Roosters sound the 4:00-5:00 AM wake up call for farming and fisher folk families in remote regions of the Philippines. Rural families begin preparing breakfast and doing chores such as fetching water, bathing, and getting the children ready for school. Most chores are done by the women with the children helping out. The men tend to have an erratic fishing schedule based upon the season, but will usually go fishing very early in the morning or spend time feeding and tending to their animals.
The children will usually walk to school, oftentimes a very far distance because their parents cannot afford transportation fare or do not have a motorcycle. Children may miss school if they are sick or need to help out with chores. Missing school is normal. During lunch break, the children will either walk home to eat or a guardian will come to the school to bring them food. Children in the most impoverished regions may be malnourished. It is also normal for rural families to eat some meals consisting of only rice. Depending on the fishing and farming season, an average meal consists of mostly rice and a small portion of vegetables or fish, to only rice, to skipping a meal.
The women will continue to do chores or part time jobs throughout the day while the children are at school. This includes gathering wood for fuel, fetching water, managing small in-home stores, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, or being hired to do these chores for other families. The children will help with chores when they arrive home from school. The men will fish or farm, upkeep their equipment, or take up odd jobs such as construction. Sometimes the women and children also assist with fishing and farming through gleaning and gathering of mollusks, fruits, and vegetables. At night the families will often watch television, and the men will often drink alcohol and socialize with their friends. Most families sleep by 9:00PM.
Despite this simple life style and the endless struggle of working to put food on the table. I was walking through a small fishing village with my visiting Canadian friends Nikki and Dave and, without hesitation and with full intention of sharing, a filipino family invited all three of us to join them for lunch. This is the way of the Philippines: sharing what you have with others, even if that means going without tomorrow. Community is strong, even when life is hard.
There are 3 different words for rice in Tagalog: kanin (cooked rice), bigas (unhusked, uncooked rice), palay (rice plant). Furthermore “ulam” literally means “food eaten with rice” and is a general term for everything else. And the word “kain” means “to eat.”
American food culture revolves around bread as the major source of carbohydrates, while Filipinos eat rice with every meal (so much so that a meal without rice is not a meal and a Filipino will likely want to eat again a short while later). Which is better? Bread and rice offer similar nutritional content, especially when eating white bread or white rice, which generally lack the vitamins and minerals found in their brown counterparts. Rice deals a higher dose of carbohydrates per serving, which may or may not be advantageous depending on your specific dietary requirements. Wheat bread and brown rice differ more significantly in the amount of micronutrients: brown rice has more magnesium, used to make lipids and DNA, regulate hormone balance and support cell communication; wheat bread has more iron needed to transport and store oxygen; both contain similar amounts of fiber.1 What about gluten?! Read this article and decide for yourself whether choosing rice is preferable merely because it is gluten-free: http://toitangata.co.nz/uploads/files/Gluten-free_Julia_Buhs-Catterall.pdf
Be it production or texture, America is more of a bread culture, but the Philippines is very much a rice culture. In an attempt to more fully understand rice culture, I recently visited a rice field and learned to harvest rice alongside Filipinos.
While living in the Philippines has not completely cured me of my tendency toward bread, I do eat rice (at least a little) for lunch and dinner everyday. To explore another carbohydrate option, I have found corn to be available, cheaper, and more nutritious than rice. So why does rice account for 85% of Filipino cereal consumption, while corn is a meager 10%?* Corn is generally considered ‘poor man’s food,’ while rice is historically associated with the elite. In pre-colonial times2:
Rice was a prestige food, produced in limited quantities by labor-intensive means.
Rice was given as tribute to chiefs and overlords.
Rice was consumed in large quantities in postharvest feasting.
Rice was an article of trade.
*Note that the remaining 5% is bread and pastas. Some traditions may be engrained in culture, however in urbanized areas, like Metro Manila, a much higher proportion of bread, noodles, biscuits…etc. are consumed regularly.2