Travel and Culture

The Anthropology of Food: Adobo in the Philippines

The Philippines has a rich and complex history that is colored by practically as many different cultures as there are islands.  A guy I used to work with used to love telling me about his favorite professor in college, who gave a final exam with only one task: de-colonize colonialism.  In other words, deconstruct the culture, the traditions, the idiosyncracies that make the country what it is.  Remove all of the external influences that have resulted from the different occupations - the Malaysians, the Spanish, the Americans, and the Japanese.  What do you get?  I don't know, but it would look nothing like what the Philippines is today, which is a rich tapestry of traditions that have been shaped by its history. Food is an interesting way to look at a culture.  Maybe the most famous dish in the Philippines is simply called Adobo.  One of the first posts I ever wrote on this blog - titled "Cooking Styles of the Philippines" - talked about adobo.  It is like the Aristocrats - a blank slate of a dish tied together by a name and a few basic ingredients more than anything else.  And just as there are thousands of recipes for making chili in Texas, there are as many adobe recipes as there are people who know how to make it.   It is basically a sauce.  The choice of meat, the method of cooking, and anything else is up to you.  So when I saw an article about Filipino adobo in the New York Times magazine, it picqued my interest, only partly because most international news stories about the Philippines highlight the bad, not the good.  Here's a description from the article:

It is the national dish, many Filipinos say: protein braised in vinegar until pungent and rich, sweet and sour and salty at once, sometimes crisped at the edges in high heat, always served with the remaining sauce. Its excellence derives from the balance of its flavors, in the alchemy of the process. Cooking softens the acidity of the vinegar, which then combines with the flavor of the meat to enhance it.
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Development Economics

The Pope Endorses Condom Use

In a possible Joe Biden moment, Pope Benedict allegedly softened his position on condom use in an interview with a German journalist this past summer.   His remarks are being hailed as groundbreaking, even though the context is decidedly limited.  The New York Times:

The pope’s statement on condoms was extremely limited: he did not approve their use or suggest that the Roman Catholic Church was beginning to back away from its prohibition of birth control. In fact, the one example he cited as a possibly appropriate use was by male prostitutes. Still, the statement was something of a milestone for the church and a significant change for Benedict, who faced intense criticism last year when, en route to AIDS-plagued Africa, he said condom use did not help prevent the spread of AIDS, only abstinence and fidelity did.
There is no doubt that this is a positive development.  But, unfortunately, the Church is not starting from a very progressive base to begin with.  It is a bit like commending the Ugandan government from toning down legislation calling for the execution of gays.  Life in prison is better than death, but it is still unequivocally wrong.  The Vatican's stance on the use of contraceptives in the past has been irrational and downright dangerous.  First, I will give some background on the role of the Catholic church in developing countries. The long-term assimilation effects of colonization by the Spanish, coupled with the work of missionaries throughout Africa, South America, and parts of Asia led to the spread of Catholicism in the developing world.  Now, most of the Catholic church's constituents hail from outside of Europe.  The nations with the most Catholics are Brazil (74%, 145 million people), Mexico (91%, 105 million), and the Philippines (74%, 75 million).  Of the billion or so Catholics in the world, a third come from these three countries.  Another 158 million Catholics live in Africa, and hundreds of millions more in South and Central America.  As a comparison, the United States has 68 million baptized Catholics, putting it in fourth place overall.  In other words, the majority of the world's Catholics live in someplace other than the West.  And when the Pope speaks, Catholics all over the world are listening. (more…)

Development Economics

An Unfortunate Black Mark for the Philippines

By and large, the Philippines is a peaceful and safe place for tourists.  As long as foreigners like myself stay away from the parts of Mindanao controlled by Islamic fundamentalists like Abu Sayyaf and separatists like the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the most you will have to worry about is getting your wallet pinched in a marketplace.  In the last two days, that reality has been overshadowed by an isolated act of one disgruntled sociopath who hijacked a bus of tourists from Hong Kong, killing 8 of them before being taken out by a sniper.  It is a tragedy for a lot of reasons, and it is going to have some sad implications for the country. (more…)

Development Economics

The Economics of a Cookstove

The other day I went to the NWTF branch office in Hinigaran to interview clients that recently purchased an Envirofit cookstove. Cookstoves have received a lot of positive publicity recently as a cheap and effective solution to the problem of indoor air pollution – a problem that claims 1.4 million lives every year. The predominant stove in use by the poor – a basic design with a fire lit beneath a pot resting on three stones (a “three-stone stove”) – burns inefficiently. Much of the heat from the stove is lost due to lack of insulation and the fuel – sticks or charcoal – does not burn completely, requiring more to produce the same amount of heat. What’s more, partially-burnt fuel produces smoke containing particulate matter that is particularly harmful to the lungs when inhaled. The Envirofit cookstove, designed in conjunction with researchers at the University of Colorado, is the product of air-flow modeling and rigorous testing. It is designed for efficiency. (more…)

Development Economics

China and Poverty Alleviation: The Case for a Strongman

On Monday, the Philippines will hold a national election.  It is the first time the country will be using an automatic voting system, and nobody knows what is going to happen.  It seems appropriate to include this post before the election is over.  For more on the candidates, check out this BBC News primer. Over the last four decades, the economic landscape in Southeast and East Asia has shifted.  After World War II, the Philippines had the second largest economy in Asia (behind Japan).  Years of mismanagement, corruption, and poor government policies dragged the economy down during the 70’s and 80’s.  The policies of Ferdinand Marcos, a strongman who imposed martial law on the country until 1981, depressed economic growth during his years in power.  Isolated incidents, including a severe recession in 1984 and the Asian financial crisis in 1997, put further downward pressure on the economy, hampering progress after reforms in the 1990’s.  Even now, the period of optimistic economic growth which President Gloria Arroyo has attributed to herself is, in reality, a result of remittances from abroad, which account for 11% of GDP.  All of this has led to a national poverty incidence of 40%. Compare this with China.  In the 1981 the poverty incidence in East Asia was 85%.  Over the last 30 years, China has enacted economic reforms designed to drive the poverty level of the country down.  As of 2005, the poverty incidence in East Asia had fallen to 16%.  This decline of 600 million people is attributable almost exclusively to China.   The chart to the right shows something amazing: when you remove China from the picture, the percentage of people living on $1 and $2 per day has remained essentially flat over the last 20 years.  Since 1990, China has accounted for almost all of all of the poverty alleviation in the world.  Why has China done such a good job of pulling its people out of poverty, while the number of poor seems to stay relatively consistent in the Philippines?  The system of governance espoused by the two countries over the last 30 years is at least part of the answer. (more…)

Travel and Culture

Another Trip

Capping off a marathon month of travel, I am spending the weekend in Cebu.  NWTF is rolling out Kiva in several of the Cebu branches and I am coming along to give a short presentation to the loan officers and branch manager on the history of Kiva, the mission, and Read more…

Travel and Culture

Baudelaire and the Red Horse

It is the greatest art of the devil to convince us he does not exist. - Charles Baudelaire, 1821-1867 Here in the Philippines, the brewery is called San Miguel.  Founded in 1890, the company employs 26,000 people and holds 90% of the Philippine market.  The largest brewery in the country is right here in Bacolod, so there is a lot of San Miguel pride.  There are three main brands - the San Mig Light, the Pale Pilsen, and the Red Horse.   The first two are perfectly acceptable choices in any situation, particularly for the health-conscious traveler that wants to mitigate the fried pork's feet.  In fact, as long as a food is small enough to fit in the pan, Filipinos will fry it.  If it is too big, they will cut it into two pieces and fry both.  But this is besides the point.   The third beer, Red Horse, is affectionately known as the Water of the Devil.  It is truly a horse of a different color - a poisonous, deadly color.  It is the color of blood and fire.  Brewed deep in the pits of hell by the lost souls cast down after being bucked from the stallion, the Horse boasts a beastly 7% alcohol content.  Few among the living have entered the ring with the horse and left with their dignity intact. (more…)