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Community Kitchen + Women’s Work: Continuing Struggle and Victories
Episode 224th May 2020 • Kumusta, Kumare! • NAPIESV
00:00:00 00:53:56

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Rochelle: Hello, everyone! Welcome to the second episode of Kumusta, Kumare!, NAPIESV - Bersama-sama Project Philippine Team’s podcast.

Mira: Kumusta, mga kumare! I’m Mira Yusef, based here in Iowa and can’t wait to do a lot of stuff when we can safely travel and be with other folks!

Rochelle: I’m Rochelle Aguilar, literally hot and bothered here in Angeles City. 


Emma: And I’m Emma, locked down but my mind, heart and spirit still roam wild and free here in South Luzon. 



Mira: NAPIESV or the National Asian & Pacific Islander Ending Sexual Violence is a U.S.-based organization and our mission is to end sexual violence in the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) communities and build healthy communities through transformative justice and social change.

Last year, we started the Bersama-sama Project in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Guam in order for immigrant/refugee/settler communities from Asia and the Pacific to connect to their home countries. 

By building this relationship, communities will be able to both reconnect with traditional/cultural practices and share movement-building strategies. 

Rochelle: In this episode, we’re diving deep into the nuts and bolts of organizing women-led community kitchens while in lockdown, bayanihan style.

Emma, our in-house food historian (sorta) will share with us how they’re able to operate community kitchens in several workers communities surrounding the export processing zones in Laguna.

Emma: Joining us also is women and children’s rights activist, Dimple Paz, of Lingap Gabriela and a volunteer of Bayanihang Marikenya Marikenyo and who, together with nine others volunteers, were arrested and detained on May 1, Labor Day, for supposedly violating the lockdown orders while serving food for public utility jeepney and pedicab drivers who are not able to work due to the lockdown. More about their story later. 

Mira: Before we proceed with the main segment of this episode, a brief update on the latest news in the Philippines. 


Rochelle: As of May 23rd, the Department of Health of the Philippines has reported that there are 13,777 confirmed COVID-19 cases, roughly 7,000 more cases, and 401 more deaths from last month, April 23rd, despite the hard lockdown in Luzon. The death toll is now at 863 with over 50 percent declared posthumously. There are also 25,048 suspected and 803 probable cases. 

Meanwhile, an independent local COVID-19 monitor,, which gets their data from the Johns Hopkins Corona Resource Center and the DOH NCov tracker shows that there are 20,264 reported positive cases with a discrepancy of over 6,000 due to laboratory case validation and processing backlogs.

The tracker also noted that there are 9.87 average days of delays in the DOH reporting on the number of deaths. 

Earlier this month, a team of experts from the University of the Philippines -- UP COVID-19 Pandemic Response Team -- pointed out “alarming errors” and “inconsistencies” in DOH reports and called on the government to make COVID-19 data more accessible to stakeholders for cross-validation. 

"The availability of accurate, relevant, and timely data is a basic requirement in managing a pandemic," the team said. "Data issues must be resolved as soon as possible to secure public trust in the plans, decisions, and pronouncements of the government and its private partners," the team added.

Despite the 2 months' government-imposed lockdown, the extent of actual COVID-19 infection among the general population continues to be a guessing game as no national-level mass testing has been conducted or even in the works. 

And as President Duterte ordered the lifting of the enhanced community quarantine for most of Luzon on May 15th, easing restrictions on the operations of some non-essential industries, millions of workers with mounting debts and unpaid bills started reporting to work on Monday, May 17th, despite health and safety concerns and burden in work commute as public transport remains suspended. 

The DOH remains firm on the policy of performing tests only on those with symptoms and does not require employers to have their employees undergo testing. To date, there are only 39 accredited COVID-19 testing laboratories in the Philippines and only 0.25% of the population have been tested for the deadly virus.

Meanwhile, Rappler earlier this week ran a story on how women working in the sex trade were forced by some police officers to perform sexual acts and get a share of their income in exchange for quarantine passes and transportation to get to their customers. 

To make matters worse, their customers have begun paying less than their usual rate, from $40 to now $5. The same report narrated how more and more women and men are now forced into prostitution to survive the lockdown. In 2018, an estimated 800,000 Filipino women, men, and children were in the sex trade. 


Mira: At our first podcast, we discussed how Covid-19 had affected women and girls in the Philippines and we also raised money in the U.S. to distribute food and sanitation packages to women who are heads of households and most affected by COVID-19. And with this effort, Emma organized a community kitchen as a way to share food and also to build community. 

