Let Them Eat Camote

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10:41 AM 4/2/2008

I once took a Political Science class where I made a comment that an activist friend took offense to: “Let’s just go on and plant camote.”  I said that in jest, but now that I come to think about it, camote is a very offensive thing indeed.

No, it’s not because it causes flatulence.

In today’s issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Catholic bishops are saying that one the solutions to the purported “rice crisis” is for us, a nation of rice-eaters, to eat the humble camote as a replacement for rice.  On an interview in Radio Veritas, Archbishop Angel Lagdameo says:

“I’ve heard and read that some people mix corn with rice, which is naturally more satisfying.”

I don’t know how prudent it is to argue with a servant of the Lord and the steward of His flock over the matter of “satisfaction.”  With all due respect to Father Lagdameo, I don’t see anything satisfying about mixing corn and rice, or eating camote instead of rice.  “Instead,” when translated to the Filipino term “imbes,” means “to substitute.”  Is there really a substitute for rice in a nation that revolves around eating it?

Me and my friend Dette talked about this over the weekend, and she made a pretty good case for eating less rice.  She’s a nutritionist: from what I heard, the nutritive value of rice is less compared to other starch sources like camote, corn, and bread.  So yes, from that point of view, eating less rice must make a lot of sense.  I could vouch for the claim that because I’m eating less than a cup of rice in a meal nowadays, I’m actually losing excess pounds.

Still, it’s necessity above vanity.  If all you have to eat is rice and salt, then surely the government would exempt you from its sweeping admonition to “eat less rice.”  Remember: this is the same government that told you that all a Filipino family needs to survive is P35, and all the nutrition you’ll ever need is to be found in a pack of instant noodles.

Like I said earlier, I don’t think it’s prudent to argue over a bishop on the matter of “satisfaction.”  Jesus fed hundreds of people with five loaves of bread and two fish; so I guess I have no business disagreeing with the pious sacrifice we all must make in eating less rice.  This whole starch-substitution thing is different: it’s not evoking Jesus finding a way to feed hundreds of people.  It evokes a different sort of story, like that famous “Let them eat cake!” misquote by Marie Antoinette.

Camote is dreaded not because it’s funny, but because it’s not funny.  When you start eating camote every day, you no longer find anything remotely funny about farting noises at the dead of night.  You no longer wonder if you can propel a rocket with camote, cabbages, red eggs, and boiled beans.  Camote represents humiliation: it’s something you eat with boiled bananas because you can’t afford to eat anything anymore.  It’s all right to not be able to afford a book or a holiday trip: it’s not all right to be denied something you’re entitled to.

I don’t know if we Filipinos are naturally tolerant of things that, at least from my own limited perspective of things, already constitute economic abuse.  If you can’t afford the bottle of fish sauce or the block of lard, you can always have those store-repackaged two-peso sachets.  What satisfaction comes from being denied of the basic necessities of life?

Not satisfaction, Father Lagdameo, but resistance.

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