By Federico Segarra
Manila, Apr 24 (EFE).- With food prices rising relentlessly, Manila’s poorest residents are increasingly resorting to eating “pagpag”, a stew cooked with scraps of meat and bones scavenged from rubbish bins that is cooked or refried again and seasoned with sauce.
“Everyone here likes my food, I have no complaints,” Evelyn Blasorca, a resident of a slum called “Happyland” who has been selling pagpag (Tagalog for “recycled”), a recipe that all her customers serve with white rice, tells EFE.
In the shantytown where she lives, hidden among the docks of Manila’s commercial port and invisible from the road that runs along the city’s polluted coastline, some 120,000 people live and sleep in crowded, fragile shacks that are built on piles of waste.
Under a relentless sun and suffocating humidity, the intense, fetid stench of garbage is overwhelming.
The narrow streets, most of them less than a meter wide, are home to hundreds of shacks whose walls are often made of discarded containers stuck in the mud. In them, many of the inhabitants work with garbage: some sorting plastics, others cardboard, and a few recycle metal parts.
Other residents, like Roweno Cabuluc, are “pagpag collectors.” Their day starts early in the morning visiting restaurants and fast food chains that give them the previous day’s waste in large plastic bags.
Cabuluc returns, already at dawn, to the streets of Happyland, where he scavenges the chewed remains of food and bones from a rubbish bin and separates intact pieces of chicken that some anonymous diner has discarded. These are the most coveted and hard-to-find pieces.
After the first round of sorting through the meat scraps, Cabuluc delivers the recycled food to Evelyn Blasorca. She cleans and boils them to make two varieties of “pagpag”: one meat is refried with flour, and the other is marinated and seasoned with onions, vegetables and spices, which is then accompanied by a sauce.
“In Happyland everyone eats ‘pagpag’, some places prepare it better and others worse, but in general everyone likes it,” says Jay Carriel, a 27-year-old who has been selling plastic for seven years.
Due to the inflation that has sky-rocketed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, “pagpag” is becoming increasingly common among the residents of Happyland and those of the surrounding district of Tondo, on the coast of Manila, whose population is estimated at around 630,000 people, according to the official census.
With the price of onions reaching 700 pesos a kilo (12.70 dollars) in the markets last Christmas, three times more than in countries like Switzerland and Denmark, “pagpag” vendors had to manage to keep rations ranging between 25 and 30 Philippine pesos (0.40 euro cents).
“I am selling more and more pagpag, I am happy,” says Blasorca, one of the beneficiaries of the hike in food prices, with people avoiding buying fresh produce at the market.
Some “pagpag” collectors, however, are uncomfortable when asked about the selection process for the meat: the logos of the two largest fast food chains in the country that “donate” waste meat can be seen inside the bags being used to collect the discarded meat.
“They think that these restaurants will be angry if they appear in the press as suppliers of chewed meat,” clarifies Jay Rey, a worker at Melissa Pearls, an association that prepares free meals for children and adults in Happyland, often connecting those in need with companies that want to publicize Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) events.
“At least we prepare fresh food, and they don’t eat pagpag all day,” Rey says. “But people don’t get sick here, they have a tough stomach,” he adds.
Constant consumption of “pagpag” for children can lead to stunted growth and malnutrition, as well as Hepatitis A, diarrhea and cholera, the Philippine National Anti-Poverty Commission warns. EFE