But Emma’s work is not new - there are other individuals and organizations who have been hosting community kitchens across the National Capital Region or Metro Manila/Quezon City area and also across the Philippines. So, for our second podcast, we thought that we should highlight this “bayanihan” spirit of community kitchen and highlighting Filipino traditions that we need to continue and support. 

When folks here in the United States talk about “mutual aid” - we Filipinos, have been practicing this prior to colonization and it is deeply embedded in our soul and spirit. And it is also just good to talk about the positive in these difficult times.


Rochelle: What is our version of community kitchen and how is it different from a US or Western-style soup kitchen? What are its roots and objectives?

Mira: I think the big difference between what I know about "soup kitchens" in the West and the Filipino "community kitchen" is “soup kitchens” are seen as for homeless people, to me very charity-based. But as I research about the history of soup kitchens - I found out that: 

First, it’s called soup kitchen because what was served was soup and bread, because it was easier and cheaper, right? 

And then, second, the so-called first soup kitchen was during the Depression in the United States and that the notorious gangster Al Capone, to so-called clean up his image, started the first soup kitchen in the United States. But in general, churches and private charities ran the first soup kitchens in the U.S. and this continues until today.  

But then “feeding the people” but specifically children was also organized by the Black Panthers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Feeding children in the morning then became a practice in the United States' public school system. So, this practice from a radical Black liberation organization called Black Panthers and then all of a sudden, it became mainstream that even the public system in the United States implemented it because it works. 

Then in the late 1980s, I remember Food not Bombs in San Francisco when I was living in San Francisco where vegan or vegetarian food is served as a protest against war and poverty. I think I remember going to those kitchens hosted by Food not Bombs members in the Mission District in San Francisco.  

So, the Black Panther and Food not Bombs method in serving the people by feeding healthy food and not based on charity -- a strategy for community organizing. And this is how I see what you are all doing in the community. It is not charity-based but it's community building.

Emma, what do you think?


Emma: Yes, I totally agree with you, Mira. It is not charity. Community kitchen is an integral part in community building, and from my experience, it assumed an important role in organizing communities. Unfortunately not much is written or said about community kitchens: How and when did it really start, what is its role in shaping our history, what is its role in the struggle of our people.

Food production and appropriation, preparation and consumption prehistorically has been communal. Our ancestors gather fruits, hunt wild animals in groups for their safety. whatever food they have, they share.

But when private households and communal appropriation is no longer practiced, the least-appropriated members of the villages have to cook and share whatever little food they have. 

The encomienda system enforced by the Spanish colonizers during the 16th century made rice our staple food as the form of tax to the colonial government. Encomiendas were soon transformed into haciendas to meet the needs of the global market, then farming of rice and vegetables were prohibited, only sugar, tobacco and other export goods were allowed.

The natives have to secretly plant tomatoes, eggplants, bitter gourd, string beans, okra and spinach in small patches of land in their backyards or in between the acres of tobacco plantations. This is how pakbet a native Ilocano dish which is stew of these vegetables was born.  

Villagers, at the end of back breaking work in the haciendas share meals they collectively produced and cooked. After cooking paella, caldereta and chicken galantina for the colonizers during fiestas, natives gather to cook whatever parts of animals that are left to them. We can safely guess that it was during these meals that the possibility of revolting against the colonizers were secretly discussed and debated on. 

When the Americans came, the Western concept of hygiene was rammed down our throats. They gave names to germs and bugs causing the illnesses of US troops and officials but do not seem to be bothering the natives, of course.

Processed food, refrigerators and stoves and every surplus product in the U.S. became a symbol of cleanliness and modernity, and a woman who has these things is an example of an ideal housewife. On the contrary, a woman who is too poor to own them is as unclean as the food that she prepares. 

And now, here we are: a divided, starving nation ironically known for our love for food and fiestas. 

But are communal kitchens a thing of the past? No. Community kitchens are gaining popularity among communities devastated by natural calamities and man-made disasters. As different social movements in the country are gaining strength, they are rediscovering community kitchens as an essential aspect in building and strengthening communities to face or overcome a common difficulty or in some cases a common adversary.

If you visit workers picket lines or peasant protest camps, they have communal kitchens. Many stories about individual or collective struggles and triumphs are shared and passed on in these kitchens. You may have sharp knives and bolos, crackling wood fire in the kitchen, but it is always a safe place to express your thoughts or share your secrets.

I can say that community kitchens is a must and a means to survive. Historically and up to a certain extent, it is an act of dissent. 

