A Cook's Diary

A culture of stupidity and ginisa mixes

I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. And Facebook. I hate them because politicos are turning them into garbage bins with their campaign slogans that aren’t even too imaginative at that. I love them because the people in my network are constant sources of interesting topics and opinions.

So there I was staring at my monitor, reading humor blogger and former journalist Anton de Leon‘s post in Facebook that he “started his day with a ’10-minute Bang your head on the wall’ session to come up with a good lead-in paragraph for his story” and commenting that that made two of us. I had a column due but couldn’t think of an interesting topic. I had already written about Heath Ledger in “A Knight’s Tale”, posted it as a draft on my blog but couldn’t submit it as a column because the piece lacked the required number of words for print.

That’s one thing about writing a blog AND a column – it isn’t always easy deciding which goes to the blog or which gets submitted as a column first before being republished in the blog. So, I devised a simple formula. I write the piece then I do a word count. If it meets the minimum number of words required in the column, I submit it as a column. Otherwise, I publish it directly on my blog. Simple.

So, I had this piece on Heath Ledger in “A Knight’s Tale” that was too short for a column. I was about to start banging my head on the wall a la Anton de Leon when I decided it was a better idea to browse food blogs to refresh my mind. And… bingo! I found myself on Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes and, on the sidebar, a link to her recent posts on Twitter, the most decent of which said she “loves this article by @ruhlman agreed, so tired of the assumption that we are too stupid to cook” followed by a link to the blog entry of food writer Michael Ruhlman. In a nutshell, he says that the message being conveyed by ready cake mixes, microwave dinners and ready-to-eat food is that Americans are too stupid to cook.

So I started writing a comment on Ruhlman’s blog but the comment got so long and something told me it was going to get even longer. Suddenly, I had the material for a column. The essence? Since America has been exporting the culture of ready mixes and re-heatable meals for decades, it isn’t just Americans that are being told they are too stupid to cook. The companies behind these products want the whole world to believe that cooking is so damn hard that we should leave the hard part to them – let’s just buy the conveniences they sell.

This culture is very much alive in the Philippines. Go to the supermarket. Check the freezers and the shelves. Freezers are filled with ready-to-serve cakes, processed meat and even pre-shaped beef patties that can go directly on the grill or pan. The shelves are filled with pouches of ready-made sauces, packets of powdered mixes, cans of ready-to-pour whatever-you-like. And while some of these products are of American origin, many are locally made. Among the imported items that come from elsewhere, many are from China and Southeast Asian countries including Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. Clearly, America has successfully exported not only its products but the thinking as well – making people believe they are helpless and stupid is big, big business that translates to very serious profits.

Okay, lest I start sounding like an insufferable extremist, let me say that I can understand that modern pantries have a stock of things like milk, cooking oil, patis (fish sauce), dried noodles (not instant noodle soups) or canned chick peas. I mean, heck, you don’t own a cow to milk everyday, do you? Is it realistic to say we should press oil from palm or soya or olives on a daily basis? The average household does not have vats for fermenting fish. Working people don’t always have the time to whip up a pasta dish with freshly made pasta. And opening a can of chick peas is definitely more economical than simmering the darn things for a few hours. Checked the price of electricity and LPG lately?

But including things like packets of ginisa (sauté) mix as a regular item in one’s grocery list? Or even adobo mix? Oh, come on. Companies that sell ginisa mixes aren’t only promoting stupidity – they are promoting laziness as well. In fact, they might be promoting laziness first and foremost. And people are buying the idea that laziness is okay – you still get to eat and serve something with flavor anyway.

Flavor? That brings to mind a line from an old APO song: “Ang buhay ng tamad walang hinaharap ni konting sarap man lang.” Because if you think that ready made mixes will yield a cooked dish that is even near the quality of one cooked with real spices and vegetables, then, you’ve never tasted properly sautéed dishes. Or adobo. Or menudo. Or mechado. Or chop suey. And that’s really sad.

Sadder, in fact, because you have already accepted the lies peddled by (quasi) food companies that you’re too dumb to sauté or cook adobo or stir fry chop suey. And your loss is their gain because they have made you dependent on them.

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