THE RETCHING sounds in the supermarket drove me to instantly try to locate the source of distress.
Instead of a choking baby, I saw young tourists clustered around a display of durian. One of them bent close to the odorous pile, retched and theatrically retreated while her friends laughed.
Watching them replay that scene, I realized once more how food touches us at the gut level. Aside from satiating hunger, food leaves us vulnerable with its associations.
Complaints about their meals were recently aired by police officers deployed for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) meetings held in Cebu. The Police Regional Office (PRO)-Central Visayas is probing nine caterers preparing the officers’ packed meals, reported Daryl T. Jabil and Princess Dawn H. Felicitas in Sun.Star Cebu last Aug. 28.
Why were the cops dismayed? Reports quote unnamed cops who compared the food to pig slop. According to Sun.Star Cebu, one packed meal included a boiled egg, two pieces of vegetable rolls, a cup of rice and a bottle of water.
Since I have to avoid overeating and certain food triggers for my health, my typical meal is just as sparing. There can be no arguing, though, with the same meal’s rejection by a policeman deployed for hours under grueling conditions.
Certainly, the perception of food sufficiency varies among individuals. By taking on the impossible task of satisfying the taste buds, not to mention gut capacities, of more than 5,000 cops assigned for the Apec, the PRO-Central Visayas embarked on an impossible mission.
Yet the practice of packed lunch works quite well in a commercial setting. An entrepreneur who has to convince a customer to order packed lunch has to offer the most favorable terms on many aspects, from quality and variety of food to sanitation, affordability and convenience.
With a captive market—such as cops who have no say about their food allowance—the quality of packed meals slides drastically.
So why does the government insist on packed meals? Last January, the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) also had to deal with criticisms about the meal allowances of police officers securing Metro Manila during the visit of Pope Francis.
For the Pope’s eight-day visit, a meal allowance of P2,400 was budgeted for every cop. Some of the Metro Manila officers posted on Facebook that they received only a portion of this allowance; others complained that they received neither food nor money.
According to NCRPO officials, an “organized messing” was made to ensure that cops would not leave their posts or go hungry because they were deployed hours early so they would be unable to personally pack their meals.
Like most jargon, “organized messing” has unfortunate associations. From the institutional perspective, to “mess” is to take meals with a particular person in a specified place. An “organized messing” is to carry out joint eating exercises for fellowship or efficiency.
For humans, a “mess” has other synonyms: disorder, chaos, trouble. This is a situation where persons (cops) get upset (hungry or frustrated) by conditions they cannot control (despite poor field feedback and official probes, packed meals prevail).
Another synonym would be “food pyramid”: the ones on top decide what crumbs to throw down to the bottom feeders.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 30, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”