September 30, 2023

Food and culture are said to be interconnected, as food plays a significant role in shaping cultures, and reflects beliefs, customs, and values of a certain community.
Kibungan, Benguet, popularly known as the “Switzerland of Benguet” because of its rocky mountains, pine trees, rivers, and streams, has rich traditional food crops, specifically vegetables.
According to Cloete, P.C. & Idsardi, E.F. (2013), indigenous and traditional food crops are vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains that are native to the region or that are consumed and linked to culture and heritage. In Kibungan, traditional food crops help and serve as an immediate source of sustenance for the people and the communities.
With this, Sherilyn B. Balauro under the College of Home Economics and Technology (CHET) and Matyline A. Camfili-Talastas under the Institute of Social Research and Development (ISRD) of Benguet State University conducted a study in 2019 titled “Traditional Food Crops and their Role in the Nutrition Well-being of a Semi-Subsistent Community in Kibungan, Benguet.”
The study documented the existing traditional food crops, post-harvest practices, and cooking methods, estimated the nutrient value of these crops, and assessed the contribution of these to the nutritional well-being of the community.
The three key informants and 13 respondents identified different food crops, which were categorized into root crops, vegetables, seeds, and fruits. Participants in the study claimed their traditional food crops are produced mainly for home consumption, and in cases of surplus, these are sold or bartered with their neighbors, or they bring it to Beyeng, a community near their place for selling.
The common root crops include gabi, gal-yang, camote, cassava, and peanuts. The gabi (gamey), and galyang (bela) are usually found in the corners of the rice fields but are also planted in water-logged areas of the front yard or backyard of houses.
Telay or cassava is produced in the uma (swidden farm) or at the side of the garden since it requires low maintenance and can grow independently. Moreover, peanuts are usually intercropped with beans in the uma while potato is planted in gardens.
Traditional food crops also include vegetables, which are not necessarily leafy but still supply the food requirements of the community. These are primarily found in the gardens, but some are also around the houses, especially in households with home gardens, which are usually planted with various vegetables such as pechay and beans for household consumption. On the study site, gardens for vegetable production are small parcels of land and not as extensive as those found in Atok and Buguias.
But this does not limit them from producing cash crops at a limited volume. These are the legumes and grains that are also planted in the uma and gardens.
There are different kinds and varieties of legumes, such as kedis or pigeon pea, batong or sinai, and patani that are still available in the community. However, these are produced at a limited quantity and just enough for the household consumption.
These include the guava, pomelo, avocado, and banana, which are usually grown in the front or backyard and consumed at the household level or shared with relatives and neighbors. Some extras can be bartered or sold around.
The community has simple post-harvest practices for handling their traditional food crops since most of their produce is for home consumption. This post-harvest practice is a sure way to get most of the nutrients from produce in its fresh state.
One of the distinct practices of the community is the panagkilang or panagkirog, where seed crops such as legumes are roasted before storage in a bottle, plastic, or cellophane to avoid molding. It applies to legumes intended to be consumed or eaten, which can be stored for a year. This does not apply to legumes that are kept as seeds for the next planting season.
According to one of the respondents, roasted kardis can be stored for a year without being infected with weevil. However, it was observed the longer the legume is stored, the longer it takes to cook. They observed that the roasted legume does not lose its taste aside from a minor odor, but is tolerable even for children.
Another, technique is panagbilag (sun-drying) to remove moisture before storage. It is applied to legumes and some root crops.
Further, it includes the panag-suo, an alternative way of drying seed crops, where these are placed above the dalikan or fireplace. This is common during the rainy season when the sun seldom shines. In most cases, seed crops are dried under the sun at day time and put on the suolan in the evening.
There is also the panag-buko, which involves peeling of root crops, usually sweet potato, then slicing it thinly before drying under the sun until crisp. After this, sun-dried sweet potato chips can be stored or turned to flour.
The participants shared they have simple cooking methods in the community. Most of their crops are either boiled, ginisa (sautéed), or stir-fried. Legumes, for instance, are boiled or agasen to soften before other vegetables and spices can be mixed. For vegetables, though, these are usually sautéed in lard and some spices when available.
Cooking methods for the powdered camote or cassava can be creative, like adding some sugar and coconut, if available, and wrapping it with banana leaves before steaming. On the other hand, ‘aggey’ can just be boiled for snacks, or it can also be mixed in preparing ‘kintoman’ or sticky rice as rice wine to add flavor and texture.
The community believes that traditional food crops can be medicinal and improve their nutritional status as they are free from pesticides. It also adds taste and flavor to their diet, improves palatability, and helps to balance protein, vitamin, and mineral intakes.
The study emphasizes that the preservation of indigenous knowledge of traditional foods, specifically post-harvest practices and cooking methods, indicates the community’s nutrition security.
Therefore, it reminds us that with the different trends in food that have been evolving in the country, let us still patronize and promote the traditional foods we have. Traditional food crops shape community cultures and identities.