A few weeks ago, I was so defeated by the substandard meals that I turned to a new invention called Soylent, that promised to be the “future of food” and the “end of eating.”
Each tall drink of beige-hued sludge effectively replaced one meal. Those who use it to its full advantage can start by replacing first one, then two, then finally all meals of the day with the packaged food substitute.
I promised to report on my adventures from this post-food world in which eating would be entirely recreational.
I tried this out not because I loved eating less, but because I loved good food more: I preferred a nonmeal to a bad meal. And indeed, for a while, it worked.
I managed to stop having my midnight meal of instant noodles with bits of Spam and Vienna sausage. I replaced my hurried fast-food meal for lunch with a leisurely Soylent shake and a siesta at my desk.
Unfortunately, the sense of being full wasn’t satisfying enough, so I took to nibbling on rice crackers or popcorn, which eventually gave way to sandwiches or half-servings of pancit guisado from the office canteen.
There were some afternoons I had a full Soylent replacement for lunch, then two hours later I would be breaking into a cold sweat from hunger. So I ended up having Soylent and then effectively what amounted to a second lunch.
After one week, I gained almost four pounds and my waist expanded by two inches. I checked the forums and discovered that it was a common problem: my stomach was accustomed to food and was looking for the bulk; my palate was accustomed to taste and was looking for the flavors and the act of mastication.
I would have to backtrack and take a more gentle approach, avoiding large meals. This required more commitment than I was willing to devote to the project, so I have abandoned it temporarily.
I’m back to skipping breakfast and downing a cup of coffee instead, and have too many greasy fast food meals before I dive into rush hour traffic in the afternoon, but at least my weight gain has plateaued and I am slowly deflating to normal size.
It doesn’t mean that I have stopped looking for an alternative to eating poorly. I would imagine that there are some people who live in Manila and manage to have three nutritious, varied, balanced meals every day. I have read about them and heard that they exist, and have been glimpsed through binoculars.
They are the gastronomic equivalent of people who wake up with perfect hair and claim to have no other beauty routine other than washing with soap and water. The unfortunate truth of our city, and of many others as well, is that meals can be fast, nutritious or tasty but not all three at the same time.
The quality of fast food or the average office meal eaten at one’s desk continues to decline even as the country’s best chefs prepare to play to the world stage as Madrid Fusión unfolds at the end of the month; and already it has gained its share of detractors as an irrelevant and elitist exercise.
I am nothing but supportive of food as high art, and even though there is as much self-validation as there will be showcasing and performance at the three-day event, it’s nice to see our culinary talents snap to attention and push their talents to the limit of possibility.
The argument has been made that the focus on native foodways and local agriculture will benefit the so-called common man, at least more than a ballet or an art exhibition will. Their cynical detractors can argue, equally convincingly, that uppity chefs with little connection to the common man are pilfering grassroots knowledge and that the food to be showcased at Madrid Fusión is nativist and reductionist, made worse by the fact that we are pandering to an old colonial master.
I must respectfully disagree. New dishes are being created, old products are being reintroduced, and more is being discovered and codified about local cuisine than ever before. Everyone is excited to cook well and to eat well. This, to me, is more important and interesting than which burger franchises are going to open.
I think we should have Madrid Fusión even without the Madrileños; let’s just call it the Annual Food Conference and have it every year.
There is a great distance between the abstractions of the gastronomic mise-en-scène and the obligatory meals that all of us, even the chefs, have to stop to eat to fuel our day and fill our bellies at night. Most of the time we eat badly, quickly, and pay more for crappy food than we should, and this cuts across social class and background, foodies and nonfoodies alike.
Madrid Fusión has nothing to do with this, and nor should we expect it to. This is a much larger problem, one that affects all of us; and I am beginning to suspect that Soylent is not the answer.