No, Gwyneth Paltrow is not “endorsing” another Filipino product. It just so happens that every time there is a mention of a Filipino personality/product crossing paths with a foreign celebrity or entity, there’s this free item called Pinoy Pride that comes along with it. Yet this free commodity is not a bonus for the end user; it’s more like excess baggage that Pinoys not just attach, but dump onto other unsuspecting people because it makes them feel big about themselves, even if they don’t have a substantiated reason to.
Pinoy pride, after all, is like toyomansi, in a way. There’s a sour component, a strong salty base, and it even has that bitter aftertaste when you’re done swallowing it.
The whole “mountain out of a molehill” exercise can be attributed to this misleading headline by ABS-CBN. First off, she wasn’t doing any endorsement. She just happened to be a guest of a reputable chef, Keith Rhodes, who just happened to use Asian condiments when she was around. Read the whole entry on her website Goop, and no where will you find an endorsement, not even unofficial, of any sort. It wasn’t even used on the main dish, and by itself!
I repeat, it was not an endorsement of Datu Puti, but a passing mention of what the chef used to flavor vegetables. So once again, Pinoys made much ado about nothing. I understand the tendency to lose objectivity every time a product from your own country is mentioned, but this? Filipinos take false pride and stupidity to a whole new level yet again. Instead of screaming “we’ve made it to Hollywood!” when we’ve actually not, we should be wondering how to market our cuisine, how to build up and sell the uniqueness of it to foreigners. In other words, how do we make our cuisine attractive and worth trying?
I am a “foodie”. I love to eat. I want to be able to say that I’ve tried everything I possibly can. I appreciate the food culture that we Filipinos have, yet the fundamental question remains: how do I convince non-Filipinos that our food is worth trying, without resorting to an “Ah basta!” argument?
By the way, do keep in mind that Asian flavors such as soy sauce will seem exotic to Americans and their rather pedestrian tastes for a long time to come. The question now becomes, how do we fit Filipino cuisine into the picture? When Andrew Zimmern, the host of a travel/food show called Bizarre Foods, said that ”Filipino food will is the Next Big Thing”, I sincerely wanted to believe it. So how exactly are we Filipinos going to be proactive in making this happen? Are we going to once again wait for the guava to fall from the tree, just as we are currently doing with the HSBC prediction for the Philippines in 2050?
Indeed, the problem that plagues marketing not just Filipino food, but other aspects of our culture still persists. As benign0 has asserted before in his previous article:
Some societies make up for their initial lack of technological and engineering prowess with the development of innovative business models – new ways of producing and marketing indigenous technology, crafts and arts or resources that are unique or abundant in their respective settings.
Food is a simple example. As Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Indonesian restaurants flourish all over the world, Filipino cuisine, otherwise equally exotic in taste and variety, languishes in obscurity. There are no business models for marketing it across cultures, no artistic or at least tasteful way of preparing and presenting it, and no wherewithal in the few restaurateurs of Filipino cuisine to expand beyond their ethnic Filipino clientele. At one extreme, the Japanese are known for weaving elaborate philosophies around food preparation and presentation. Filipinos, on the other extreme, have very little if any regard for food presentation. As long as their chow can be contained in big vats and shoveled into one’s maw as quickly as possible along with a fistful of rice, the Filipino gourmet is happy.
There is no Filipino brand and no “Philippines Inc.” The Philippines has no brand equity to speak of. Our cuisine, as shown in the previous examples, is virtually unknown and unmarketable globally. Chinese, Thai, and Indian individuals, by sole virtue of their being Chinese, Thai, and Indian, can set up a restaurant in any corner of the world and can easily command an immediate following. The very words, “Chinese”, “Thai”, and “Indian” placed before the word “restaurant” by themselves already add value, just like Picasso (as the unverified story goes), carried around a pen and a doodle pad instead of a credit card or chequebook whenever he went out shopping.
The challenge to us Filipinos is how do we market and concoct a presentation for Filipino cuisine? How do we make a convincing value proposition? How can we make a unique experience for foreigners which doesn’t involve simply just pouring meals over rice?
Former tourism secretary Dick Gordon said it best: “It’s more fun in the Philippines” is not that impressive. The product has to sell itself. You do that by developing your product. Filipinos can once again toot their Pinoy pride horn all they want about how good they think they are, but if the buyer does not see an attractive product, then why will he/she bother? Why bother visiting the Philippines and trying Philippine culture if it’s just one big mess, right?
If Filipinos can’t add sweeten the deal by cleaning up their act and working on the substance, the meat, then let’s face it, we will forever miss out on opportunities to make ourselves known in the global arena. We missed the boat in the post-WWII boom; we don’t want to do that again.
That would be a bitter pill to swallow.