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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

entry arrow3:40 PM | Retreat From Fatland

I haven't been writing about food lately.

I should have been. That was one of my initial calls for this space, which I first made out to be a literary sampling of the smorgasbord we call Dumaguete. This was meant to be a food trip of sorts, a freewheeling tour through the delicacies from this side of the world, with a bit of culture and name-dropping mixed in. A fiesta, in other words, a Dumaguete paella. I have always believed that the feasts this city offers are resplendently varied, and always tempting; if the way to any man's heart is through his stomach, then Dumaguete is full of lovestruck people. This is, after all, a city slowly waking up to the joys of dining out. The culinary possibilities have become almost endless. A sometime food blog was only the right thing to do.

But there was a time, however, some weeks ago, when I caught a reflection of myself in the mirror. And did not like what I saw.

The first sign of such dread came when I had lunch one day, perhaps sometime last September, in my regular hole -- that homemade buffet we call, in Tubod, as Bikolana. A ramshackle really, it is your regular karinderia with some tiny form of pretense. Its clientele are mostly students from nearby Silliman University, and while the fare has the regularity of a non-surprise, one could say it had good food. Not exactly exciting and cheap, but for the most part, it made do. Breakfast of sausage and egg fried nice and easy was somewhere between P25 and P30. It had replaced my mother's table as the sole source of daily nutrients, having of late gone the independence route. Like any bachelor without a gas stove, I have to fend for himself. Sometimes, I ate in Naz, near Ever Theater. Sometimes in the Silliman Coop. But I was becoming used to Bikolana's distinctive peppery flavor for all their dishes, a certain hotness that oiled the senses, and perhaps even the libido. Bell pepper, chopped finely, was the way to go for every meal.

And then, one day, the abundant/hefty lady proprietor had the temerity of claiming the familiarity of neighbors, and told me: "You're getting fat."

The first thing that came into my head was: "Hey, lady, do I know you enough to get that kind of observation from you?" And also: "And what business is it of yours?" And then: "But all I've been eating is your food." But all I said was, "I know." Of course, I knew. I knew I was getting fat.

You can't escape that instant physical scrutiny and revelation in a country where a form of hello is people hailing one another, "Nanambok lagi ka," or "Naniwang lagi ka." Mostly, it is the former. One particularly rotund friend, exasperated by the constant reminders in street corners and sometime meetings, finally blew up one day: "They're so rude!" I told her I had a ready-made retort: "Cute pud." But it isn't always as biting as I'd hope it could be.

Of course, I knew. Unbalanced meals, taken into gorging extremes, make you fat. I had ballooned several pounds in the space of one year, all in the name of bachelorhood and the aimlessness of mealtimes. I was eating too many meals in the sly, always fast, always beyond the requisite meal times, because I believed I was too busy to be bothered to eat right. And I was eating too many meals in fast-food restaurants, their saturated fat part of the addictive flavor that made every meal a kind of heaven, and every burp a kind of rebuke. There was a time when I ate Scooby's burger steak several days in a row, the patty an exquisite mixture of tender and juicy, its fried glory capped with dripping mushroom sauce. I exaggerate. Sometimes, the mushroom sauce is a kind of Jell-O, frighteningly solid, like paste swabbed on brown meat. In Bikolana, I'd eat fish, in a kind of half-hearted attempt to diet. But like everyone else in Asia, I gorged down on rice. Rice was the very life. I knew it was contributing to my growing girth, but life was somehow better lived in denial. As long as I was not sumo wrestler fat, I thought I was okay.

I haven't been back to Bikolana since.

But soon, reality gets to you. The body sends you signals that perhaps enough is enough. I was sedentary for the most part of this year. Life was a two-way traffic between classroom and office, and the home television. I had paid my dues at Cellutrim, but never made a single visit. I made promises to go on a badminton regimen, but couldn't seem to wake for my morning drills. Dieting was a yoyo. And I finally understood Oprah Winfrey only too well: it was so much easier to retreat from the whole weary world with a brownie pressed close to the mouth, a vanilla shake in one hand, and the other hand dialing Shakey's delivery number. Food comfort. The pounds built up.

But soon came the shortness of breath, the constant tiredness. A flight of stairs became an effort. A kilometer's walk was asking for both heaven and earth to collide. The idea of going out of the house was sheer suicide. I was constantly sick. Finally, my brother from Los Angeles called and said, "Haven't you even seen Super Size Me?" I told him I've heard of it. It's a documentary about a man who decided to check out if McDonald's food -- or any fastfood for that matter -- was indeed healthy enough as the regular source of meals for a month.

Imagine downing all that burger and fries and shakes and what-have-you's for a month. A kid's vision of heaven! We have all grown up to Jollibee's singsong call of "Isang tulog na lang, Jollibee na naman" Note the sheer expectations grilled into our media-saturated consciousness.

So what happened to the guy in the documentary? His weight soared, his liver and kidney were on the verge of collapse, his whole body had gone absolutely haywire. His doctors begged him to discontinue the experiment. And he wasn't even halfway through the month yet.

And that was when I finally woke up. Sooner or later, I knew this to be true: one gets tired of being fat. Or at least in the getting there. Fit is still the way to be.

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich