Kitchen & Pantry

Sausage, potato chips and canned tuna

While we were having lunch earlier (it was low-fat, mind you), Speedy asked where he could buy phyllo pastry. Santi’s, I said, noting that the nearest branch would be the one in San Juan. Then, I asked why. Because, he replied, he saw something on TV. A Greek dish. Feta cheese wrapped in phyllo pastry, deep-fried then smothered with honey. Oh, my goodness, the food porn images that went through my mind. We still have feta cheese in the fridge, we have honey… if we only had phyllo pastry, then… So, when Speedy announced that he would go out after lunch, naturally, I thought he would go all the way to Metro Manila for phyllo pastry.

So, he left. I went up to my study. I posted two articles in the food blog. I was doing a final review of the Cha (green tea) soba with miso sauce when I heard the pick-up pull up in front of the house. My, he’s fast, I thought. I went down, opened the front door and asked where the phyllo pastry was. But he didn’t go down to Metro Manila, he said. He just went to the bank and the local grocery store. But, he had a surprise for me, he said.

Mugs. Glass mugs. If you think that sounds unexciting, you’re wrong. We’ve been buying a lot of glassware. Not necessarily the expensive kind. We just want variety in shape and size. Check out the drinks section of the food blog and you’ll see many of them there. What’s the obsession with glassware? They’re great for photos. These are the mugs he just bought.

If those mugs weren’t clear glass, you wouldn’t see how the cream creeps down like… like a waterfall.

But the mugs are just part of the story. Speedy also brought home two cans of Philips sausage. That was the point when I said, “Wait! I’ll get my camera.” He asked why and I said it was a nostalgia thing.

I took the sausage photo before the coffee photo. Like I said, a piece of nostalgia. Back in the 70s when we were both growing up, “sausage” meant Vienna sausage. In cans. And they were very, very popular. I think we bought Hormel (or was it Libby’s) when I was a child but when Speedy and I were newly married, Philips was our preferred brand — it was cheap and tasty.

Throughout my childhood, Filipinos didn’t call hotdogs and frankfurters sausages. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who realized that sausage meant any meat in tube form. In the Philippines, at least back then, if it didn’t come out of a can, it wasn’t a sausage. And many Filipinos still think that way. In fact, when I say “sausage” in the food blog and mention choices like Hungarian, Italian, pepperoni or salami, some readers get confused because they still associate the word sausage with canned Vienna sausage.

But even before I took photos of the sausage cans (here’s where I confess that the order of the photos is the complete opposite of the order of the story), Speedy said I should take photos of the canister of potato chips that he just bought. At first, I didn’t understand why.

Until he pointed inside.

He had just opened the canister and the contents only reached half of the canister’s height. I mean, even if we allow for “settling” during transportation… man, that’s a lot of settling. Oishi is inexpensive compared to imported brands but when we consider the amount of chips we actually get, how much cheaper is it, really?

This is where I have to mention that the Philips sausages were much shorter than the height of the can. When I was a kid, unless I opened a can of sausage tidbits, the sausages were almost as tall as the can and I had to pry them out with a fork because they were so tightly packed inside the can. These days, just open the can, invert it and everything falls out easily — with a huge amount of liquid.

I don’t know if it’s a Filipino thing. Oishi and Philips are both domestic companies. But that practice of making the containers disproportionate to the amount of content? It’s the same reason why we don’t buy San Marino canned tuna. The ads are all over. TV, billboards, print, internet. The company has even hired high-profile celebrities to endorse its product. We tried San Marino tuna once and never again. Why? Because when I opened the can, there was so much less tuna than there is in, say, a can of Permex tuna (that’s our preferred brand and, no, Permex doesn’t pay me to say that).

In short, insofar as consumer prices go, what does cheap really mean? I’m a believer in value for money and my experiences with products like Oishi and San Marino tuna make me wonder what value means to these companies.

Look at it this way. You have a can of a certain size with a certain capacity. Think of a can of tuna. Using that can, the cost of canning 100 g. of tuna and canning 200 g. of tuna is the same. The cost of tuna will be higher though. But do the math. If the cost of canning is, say, 10 pesos and the cost of 100 g. of tuna is 10 pesos, two cans each with 100 g. of tuna would cost 40 pesos while one can with 200 g. of tuna will cost only 30 pesos. It’s the same amount of tuna — 200 g. — but the end price is 10 pesos less.

And then, there’s the effect on the environment. Because canning is mechanical and machines are run by fuel, the process of producing two cans each containing 100 g. of tuna has twice as much impact on the environment that producing a can with 200 g. of tuna.

I understand that it’s a marketing thing. A low-priced large can of tuna is more attractive to the consumer than a similarly-priced smaller can with the same amount of content. It’s a visual illusion as the larger container makes the consumer feel that he is actually getting more. The average consumer simply does not bother to check the net weight — he goes by appearances.

I don’t know who has a responsibility to whom anymore. In the end, it’s everyone for himself and it’s up to the consumer to educate and train himself so that he doesn’t fall for shady marketing gimmicks.

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