Until October 1 of this year, I never experienced 24/7 of Discovery’s Travel & Living Channel. Foodie that I am, I’m still wide-eyed with the new cooking techniques, ideas and unfamiliar combination of ingredients. See, when we moved to the suburb, there was no cable TV service in the area where our new house was. The only option was to get a satellite dish, a decoder and a satellite TV subscription. And the lone satellite TV operator in the country didn’t have any of the Discovery Channels. Quite a shock for someone who has had cable TV while living in the city and who had gotten used to visiting Biba’s Italian Kitchen practically everyday, at least once every 24 hours.
Despite having to “deal” with foreign ingredients (I simply substitute) that I have not heard of (that’s part of the excitement and the challenge anyway), I really sunk my teeth into foreign cooking shows. Before the move to the suburb, it was Discovery Channel’s Caprial’s Cafe and Biba’s Italian Kitchen. Today, it is Discovery Travel & Living’s The Naked Chef (Jamie Oliver), The Surreal Gourmet (Bob Blumer) and Nigella Bites (Nigella Lawson). I especially love Oliver’s stuff because of his approach to cooking—no special (and expensive gadgets); it’s all about fresh ingredients. Of course, I may be biased because I read that he has an ongoing campaign to stop British schools from feeding school children with ready-made food and to instead give them real food, the kind made from scratch. Knowing that kinda catapulted Oliver in my list of winners (I hope you caught my column a couple of weeks back about why Philippine schools should be banned from selling softdrinks).
Don’t I watch local cooking shows? I watch Geny Sison occasionally but not with the same gusto. Why? It’s not a preference over everything foreign. My head doesn’t work that way. Filipino cooking is wonderful. But most of the local TV cooking shows are just totally wrong. Many of them are not real cooking shows but, rather, product endorsements where cooking is merely incidental. Hence, even the messy Urban Peasant, James Barbers, is preferable over the local 30-minute shows where 15 minutes are devoted to commercials and half of the remaining 15 minutes are spent extolling the virtues of the products of their sponsors. I have watched a lot of TV cooking shows–Australian, British, American, Italian, Polynesian, Indian… Even the Chinese, Japanese and Korean shows with no English subtitles were more instructional with their actual step-by-step coverage. Nowhere, but nowhere, are there cooking shows with a format like most Filipino cooking shows where the endorsements are the main content. There is one format that literally makes me walk away from the TV or to change channels—the kind where the host/hostess is joined by an employee of the sponsor company to talk about products. The “guest” then goes on to recite something that has obviously been memorized and rehearsed. Duh! Aren’t the 30-second advertising slots enough?
Perhaps, that is why when someone says Asian cuisine, only Filipinos think of Filipino food. Others automatically think of Chinese, Japanese or even Thai cuisine. No one knows about our food because our food and cooking shows aren’t about Filipino food—they are about sponsors and their products. And we sell those cooking shows abroad as in cable channels, don’t we?
Of course, there are gems in the ocean of crass commercialism. Living Asia Channel’s shows on traditional Filipino food and cooking are nothing short of wonderful. The episode about Negros, for instance, and its sugar products, including the making of piaya and barquillos, is not only informative but a source of pride. Even Susan Calo Medina’s Travel Time, before it formed this alliance with the Department of Tourism, was a veritable source of information on regional Filipino food and cooking. These shows are exceptions. The ruling trend still is, and has been for the past two decades, to pander to the sponsors. It has become a sort of tried-and-tested formula, much like the unshakably unchanging formula for most Filipino movies. No variety, no imagination, just rake in the profits.
It isn’t just television. Check out the local major broadsheets and food magazines. Do that for at least a month just to see the trend. Rarely do the contents talk about “real” Filipino food and cooking. Half the time, the contents are feature stories on expensive restaurants in the Philippines.
In most cases, the featured restaurants do not even offer Filipino dishes. We rarely get to read about the pastillas makers in Bulacan or the decades-old gotohan in Marikina that have become a sort of landmarks in their respective areas. The dairy products of DTRI in U.P. Los Ba?os are only talked about in trade shows and magazines.
Worse, aggressive advertising has inculcated in the minds of the young that Jollibee is Pinoy. Imagine the future generations automatically saying Jollibee when asked about Filipino food and cooking. Just when the First World is turning its back on burger chains and all their unhealthy food, we are embracing the fast food culture with so much enthusiasm.
The obvious message is: eat out, order “to go” or opt for home delivery. TV and print media rarely says learn about native ingredients, learn about authentic Filipino food and cooking and get creative in the kitchen.