Last November, I flew to Milan, Italy to attend the International Forum on Food and Nutrition.
I was there because an article I wrote about the Philippines’ fishing industry won the 2018 Food Sustainability Media Award. My article, titled “Why The Philippines May Run Out Of Fish By 2048,” won the Written-Unpublished category, beating over 400 entries from around the world.
Needless to say, it’s taken a while for the enormity of all this to sink in.
When I first heard of the media award two years ago, I’d just missed the deadline for that year’s submissions. It proved perfect timing, as on my next trip to the Philippines, I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and learn about how one traditional Filipino food item - dried fish - was prepared, in the province of Cebu.
After gathering tons of research from the Philippine Department of Fisheries and Agriculture, I started to piece together a story of what the country’s dried fish industry would look like in 30 years. If fishing practices stayed the same, and nothing is done to address the declining health of the Philippines’ waterways, an important anchor of our food culture - naturally raised, caught and dried fish - could no longer exist.
Where have the fishing boats gone? Along many of the Philippines' coastlines, the "bangka" or outrigger canoe is becoming a rare sight, as small-scale fishing industries continue their decline.
That’s where things got personal. The thought of not having dried fish for breakfast, with a fried egg, garlic rice and atchara pickles, affected me deeply, because this is a dish I love and constantly crave. In its simplicity, it’s the trifecta of everything I want on a breakfast platter - something salty, a good amount of carb, and something rich and runny, topped with a fresh, zesty condiment.
While I can’t change the world myself, what I can do is tell a story - and help more of us understand the complex nature of our food systems; why there’s an urgent need for us to become responsible, informed consumers; and what we can do to make food security, sustainability, agriculture and nutrition issues a regular part of conversations around Filipino food.
Read my winning article for the Food Sustainability Media Award here, and the accompanying story that ran on the Thomson Reuters Newswire here (reaching 1 billion readers daily).
In Milan, I also met ten incredible teams of young researchers and scientists who were attending the BCFN YES! Awards. They were there as finalists for a research grant set up to fund PhD and post-doctoral research across the world, on projects surrounding food and environmental sustainability.
Over three days of learning and talking with incredibly smart folks who were each highly knowledgeable in their field, I left with an even stronger sense of responsibility to write about food - and our relationship with it - in the ways I best knew how to.