Disclaimer: This is not a direct response to the points presented in the Esquire article “About the Lack of Legit Food Critics in the Philippines”. Rather, it is a personal opinion on the very question posed by the piece– why are there no legit Filipino food critics?
I’d actually like to thank the author, Mr. Yulo, for bringing this up. It’s a very interesting issue that merits discussion in the wake of the rising global popularity of Philippine food.
Before getting into a discussion about why legitimate food critics are nonexistent in the country, we should first take a step back and reflect on how we see food in the Philippine context. What part does food play in our culture? How do we talk about food, and write about food? What are the origins and influences of our food culture?
Thanks to a number of veritable researchers and historians (Doreen Fernandez, Felice Sta. Maria, Ambeth Ocampo, Dr. Fernando Zialcita, Carmen Santiago, etc– the list goes on), we actually have a very data rich chronicle of the origins of our food culture. It is because of these individuals that we can trace the history behind meals like the noche buena and media noche, and dishes like Pochero, Pancit Malabon, and the like. It is also thanks to the works of these individuals that we gain substantial context into the role of food (and of the meal as a whole) in the past.
But what about now?
Needless to say, a lot has changed about our local food landscape. Globalization has made imported ingredients and produce closer than ever. The rise of digital media has expanded the reach of food advertising to social media sites and YouTube. The local restaurant scene is booming with both local restaurants managed by veterans and up and coming talents and foreign franchises coming to set up camp in the country. A number of our best chefs are receiving international accolades for their success and their talent. In a nutshell, the Philippines is pretty much on the fast track to becoming a food nation, and it is something to be proud and excited about.
This is what leads us straight to the research gap… where are the studies on contemporary Filipino food culture? We may have a wellspring of information on the origins of our food, but where is the data about how present advancements have changed the way we eat, talk, write and interact with food as a whole? Where is the information on how food advertising affects Pinoy consumer choices, or how the booming restaurant scene has affected the structure of the Pinoy diet? Do Pinoys still eat at the home dining table like they used to?
There are so many unanswered questions, so many paths worth taking in the field of research that is contemporary Filipino food culture. It is about time that someone dives in considering that multiple individuals have already provided us information about our food past.Perhaps it is once we are armed with that information that we can come to understand why legitimate food critics do not exist in the country. Or, why we probably don’t even need them in the first place.
Maybe we already have legitimate food critics in our midst. We have a large number of industry personalities to recruit– there are veteran chefs, up and coming chefs, successful food business owners and the like whose experience and knowledge will suffice in providing educated critique to readers.
But is that even enough? What if these people, despite their food expertise, are unable to articulate their insights in a manner that is understandable to someone outside the food industry? Most of them will probably prefer time in their kitchen to sitting down and eating at other people’s restaurants and then going home to write about these experiences. Majority of them are too busy running their own restaurants/businesses to even have the time to spend on being a ‘critic’.
So if the experienced guys don’t have the time, what now? Who else can we ask/recruit/train to become an actual legitimate food critic?
Perhaps the researchers with an interest in contemporary food will make good critics, or maybe retired chefs/food business owners. Another possible way would be to formulate actual modules on the art of critiquing and writing about food that could come in handy to train future journalists to become future critics. But then, the job of a food critic is not for everyone– the individual must have at least a basic knowledge and genuine interest in learning about food.
Now that we’ve outlined the characteristics of an ideal critic– let the search begin.
It shouldn’t be that hard. After all, as Mr. Yulo says, we are a nation of voracious eaters. 🙂