Sunday, June 22, 2014

Much ado about garlic

This is my column today, June 22, 2014. 


There it was in the news.
For almost a whole week, we were treated to various discourses on the economics and politics of what has seemingly become a matter of national import.
The newscasts bannered the news of the shortage and the subsequent spiraling of its prices. Television reporters and crew swooped down on public markets to search for the elusive commodity, like it was gold.  Housewives lamented publicly about the adverse effect of adding a few pesos into their weekly budgets to cover the sudden spike it its price.  Restaurant and eatery owners talked about how they were coping with the problem; some talked about the creative and innovative things they were doing to cope while others delivered sob stories. Economists talked about the market factors that made a grave impact on the supply and demand of the missing commodity.  Ideologues screamed about the need for stronger government action to protect the rights of farmers and consumers.  Cabinet officials felt obliged to deliver intellectual discourses on the factors that caused the shortage and tried to deflect the criticism that the President was not doing enough on the matter.
The subject of all the frenzied discussion was the erstwhile ignored vegetable or herb that is garlic.  
Was it just me or was anyone else out there bothered, amused, and bewildered by the shortage of garlic, the consequent spiraling of its price in public markets, and the seemingly insane attention devoted to both developments by media and our leaders? 
And it wasn’t even a week when everything was all right in the political or global scene.  For one, there was the impending arrest and detention of three popular (or infamous, depending on where one sits on the political divide) lawmakers that was playing out in public like a sordid telenovella.  China and the Philippines upped the ante on the game of one-upmanship in the West Philippine Sea. Trouble was brewing in Iraq, and as expected, resulting in a number of overseas Filipino workers being caught in the middle; it seems there is always a Filipino caught in the crossfire anywhere in the world.  The World Cup had just started in Rio de Janeiro.
And there we were, debating and screaming our heads off over garlic. 
I know garlic is a common ingredient in practically every dish that is served in every dining table in this country.  It’s in every Filipino recipe – from paksiw to arroz caldo to pinakbet to embutido.  I am aware that there’s a whole cottage industry built around the alleged medicinal properties of the herb.  And then there’s the supposed potency of garlic in warding off aswang and evil spirits. 
I am not saying that the shortage and the spiraling of prices weren’t newsworthy.  But being witness to how these were turned into a national issue and a springboard for a major discussion on economics and politics was a bit disconcerting. 
Is our situation really that dire that we’re now experiencing shortage of something that used to be so commonplace one could easily find garlands of the stuff kilometers long in our national highways?  Or perhaps we’ve really become so reactionary that we’ve learned to turn every single issue into a major crisis? 
A friend who is prone to believing conspiracy theories told me the issue was probably a smokescreen designed to take focus out of the more pressing national issues.  Of course I thought he was joking, but he sounded so convinced.  Thankfully, the issue simmered down somehow as if we simply imagined the whole thing.  And I am told it wasn’t because government finally found a way to stabilize supply and demand; more like because our pundits simply moved on to other stories and ordinary consumers realized the spiraling of prices was not going to be helped by joining in the fray anyway.  In short, we all just realized everyone over-reacted.  As usual.
The question is:  What is it going to be about next time?  Onions?  Salt? Lemons?

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