

It has been nearly a month since the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine was implemented in an effort to fight this invisible enemy that has been claiming thousands of lives globally.

Most of us under quarantine resort to getting our supplies from groceries or delivered to our doorsteps. Disinfection and decontamination processes are also something else, and deserves a separate column, but I digress; the point here is that urban dwellers would have to find ways to make sure food becomes a sustainable part of our day-to-day living with manageable dependence on the outside world. This is the call to action on our part.

The food industry found this situation to be beneficial, given the demand. So much so that we have seen how they have transformed their services to address what is needed and relevant now. To have a idea of what’s out there, the Jollibee Group was the first to make their food products available — something the public embraced with open arms. Other food products originally enjoyed in dining outlets have now been made available via delivery or take-out to make sure Filipinos can still enjoy their favorite food.

We are also reminded to make sure that we have within reach the many food items that would boost our immunity. The Department of Agriculture recently echoed the advice of Department of Health to boost our immunity by taking vitamin C, which is mostly available in fruits and vegetables. This then becomes the baseline in creating meal plans to ensure that our families remain strong and healthy while on lockdown.

About a month before the lockdown started, I was at the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in Bicutan, Taguig City, where the agency’s library division made me a copy of Maria Y. Orosa: Her Life and Work, first published in 1970. For those unfamiliar with her, Orosa used to be with the Bureau of Plant Industry — the same bureau that gives away seedlings to plant at home — during World War 2. During her time there, she would make nutritious and sustainable food for our soldiers.

Orosa is also credited as the inventor of what we now know as banana catsup, soyolac and darak (from rice bran). The book said she “organized Rural Improvement Clubs and Home Extensions Services in the barrios to enrich the Filipino diet and to introduce the concept of ‘a garden and an industry for every home.’” So much of her recipes in the book remain practical and relevant, especially now that we are on lockdown and have to be creative and resourceful in managing our food.

Orosa advocated meal preparations to address sustainability, and in so doing shared how, by using a simple home method, one can convert coconut pulp (known as sapal) to coconut flour, which can then be used to make cookies, bread and even burgers. These would have to be taught on a national scale, not only because of its practicality, but also because of its true sustainability that would be of great help in the long run. In her own words, the idea is to “create something out of nothing.” She also also invented the palayok, which would allow anyone to cook and bake without electricity.

The book contains about 700 recipes, giving special attention to ingredients that are readily available and economical for many households. These include coconut, soy beans, rice bran, peanut, corn and cassava. Orosa also taught how to preserve, because she said “we should learn methods to preserve foods, storing the excess in time of plenty, against a future necessity.” In modern times, her work is very much relevant.

Indeed, food is a major component of our national security, especially in the time of the coronavirus. Many people say this is similar to World War 2 — except that it is not a physical one, but rather a medical one, fighting an invisible enemy that forced all of us to stay home with limited interaction with other people, including our extended families.

While donating food and other relief goods to families in need is always a noble gesture, we as a community — as a country — should think of more sustainable ways to address the food requirements of compromised communities in the long term. Orosa already addressed this, and all we need to do is to replicate and share the good news.

Orosa’s recipes and sustainable ways of living are featured on the Facebook and Instagram accounts of @aplateofbahaykubo.


Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include nation-building, education and financial literacy. The author may be reached at