Maria Orosa: Still relevant after 75 years

It is not difficult for me to go back in time and read World War 2 stories given the current pandemic situation we are in. I have always been intrigued on the creativity and resourcefulness of those who went through it, survived and lived to tell the tale. One person of significant interest for me is Maria Orosa.

She recently got into the news again because her grave marker was discovered accidentally while doing an archeological dig for a similar World War 2 casualty. Though she died in the line of duty, Orosa’s legacy is just starting to be discovered, especially at a more holistic level.

I will not write about the many inventions she made in the process as this can be easily searched and read up online. Instead, I would like to give homage to the woman who has shown deep focus on her work, and her creativity and resourcefulness in utilizing what is beneficial and economical and shared that to everyone. This is also after I have finished reading her book The Recipes of Maria Y. Orosa: With Essays on Her Life and Work, which was edited and compiled by her niece Helen Orosa del Rosario.

When she studied in the United States and finished her degree, she was given an opportunity to work and stay there but instead chose to go back to the Philippines. She ended up working in the Bureau of Plant Industry where she experimented and worked on the many ways to preserve food and essentially how to maximize the readily available and accessible food resources we have in the country.

Her work centered on creating dishes that utilize key resources such as coconut, cassava, and roselle, among others, and I am extremely amazed on the creativity she put in her culinary expertise: she has some recipes that only call for two or three ingredients; and at a time when vegan was still unknown, her dishes also featured a lot of plant-based creations. On top of this, she did a lot of research and development in making wine out of fruits, as an example, and among other things she did.

Secondly, she pioneered what was known as home improvement or the 4H (health, heart, head, hand) club so much so that then-president Carlos Garcia back in 1961 declared Orosa’s birthday, November 29, as Home Extension Day “in order that the people may fully appreciate and fulfill the potentialities of the Filipino home in the development of household arts and industries in a manner to strengthen and insure its physical health, material sufficiency, esthetic effectiveness, and moral stability.” Orosa wanted to make sure that every household became an industry and a garden on its own and in today’s modern times, we see how sustainability was being promoted as early as during her time.

What an amazing and admirable leader. In addition to all of these, she was also appointed captain of the Marking guerilla group and was able to smuggle food to nourish wounded soldiers based at the University of Santo Tomas at that time. Even when her family was persuading her to go back to her native Batangas, she insisted in staying put and decided to be left behind to continue working.

A lot of Orosa’s work is still relevant at this point and a few things worth pondering on are her leadership (how she created a process to smuggle food that was made to be nutritious and the team behind her); creativity (the art of repurposing and how she created the palayok oven so that even those without electricity can still cook and bake); and resourcefulness (taking advantage of economically accessible food products) — the very same things that we still need at this point in time as we go through this pandemic. A lot of her works prove to be relevant and applicable use cases of our time.

Who knows, one day we can celebrate her again and have that Home Extension Day come back to life.


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