Let me start this by congratulating the people of Iloilo City, the Iloilo City government and the leadership of Mayor Jerry P. Treñas for its inclusion in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list of Creative Cities for Gastronomy. The city joins 54 other Cities of Gastronomy around the world.

It is not an easy feat as there are metrics that need to be met. The Creative Cities Network was launched in 2004 by UNESCO in order to promote cooperation among cities that have recognized culture and creativity as a strategic driver of sustainable urban development. There are seven fields under the program. These include, among others, crafts and folk art, design, film, media arts, literature, music and gastronomy. In 2017, Baguio City was named Creative City for craft and folk art and in 2019 Cebu City was listed as Creative City for design.

The metrics or shall I say criteria for judging include the following: a well-developed gastronomy that is characteristic of the urban center and/or region, a vibrant gastronomy community, indigenous ingredients used in traditional cooking, traditional culinary practices and methods of cooking that have survived industrial and/ or technological advancement, traditional food markets and a traditional food industry, a tradition of hosting gastronomic festivals, awards, contest and other broadly targeted means of recognition, respect for the environment and promotion of sustainable local products and promotion of nutrition in educational institutions and inclusion of biodiversity conservation programs in cooking schools curricula.

Of course a win is something that must be celebrated after all. This recognition will eventually entice more local and foreign visitors to come, visit and enjoy a delightful gastronomic experience in Iloilo City other than merely coming to the city every January to witness the highly commercialized Dinagyang.

While everyone is engrossed with the distinction that the city has today. This is now the time for the stakeholders to look at it introspectively. There is no question about being named as Creative City of Gastronomy. As the slang goes, “dasurv!” But, I’m a bit concerned and disturbed about the metrics. Take for example the promotion of sustainable local products. How many of us readers have tablea and the batidol ready for daily consumption and use in our kitchen and even in restaurants around the city? How many of you and the restaurants around the city use the colon in cooking the food instead of the modern cooking wares? Do you even know what toltol is? In coffee shops, are they actually serving the muscovado from Antique?

This is now the best time for Iloilo City and Mayor Treñas to walk the talk instead of merely hiring able consultants who can actually prepare the requirements needed in the metrics to hit the goal without necessarily ensuring sustainability. That’s the trick!

We have food markets and stalls but do we bring our guests there? We bring our visitors to Tatoy’s instead. Again, authentic Ilonggo cuisine in Tatoy’s dasurv! but there should be more. We are talking here of a sustainable urban economy therefore it should not be limited only to a few established and well-off businesses.

I remember the Tabuán food concept of Chef Tibong Jardeleza. It’s all about the authentic, traditional and indigenous Ilonggo food being prepared for a set of at least ten guests. Usually, he does it inside a public market at the carinderia or turo-turo section. Now that’s indeed a creative gastronomic experience but the problem is it’s getting too expensive. Of course, other than the food it’s the name Tibong that adds on the value.

Iloilo City should start from there if sustainability is on the menu. They don’t even need to hire Chef Tibong. They simply need to put on more value and emphasis on the authentic, traditional and indigenous Ilonggo food by supporting the small scale food markets, local carinderias and food servers. How is best answered by the consultants of Mayor Jerry.

Iloilo City is synonymous to batchoy and pancit molo. Yet, the distinction given by UNESCO is more than the batchoy and pancit Molo. Sustainable urban economy is the game with emphasis on giving more value on what’s indigenous and traditional.

Ooops! Did they mention respect for the environment and promotion of sustainable local products and promotion of nutrition in educational institutions and inclusion of biodiversity conservation programs in cooking schools curricula? Are we doing it, really?