ASIDE from a bed, the most intimate thing one can share with another is a meal.
Filipinos bond over food. Unashamedly, colleagues scrutinize each other’s lunch. We sample each other’s hastily packed breakfast or the remnants of a family feast or the unclassifiable weekend experiment.
We masticate failed affairs, office power struggles, jokes/politics and the state of our health as carefully as the P20 fried fish, P8 rice, P6 banana and P6 mongo soup the street vendor handed over the gate to us.
Working lunches may be a modern necessity—or inefficiency, depending on one’s experience. In the multicultural organization I worked with in the 1980s, technical meetings usually extended till 2 p.m. We, Filipinos, did not complain but the expatriates noticed that between 11 a.m. till adjournment, our participation quite drastically faded.
So sandwiches were served. The reception rose a little higher than glum. An expat married to a Filipina suggested a “regular” lunch, meaning rice, viands and softdrinks.
However, this scheme was also scrapped due to the overwhelmingly enthusiastic local response. The business of having lunch—involving much passing to and fro of plates, pairing of mismatched cutlery, the collective frenzy for meat, asking for sawsawan (sauce)—took over the official business at hand.
Work productivity improved when we decided to break at noon and resume an hour after everyone ate lunch. A consultant was driven to ask, though, why few of us sat at the conference table with them, with most preferring to return to our nooks or cram in the pantry.
I said that we wanted a break from speaking in English. A more candid answer should have been: talking about work messed up the food as it was going down; you could not eat with the boss because the boss was sometimes the main entrée in these lunches; and who could lean over and tell an expat: say, can I have some of those greens?
When one eats in company, there are three things to savor: the food, the company of others, your own. Is there some of that tough beef stuck in my smile? Do my lips betray the squid cooked in inky broth? After a good meal, my friends and I burp musically in three voices, lean back and puff with our toothpicks, wiggle our tongues to dislodge and swallow the last clinging holdouts. So what? We still share lunch.
Lunch tastes best when the company transports me to the familiar and the homely be-as-you-are. Precisely because of these ordinary but intimate associations, lunch can be sacrosanct grounds that permit few transgressions.
As part of a couple, I don’t have a habit of lunching out with any male friend. College chums would rather email or post on my Facebook wall rather than wait for me to confirm a lunch date only after telling my spouse, sons, mother, companions at home, sundry relatives and dog (with whom I share Wednesday and Friday lunch regularly).
As a contributor to this space and as a freelancer, I tell my editors the clients I lunch with. Editors are an anal-retentive lot. They have to be to spot bias that’s caused either by external parties corrupting a journalist or a journalist self-censoring to slant an article to favor or cover up on a client.
As a Catholic, I’m more than a bit bugged why Carlos Celdran recently disrupted mass at the Manila Cathedral to protest the clergy’s opposition to contraception. The popular tour guide regularly distributes condoms and birth-control pills to the poor. I, too, think that reproductive health information should be made available to couples. Staging a stunt during mass, which represents both a shared meal and a memorial sacrifice, will close no chasms that’s yawning between the state and the clergy.
Lunch? Best taken without agenda.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 3, 2010 issue of “Matamata”