Building Collective Power through Community Kitchens, Micro Food Gardens and a Book of Plant-Powered Recipes

By Karla Rey

The Food Today Food Tomorrow initiative in the Philippines is a new initiative set up to provide both immediate food relief and longer term food solutions. Karla Rey reports.

Pictured above: Kusinang Bayan. The community kitchens were intensely nostalgic, as we in the program coordination team discovered. It was not just about cooking and distributing food; it was also about sharing stories, having a laugh, relationship building, developing community leaders, and collective empowerment.

The Food Today, Food Tomorrow (FTFT) program has its roots with Lingap Maralita (translated to Care for the Poor), one of the food relief initiatives that came about in the early days of the pandemic when the extreme enhanced community quarantine (EECQ) was put into place in the Philippines. Starting on the first week of April in 2020, LM was a call for action and solidarity with those who barely had the safety nets to survive the severity of it – like informal workers, street dwellers and the landless.

Lingap Maralita sourced fresh organic vegetables from small farmers and brought these to poor urban communities in Metro Manila through partners on the ground and volunteers from Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (KADAMAY). While still a stopgap solution, LM made sure that the poor, despite their poverty, were not treated as mere beneficiaries of charity. Vital to the project were the weekly kusinang bayan (community kitchens) which are community-led, and managed per cluster on rotation so there is shared accountability.

We continuously work with partners and civil society organizations who understand and believe in the need to dismantle the systematic problem that hinders the urban poor from accessing good, clean and fair food.

Beyond the food relief, the project and LM partners’ social media channels became platforms to shed light on how crises impact the most vulnerable sectors more and a way of showing the interdependence of our rural and urban systems. It was also during LM’s run that officers of Payatas’ Pinagkaisang Lakas ng Mamamayan (translated to United People’s Strength), approached the LM core group and expressed their interest in a more sustainable way to secure food by growing it themselves.

Thus, the two-pronged Food Today, Food Tomorrow (FTFT) program was born. Shaped by consultations with the communities and partner organizations, FTFT combines the previous food relief model (Food Today) to immediately address hunger, while the micro food gardens (Food Tomorrow) attempt to address food insecurity. Piloted in November 2020 in Payatas, 20 volunteer urban growers co-designed a community-based food security strategy. Today, some of these farmers are now trainers in the replication site in Bagong Silangan and share their experience and empower other members of the community to do the same.

We continuously work with partners and civil society organizations who understand and believe in the need to dismantle the systematic problem that hinders the urban poor from accessing good, clean and fair food. Beyond the sharing of resources and creation of common assets to sustain their agrobiodiverse food gardens, we also continue to seek ways on how to amplify the call for the protection of their basic rights, especially their right to safe, healthy and affordable food. For our efforts, we have been recognised as Slow Food Heroes in September last year.

So what’s a plant-powered recipe book got to do with it?

If you have not come across the first Makisawsaw book, it played on the concept of sawsawan or condiments commonly used to customize a dish to one’s taste. The book was published a year after Makisawsaw, a condiment-making event that also provided an opportunity for concerned citizens to meet with the union members who participated in a strike to call out the unjust labor practices of NutriAsia, one of the big manufacturers of some of the Philippines’ top brands of sawsawan.

You see, sawsaw also connotes ‘dipping’ into or taking part in affairs or conversations that are not in one’s usual sphere. It’s a foot in. Makisawsaw, the book was an invitation to engage with the political nature of food and was a tool to raise funds to help the union workers.

The intent of Makisawsaw Recipes x Ideas: The Community Gardens Edition book follows the same truth in that proceeds will support the FTFT program. More than just recipes, the book also contains stories that endeavor to make cooking a shared experience between the contributors including award-winning chefs, the community, and the person following the steps in making a dish.

Pictured above: Makisawsaw Book Launch: The Makisawsaw Community Book Launch was held last November 27 at the Solidarity Garden, Bagong Silangan, Quezon City. The book draws much inspiration from produce that can be grown in community gardens just like the Food Tomorrow gardens in Payatas and Bagong Silangan that organically grew eggplant, ampalaya, tomatoes, and more.

“To make sawsaw is to touch the surface of things only, and that is what the Makisawsaw series offers (at the least). It shows that the plants we enjoy as food grow from earth that has long been enriched by the blood and sweat of the toiling masses,” said Faye Cura, founder of Gantala Press, at the Gardens of Resistance event organized with Malaya in the US.

Pictured below: Gulay Bouquet: As a member of the Slow Food network, FTFT contributes to the vision of “good, clean, fair food for all” by creating micro food gardens through agroecological practices, with the dream of bringing back bahay-kubo biodiversity in urban poor communities and making them as common as neighborhood sari-sari stores as sources of organic produce.

The book aims to be a reminder that the basic yet potent form of power we all have is our ability to choose, including where and how we spend our time and money on. It calls on each of us, who most likely already research many of the products we buy and tell our circle about, to start doing the same with our produce and kitchen staples. It suggests that we can all actively seek out, buy from, and recommend growers and companies, particularly smallholder farmers as well as smaller producers that have made real commitments to addressing climate change and regenerative agricultural practices. Because if we all do, we will not only be supporting businesses to keep up its good work but we will also be showing other businesses that there is a growing consumer base for whom business-as-usual will no longer cut it.

The product of the hard work of many individuals and communities, the book and the program that it supports give us hope – that there is power in caring, in being present, and standing in solidarity with the people. It is through this collective work that we can help create a system that is equitable, sustainable, and just for everyone.

By Karla Rey
Food Today, Food Tomorrow

AstigVegan: Fil-Am vegan chef, Richgail Enriquez-Diez, popularly known as AstigVegan, is one of the contributors of the Makisawsaw book series.