Despite the “economic growth” the Philippines’ government has been touting in recent years, the undeniable fact remains that millions of Filipinos are still living in extreme poverty, left unable to afford three square meals a day.
For these desperate poor Filipinos, scavenged leftover food from garbage bins of fast-food restaurants, markets, and dumpsites are the only means of surviving hunger.
These leftover pieces of rice and meat scraps are cleaned and re-cooked as a meal called pagpag, which literally translates to “dusted-off food.” Selling pagpag has even become a profitable business in poverty-stricken areas in Manila.
Mama Rosita, a cook and vendor of Pagpag, recently shared with Asian Boss how she has been selling recycled food for six years now.
“We sell it to survive,” she said. “The income is what we use to live on. Plus, people here need this.”
Asian Boss host Joshua even tried eating a serving of Mama Rosita’s pagpag dish.
“If you get past the idea that this is leftover fast food chicken, it’s not actually bad,” the host said, commenting on the taste. “But still, no person on earth deserves to live off food right out of the dumpster right?”
Pagpag has been the main source of income for 64-year-old Norberto Lucion, who earns 180 Philippine pesos ($3.53) per day from recycling leftover food. Every day for the past 12 years, the former restaurant assistant cook has been buying buckets of leftover chicken meat and bones from food chains via a regular supplier at around 30 Php to 70 Php per bucket.
Using about two gallons of water sourced from their neighborhood’s water faucet, Lucion washes the chicken twice before preparing his chicken pagpag dishes, which usually take the form of adobo or kaldereta when he’s done cooking.
Pagpag food became widespread in 2008 as the rise of poverty in the Philippines resulted in a massive food crisis. It became so popular that pagpag was even attributed to the decrease of incidence of hunger in the Philippines as found by a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations in 2015.
In fact, incumbent Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, who grew up in the slums, used to scavenge leftover food and turn it into pagpag himself.
The Philippines’ National Anti-Poverty Commission has warned against eating pagpag because of the threat of diseases such as Hepatitis A, typhoid, diarrhea, and cholera. Pagpag vendors, however, have defied such warnings, with some of them adamantly claiming that no one has died from eating pagpag.
In the past decade, pagpag has been covered in various television documentaries, highlighting the extreme hunger in the Philippines. Its prevalence to the present day shows little to no change has come to the plight of the poor Filipinos.
Featured image via YouTube/Asian Boss