Pagpag: Recycled Fast Food for the Poorest of the Poor
It’s all very well and good to be a hobo by choice, scavenging still-fresh bread from supermarket dumpsters in order to save money for what really matters. It’s also all very well and good to supersize your “I’m hungover” KFC meal, only to realise your eyes are far bigger than your stomach and those four extra half-chewed drumsticks have to be tossed in the bin.
But when you’re fishing those manky drumsticks out of the bin, washing them, deep frying them and then eating them because you’re forced to, it stops being okay.
In Tagalog, pagpag literally means to “shake off”, and is a term used when you’re talking about removing dust from your carpet. But for the poorest of the poor in the Philippines, it is the word for the recycled fast food scraps discarded as rubbish by the middle and upper-class that make up an overwhelmingly large majority of their diet.
Although the refuse can be ingested on-site by the scavenger, once it is fished from the garbage, it’s usually processed even further: washed in boiling water, fried in hot oil and resold in plastic bags for the equivalent of about .30AUD.
“If it smells bad, we will wash it twice, maybe three times,” explains Diwata, a mother of three who lives in one of Manila’s poorest slums. “It’s mostly bones, but there’s still germs and sometimes fly larvae … once I fry it though, it’s delicious,” she asserts, her will to survive obviously making the inedible dish appetising.
By eating recycled food like this, Filipinos – especially children – run the risk of contracting salmonella and suffering from malnourishment, not to mention the private humiliation that would accompany being forced to eat someone else’s scraps. But when your family is collectively earning about $5AUD a day and living hand to mouth, the need to survive outweighs every other consideration, and suddenly, another’s refuse becomes palatable.
Quite a lot to stomach, really.