Crunch in our table staples | Inquirer Opinion
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Crunch in our table staples

/ 05:11 AM February 10, 2023

The crunch in our table staples in the title does not refer to the crisp texture that we like in Filipino food (fried lumpia, ukoy, chicharon, banana turon, etc.). The word “crunch” also refers to a crisis or decline (e.g., oil crunch, credit crunch), while crunch time means a critical moment for making decisions or taking action.

As far as our table staples are concerned, we are constantly in a crunch while the current government acts only when the crunch becomes a national crisis, when it is way past crunch time. Some staples have been in a perpetual crunch, rice among them, in this country which used to be one of the world’s biggest rice exporters. Here are some:


Onions, of course. The price of onions skyrocketed by 800 percent—or was it 799 percent?—in the past months, sending punsters into paroxysms of creative glee to entertain and numb the ouch the Pinoy way. Those in the food business and home kitchens could have shed tears of frustration over the crunch that did not have to happen. Think of the onion farmers burdened with heavy debts who reportedly ended their lives.

Onions took center stage as a highly priced commodity, they were even used as bridal bouquet by the bold and daring. Smugglers and cartel shysters had a heyday before the government resorted to importing onions, which is when Filipino onion farmers are about to harvest, which is around this time. More tears.


Salt. Some months ago, I wrote about our dying salt industry (“Salt in our tears and other thoughts,” 9/2/2022), which I thought would be my last before it comes back to life. But not after I watched the video replay of last month’s Senate hearing on the death throes of salt production. There, it was brought up that 92 percent of our salt supply is imported (average of 628,500 metric tons (MT) for 2019, 2020). In concrete figures: local production of salt in 2020 was 43,749 MT; imported was 546,873 MT. WDYK, in this archipelagic nation with one of the longest coastlines in the world.

Salt has thousands of uses, among them, as food additive, in animal feeds, for coconut fertilization, water treatment, soap making, etc.

The Asin law, which requires iodization of table salt to prevent iodine deficiency, is often blamed as the reason for the decline of local salt production. Passed in the 1990s during the Ramos presidency with Juan Flavier as health secretary (and later senator), the law could have discouraged salt farmers who had no technical know-how on iodization. Add to that land conversions in coastal areas that saw the rising of commercial and residential structures.

Restudy the Asin law! Imagine finding out that while our local salt producers were required to iodize food-grade salt (or else!), the government was allowing importation of non-iodized salt—to be iodized! As to the non-iodized salt for industrial use, it could have been produced by our salt farmers. But by then, they might have thrown in their shovels.

Last week, with the help of a friend in Pangasinan, I made a virtual visit of a backyard salt-making production site, one of the few remaining in that coastal area. There are no salt beds there. The process involves boiling in sea water the raw, unrefined salt sourced from another seaside barangay. The boiling is done in big rectangular tubs that, I learned, had been provided by the Department of Science and Technology years ago. For fuel, rice husks are used.

The whiter salt that comes out from this second process is sold in bulk somewhere, to middlemen perhaps? To be iodized, packed and marketed? My computation-obsessed friend who toured me virtually figured out that this particular salt producer in this second production stage would be earning only about P100 a day.

Then there is rice. I have written about the rice farmers’ outcry against the rice tariffication law (for imported rice) that would drive them to planned poverty. The promise of the current President and the self-appointed Secretary of Agriculture, aka himself, that rice will be P20 per kilogram is still in the mist. The cheapest sells at P36.


And yes, eggs, a poor family’s best protein source, have risen in price. Before you reach for that tray of eggs on the grocery shelf, think of those who must think twice before deciding on two or three medium-sized eggs, utang pa.Also a crisis is how farmers are allowing their tomatoes to rot because of overproduction sans processing plant in sight. Tanging Yaman Foundation Inc. has stepped in.

The raw wealth of this nation in a series of crunches. Sugar, too. Please, God, not coconut oil.

For Valentine’s Day, you may order a five-kilogram veggie bouquet for P1,500 from Patricia Non (Inquirer’s 2021 “Filipino of the Year”), mother of community pantries that spread like a pandemic of kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Proceeds will be used for “gulay rescue operations” for farmers. Find “Gulay Bouquet for Sale” on Facebook.


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TAGS: COVID-19 pandemic, onion supply shortage, Patricia Non
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