Pagpag: The Recycled Food
The Short Film
In February 2006, a short film was judged the Most Popular Short Film among 32 films chosen to be screened at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival. “Food, Taste and Hunger” was the competition’s theme.
The short film was entitled Chicken Ala Carte. It started by showing the three giant fast-food chains in the Philippines. It followed two young girls entering one of them and ordering their chicken meal. As most young girls, they spent their mealtime laughing, talking, reading and sending text messages. They left their meal with a few bites on each piece of chicken.
Next, we could see a man riding a bicycle fitted with a sidecar, locally known as a trisikad. He had a huge bucket when he entered a restaurant’s kitchen where he went through the trash bins filled with the day’s left-overs. He sorted out the pieces of chicken depending on how much meat were left on the bones. The meaty ones were tossed in one plastic bag while the portions with less meat went to another.
Cut to a morning scene and we could see the same man on his trisikad riding home. Several filthy kids in grimy, torn clothes came running after his trisikad. He stopped and the kids jumped into his huge pail, grabbing pieces of the left-overs and happily eating to their hearts’ content.
The last scene showed the man coming home to his family who were gathered around a dining table with empty plates in front of them. It was a perfect family time. There were two kids who were so happy to see their father. The father took the baby from his pregnant wife so she could get their meal ready. From the plastic bag with the meaty left-overs, she placed portions of chicken on each of the kid’s plate, complete with left-over noodles and left-over rice. When one of the kids delved into his food, the father tapped his hand and shook his head gently. Then the father made the sign of the cross and prayed. They thanked God for the food they were about to partake.
“How can someone’s laughter bring me close to tears?” asked the filmmaker through a song at the end of the movie.
Food Recycling Business
Years ago, I saw this movie “History of the World” with an opening scene which I thought was the worst ever for humanity. It depicted a market place showing two men hawking their wares, “Rat tails, rat tails…apple cores… apple cores…” I never imagined that time would come when humans would be forced to eat rat tails or apple cores to survive.
It never occurred to me that in my own country, people had been eating what could very well be the equivalent of rat tails.
When we said there was food in garbage, some of us would think “recyclable materials” to sell for food but sad to say, in the Philippines it was literally food in garbage.
At first you’d think that Chito was engaged purely in a recycling business. Just like the man in the short film, Chito left his house at night on his trisikad. He would go around picking up trash from the fast food chains around the city. Once his tisikad was loaded to capacity, he drove home and went to bed.
In the morning, he and his wife would unload the garbage bags into the small space in front of their shanty. They rummaged around for recyclable items such as plastic spoons, forks, and cups… but more importantly, they were after the left-overs. The good portions were set aside for Chito’s family.
The rest of the loot… mostly bones with little white meat were tossed into a box to sell to a carinderia or a small eatery.
The box filled with chicken left-overs called pagpag, a word which meant to shake off, were sold for fifty pesos. Pagpag were literally shaken off to remove whatever dirt or microbes that had attached to them.
At the carinderia, the pagpag would undergo the process of turning them into yummy dishes. First, the meatless bones would be chopped off and discarded. Then the useful portions would go into a basin to wash off the saliva and dirt from them.
“We wash them with boiling water twice to make sure they were clean,” the proud carinderia owner asserted, “and frying them in oil would kill the bacteria,” ” she added.
Pagpag fried chicken was sold at 15 pesos per serving while other pagpag dishes such as chicken afritada was 10 pesos per order. Customers flock to the carinderia to eat pagpag and they chose to forget where they came from.
“Don’t judge us. We eat pagpag to save because it is affordable. At least we have something to eat, others starve to death,” one of the customers said.
Right now, I am in a dilemma… do I salute my fellow Filipinos for their ingenuity or pity them because whether I admit it or not… these people eat garbage!