Too many cooks

"Wouldn’t time and money be better spent on other things?"


Do we really need a technical committee to develop national standards for the cooking of adobo?

The Department of Trade (DTI) apparently thinks so, announcing that a technical committee under its Bureau of Philippine Standards has begun setting the standards for cooking this quintessential Filipino stew, with information from Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine.

The panel, the DTI said, will be headed by chef Glenda Barretto, founder of Via Mare, along with chefs Myrna Segismundo and Raoul Roberto Goco from the Food Writers Association of the Philippines and Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines.

The committee, which began work in May, aims to define the basic Philippine adobo as a benchmark amid the many variations that have been created to replicate it, the DTI says.

Adobo is just the start, however. From there, the committee plans to move on to sinigang, sisig, lechon and other popular Filipino dishes.

Formulating standards for popular dishes, the DTI says, will pave the way for a “distinguished Filipino food culture while establishing the common ground for food businesses.” It will also determine what an authentic Filipino adobo dish is like.

Perhaps working on the principle of the more, the merrier, the committee will also work with representatives from the University of the Philippines Diliman—College of Home Economics, the Department of Science and Technology, the Philippine Association of Food Technologists, Inc., Le Toque Blanche Chefs Association, Asia Society Philippines, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, among others.

Predictably, the bid to standardize a favorite comfort food known for its many variations drew fire from the online community. Many questioned the DTI’s priorities in the midst of a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on the economy and people’s lives.

Others poked fun at the notion, suggesting that the government might soon be looking to appoint an “adobo czar” after appointing czars for vaccines, testing and treatment during the pandemic.

Still others quipped that having failed to set standards for itself, this government has set its sights on adobo, instead.

In a bid to appease its critics, the DTI issued a clarification, saying its proposed adobo standard will only be used for the purpose of international promotion, and not as a mandatory standard for everyone to follow.

Having a standard traditional recipe, it said, would help efforts to promote the dish overseas.

“Obviously, this is not a mandatory standard because there are thousands or millions of different ‘lutong adobo’,” the DTI said in a statement. “The attempt is to define what we will promote internationally and not redefining what adobo is to different people now.”

None of this, however, addresses the notion that public resources are being squandered on a project of dubious value, in the context of more important priorities during a pandemic.

Even without a pandemic, wouldn’t the DTI’s time and taxpayers’ money be better spent on promoting agricultural products, or building up the capacity of small- and medium-scale enterprises so they can compete in the global free market?

Finally, trying to set a standard for a Filipino dish speaks of an insecurity about our culture, our cuisine and our place in the world. The English are famous for their fish and chips, and Singaporeans have Hainanese chicken rice, but neither of them have seen fit to establish a national standard for these popular dishes. Why should we?

Topics: Editorial , cooking of adobo , Department of Trade , DTI , Bureau of Philippine Standards , Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine
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