MULLING over the on-going rice crisis “plaguing” the country, I remembered an old joke, which, I never thought would have been very useful until now, for performing an intellectual exercise such as column-writing.

The joke which ripped my wise-cracking sensibilities ten-fold or so in the past, upon hearing it from gag-show cutups and street alecks alike, was about a mother who often reminds her son to eat “properly” with the gentle prompting: “O, anak, kumain kang mabuti, ubusin mo ‘yan (the food). Maraming nagugutom ngayon. Masuwerte ka ‘di ‘gaya ng ibang bata d’yan.”

Fed-up by this monotonous line from her ever-reminding mother, the good child wittingly, (and somehow uncouthly) retorts: “E bakit ‘nay, ‘pag po ba inubos ko ‘to mabubusog din ba ‘yung mga ibang bata d’yan?”

Viewed literally, the boy has a point. Yet to understand this noble attempt to depict the Filipino psyche toward food-appreciation – and consumption – albeit in a sarcastic manner is to go beyond the cerebral offerings of roadside philosophy.

Initially, compassion-turned-sympathy bastardized into pity is the kind of emotional mix one fat Juan, for example, would struggle to grapple with whenever he would pass by a beggar and her child, draped in the perditious spell of hunger, appealing for solace which his cheeseburger or potato chips could probably render. The Good Book, after all, tells us to be what Cain has failed to become: his brother’s keeper.

Problem is, most of us are trained, at an early age, to deem food as a sophisticated tool – more so a weapon – to reward, punish, blackmail, amuse, include or exclude others in one’s sphere of consciousness.

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Just recently I chanced upon a kid in a department store, persuading his mother to buy him the latest version of an on-line game. The young boy, like the classic brats we often see pester their nannies on TV, did what I’ve expected. He pulled his mother’s shirt a lot of times, starting from the toy section until they reached the counter, constantly telling her to grant his request, with the condescending plea “sige na!”

Guess what happened when the mother held her ground? The nice, little boy belted out “‘pag ‘di mo ‘ko ibinili ‘nun, ‘di ako kakain!” Talk about toddler tyrants nourished by youthful arrogance. Perhaps the incident served to remind the mother of her by-gone days as a racketeering cry-baby.

We know that most mothers, given this kind of situation, would try their best to diplomatically keep their children’s bravado under the radar, to the point, unfortunately, of bending their knees. Seldom would we hear a mother assail her child’s doggedness with the scathing rejoinder: “e ‘di ‘wag ka’ng kumain! Sino ba’ng magugutom?” And even if our mothers would say so, they don’t actually mean it.

I also recalled an instance when I once prepared breakfast for my little brother who, upon noticing what I was about to serve him, teasingly groaned “ay, ba’t walang palaman? Ang tanda mo na ‘di ka pa marunong maglagay ng palaman sa tinapay. ‘Di masarap ‘yan. Walang lasa.”

Keeping my temper in check, I benevolently respond “hindi lahat ng tinapay kinakailangan ng palaman,” just to get off the hook. Alas, my convincing skills hardly impressed my little brother, who incessantly blathered through my “flawed” sense of care-taking.

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Despite my brother’s pernicious heckling, I still maintain that such assertion, notwithstanding its randomness, is pregnant with meaning, which, as Socrates puts it, is a natural client of “intellectual midwifery.”

On the other hand, I’ve also encountered a “boss” warning his subordinates “hindi kayo kakain hanggga’t ‘di n’yo natatapos ‘yan (work). Walang break-break, trabaho!” Behold a Miranda Priestly-incarnate portraying the no-ifs-and-buts devil who slave-drived Ann Hathaway to exhaustion. Good thing though, in Hathaway’s case, she was still able to sip some coffee.

And what about an errand boy asked by Doña or Señora to mingle with the have-nots in a market corner to avail himself of the “affordable” NFA rice because the kind of staple they consume is not for sharing, lest you are an amiga or comadre.

This breed of people would even go as far as saying that the NFA variety is for the “can’t afford” denomination. If so, then why do we often read, see, and hear some members of the well-to-do class being caught red-handed while dispatching cavans and truck-loads of the popular grain?

Why does this “can afford” ilk continue to jockey for a bag or two of NFA rice at the expense of their less-fortunate neighbors?

Worst, this “blessed” clique, summoning all the gall and chutzpah in the world just to heed their money-making instincts, resort to re-selling – at exorbitant prices – to their neighbors the “fruit” of their line-hopping exploits amid the searing heat of the sun, unmindful of public condemnation. Oh yes, they really “can afford” – to peddle their souls to the fork-bearing guy Down There.

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Curiously, why does the sun take a day-off whenever we expect it to do us a little favor: mercilessly scorch this God-forsaken crowd of hawkers in order to melt their steely avarice? We can only hope next time.

Last Sunday, I browsed through a report from the Philippine Information Agency website, saying that in a recent Food and Nutrition Research Institute survey, about 42 million tons of rice amounting to around P 7.5 billion ended up on the rubbish bins last year due to packaging boo-boos and whimsical consumption.

This shuttled me back to the World War II moorings of my late grandmother, who would tirelessly narrate us the “difficulty” of bombarding one’s stomach with all sorts of root crops – kamote, patatas, gabi, singkamas and the like, only to fend off starvation. Rice, at that time, may cost one either his/her dignity or his/her life.

At the course of her story-telling, the wily eight-year old scoundrel in me butted in and bluntly told her that I want to eat cake, instead of rice, for supper.

Sermonizing in Marie Antoinette demeanor, she asked me: “Ano’ng mas masustansya, rice or cake”

I answered: rice-cake – her paws later clamping my ears.

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