During this time of lockdown, when physical distancing can be easily misconstrued as social distancing, it became a venue for social solidarity. When everyone is told to wait in silence for the government to get its acts together, it has become and claimed open spaces literally and figuratively. 


Mira: The way that you are sharing that story about precolonial, about communal kitchen, it's so wonderful that I'm wondering, can anyone just start a community kitchen, and what are the requirements if they are interested in continuing this really wonderful liberatory practice? 

Emma: Well, it's not that complicated. First, you just need to identify your community and through your initial contacts, you can set up a meeting with the people who might be interested to participate. It is very important, though, that they understand the concept of community kitchen, its general and particular objectives, long-term as well as the short-term goals. 

From our experience with our community kitchens, it is equally important to listen to their inputs and comments. Once you have discussed the objectives and goals, listening to them will play a crucial part in the success or failure of your kitchen. The mechanics and technicalities should be left for them to decide: what food they want to cook, the scheduling. So, you should leave these things up to them. 

So, we had a meeting with our contacts in the community. We discussed the concept of community kitchen, that it's not charity. It is basically how to build stronger relationships in the community through the community kitchen. It solves so many problems, like the immediate need for food. It should be a venue for listening to other people, sharing stories. 

Once we have explained to them the concept and the goals and the objectives of the community kitchen, so then the discussion about the technicalities and the mechanics for running the community kitchen was discussed.

We talked about what are the most available vegetables, available in the community. You should also discuss diet. Culturally-identifiable diet I think is very important.

Because I remember a few years ago, someone donated Italian-style spaghetti sauce for our community kitchen. So, we cooked the Italian-style spaghetti. Well, you know Filipinos they love their sweet spaghetti, and, of course the people in the community were very polite, but we heard so many feedback that they don't really like Italian-style spaghetti.

So, I think culturally-identifiable food is very important. It's one lesson learned. 

Rochelle: We love our sweet spaghetti. [laughs]

Emma: Yes, sweet spaghetti.

Mira: Hotdog.

Emma: Jollibee. Yeah, and hotdog. 

Rochelle: Jollibee spaghetti.


Mira: With sugar. 

Emma: [laughs] And evaporated milk. 


Emma: Our volunteers, I cooked spaghetti for them and I just gave them the money to buy the ingredients for the the spaghetti, and then they bought evaporated milk and condensed milk. 

Rochelle: For the spaghetti? 

Emma: Yeah, for the spaghetti. 

Rochelle: Hmm. So, it's not only carb-loaded, it's sugar-loaded...


Emma: We just live it to them what they want to cook, what they want to serve, and since public or communal kitchens here in the Philippines is really very common, you can see them during fiestas, birthdays, wake, wedding, any occasion. It is a natural thing for our communities here in Laguna to hold public kitchens so they know who owns the biggest cauldron, or who has all the utensils that we need to have for our community kitchen. 

In these times during pandemic, we should remind them to always observe physical distancing. Because it is the only way that the local government units is letting us hold our community kitchens, is we assured them that there will be no mass gatherings, physical distancing will be observed.

So, what we do is we just look for big, open space. We set up tables, which is also very common here because of the fiesta culture. That is where we prepare our food and that is where we cook them. 

Because we are trying to minimize the use of plastic, that's why we need a lot of volunteers to carry the big pots from house-to-house, and then we just knock on the doors and then ask for their big bowls so that we can give them their share. 

We also provide relevant information of course regarding COVID-19, the update on the government's action or inaction in solving the crisis. Right now we are flooded with so many complaints of workers who haven't received their aid from the government yet, or since we are now under the modified enhanced community quarantine where workers are now asked to report for work, we've received so many complaints of having no transportation because there's no...Jeepneys and tricycles are not yet allowed to travel. So, sometimes the workers walk two or three kilometers just to be able to go to the nearest shuttle pick up. 

And then companies who previously do not provide shuttle services but are now obliged by the IATF to provide shuttle services, they collect Php 70 a day for the shuttle service. And the minimum wage here in our community is only Php 373, minus Php 70, your take home pay is roughly Php 300.

So, our community kitchen, aside from providing immediate relief, also serves as a venue for airing out of grievances. So, we are currently upgrading the skills of our volunteers. We had a discussion yesterday regarding mass testing and the different programs of the government, the guidelines released by the Department of Labor and the Department of Trade and Industry.

We need to provide more skills and knowledge to our volunteers as well because they are ones who receive the complaints because they go door-to-door. We receive a lot of questions about the guidelines because the guidelines says one thing but their companies, they say other things. So there's a confusion so they need someone to explain to them...



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