“Pagpag – leftover food from fast-food restaurants scavenged from garbage sites and dumps. The word in the Filipino language literally means to “shake off”, and refers to the act of shaking the dirt off of the edible portion of the leftovers. The act of eating pagpag arose from the practical challenges of hunger that resulted from extreme poverty”.
It was Sunday and hot outside. My wife and I had nothing better to do than watching tv. Our favourite Channel is BBC knowledge, and at that time there was a documentary movie about people trying out the same kinds of jobs overseas. The setting was about common professions, workers in the UK such as fireman, farmers, taxi drivers going to different countries such as in Indonesia, India, or the Philippines and temporarily doing the same kind of works.
The episode that we watched was about a bus driver in London who then came to Manila and tried out the same job as a bus driver, or in Manila, it’s a jeepney driver. To be able to do the job, he had to live with the jeepney’s driver family for a while and learned from him how to drive the Jeepney until he was able to drive it and do the regular rounds taking and dropping off passengers around the metropolitan city of Manila. In the process, the British bus driver learned about the culture, the everyday life of the jeepney driver, who later became his friend, stayed in his house and got to know about his neighbourhood. He came to know all the ups and downs in being a jeepney driver.
One scene really shocked me badly. It wasn’t about the jeepney driver and his family, well I must admit that part of the story was quite sad and touching too because being a jeepney driver means you would work up to 12 hours a day and still you couldn’t take your family out from poverty. The shocking scene was when the jeepney driver took the London bus driver around the neighbourhood. He happened to live in ‘Tondo’, one of the most populated but most deprived areas in Manila. They then went out to see an everyday scene that is commonly seen there.
The scene showed a guy squatting, and in front of him were two big plastic bags full of garbage. Behind him, there were three pots and pans. The guy was seen picking out the trash from the big plastic bags and separating the left-over meats from the garbage, paper, tissues, plastics, other leftover food, and carefully put the leftover chicken meats and bones in the pots. In the big plastic bags, you could see plastic containers with brands of Jollibee, a famous fast-food chain in the Philippines, so obviously, the garbage was from the restaurants’ garbage bins. Ignoring the cameras, the man continued working sorting out the food from the piles of waste in the plastic bags. How did the food look like? Think about the leftover food (e.g. chicken bones) on your plate when you finished eating from a fast food restaurant like KFC or McDonald. That’s the leftover food that he was looking for. Once this sorting process was completed, the sorted ‘food’ in the pots was then taken to the kitchen and re-processed. The next step was to cut out the left-over meats from the bones, washed, and then recooked. Once the food was recooked, it was then ready for consumption or sold at the food stall. You could see from the scene, people came and ate at the food stall. This kind of food is commonly known as “pagpag”.
I got teary-eyed then. I just couldn’t believe what I saw. I noticed tears were rolling down from my wife’s cheeks. It’s heartbreaking to see some people’s garbage are literally others’ primary sources of food. The documentary movie really shocked me, traumatising and really rocked my foundation. It humiliated my knowledge and understanding of poverty. I feel ashamed and embarrassed about what I have complained about life. Here it is, the movie showed me graphically that there are people who literally eat from others’ junks, that 20 pesos (about US 50 cent, or Rp. 5,000) are really an all-day earning for a family. The documentary really moved me. It indeed altered my perspectives, it encouraged me to appreciate more each and everything in life. For most, it changed the way I see about my spending. It reminded me that other people live in such impoverished life and that I should be more humble in how I go about my life.
Toughest Place to be…. BBC – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ysnpr
Jollibee – http://www.jollibee.com.ph