My mother visited Fernando Amorsolo’s atelier in Malate several times during the 1950’s and 60’s. She was often tasked with touring foreign female spouses who were visiting or had been recently transferred to Manila, their husbands were either business colleagues of my Dad, or members of the diplomatic core. Mom would later express some wistful regret that she never purchased any of Amorsolo’s paintings from what turned out to be near the zenith of his career. His paintings were, even then, a bit more than her budget would have allowed, and my dad wasn’t interested in art at all. Instead, several of her guests had purchased paintings, impressed with the bucolic scenes, vibrant use of color and the masterful use of “light”… They also probably thought it was rather PC to have a local painting hanging in their expat home. Today, their heirs (in all parts of North America) are probably pleasantly surprised (if not shocked) that the native scenes with mangoes, riverside maidens and carabaos are easily worth a small house in a rural American town. I happen to like many of Amorsolo’s pieces from the 1950’s and I suppose I was channeling Amorsolo during our recent visit to the Catmon hills….
One of the reasons we headed to hills was to hunt down kabog or millet. But I figured we would kill two birds with one stone and also check on the “backyard pig suppliers” that represent the backbone of Zubuchon’s business. One of our scouts is based in this area, and she is responsible for consolidating pigs that are brought down to Cebu by truck. We pay a premium for “backyard raised pigs” but I sometimes think a few of our suppliers are either intentionally or unintentionally supplying us with some pigs that are raised in more piggery/pen style conditions.
So off to the hills we go. Amidst beautiful countryside settings, verdant from weeks of early rains in Cebu, an Amorsolo-esque scene greeted us at nearly every turn on the twisting hillside roads and paths. Nearest the main road, a pile of traditionally made charcoal was being assembled for us, and we in turn give business to several dozen makers of charcoal in this area. They don’t clear cut healthy trees for this, rather they forage fallen branches and trim some trees. It’s not the most environmentally sound fuel source, but it is traditional, it is made as it’s been made for centuries, and it provides income directly to those who make it, with few middlemen involved.
We found several pig raisers who had 6, 8 or 10 pigs in their backyards, literally, and that was just amazing to see. A simple bahay kubo or cement home, and nearby was their equivalent of a bank account of say PHP20-30,000 worth of pigs. When the pigs reach the right size, they are brought to our scout and transported to Cebu. These pigs are not strictly “organic” and we have never claimed them to be so. They are fed a combination of natural and pellet style food, but more importantly, have more room to roam, play in the mud, and live a more “natural” life before we unfortunately or fortunately, roast them to a crisp.
I was so happy so see most of the pigs eventually headed to Zubuchon were indeed in real “rural settings” and generally happy (or as happy as a fattened pig is that he will soon come to meet his maker). But more importantly, it was nice to see the REAL effect of our strong corporate belief that the way we source our ingredients has a direct impact on our community and environment. Here you could see that the community made money from their pigs, from raising corn and kabog, making charcoal in the off-season, and it was not high populated at all with only a few homes scattered here and there, and everyone looking healthier than city folk…
Some of the pigs were untethered, while most had a leash (residents said it wasn’t a joke to go hunt them down an hour after they decided to wander off). They always seemed to have a shady spot (they sunburn easily) and again, I thought they looked pretty darned happy and lively. Even when penned up, they were in bamboo staked pens, often on dirt (they like mud) and covered with a nipa roof or tarp so that they could remain cool. When do I get curious about the particular source of a particular pig? Commercial piggery raised pigs often have more fat, their meat is incredibly pale or white almost, and there is less muscle build up. And if you are buying lechon de leche in Manila, the vast majority of them are neither true lechon de leches nor locally sourced (they are imported from places like Vietnam frozen)…
Some 98% of our restaurant clients probably don’t realize the difference between going out of your way to find pigs raised like this, versus the pigs raised in commercial piggeries in tight cement quarters. But we do. And increasingly, I hope they (the customers) do as well. This is direct flow down to the grassroots, not trickle down through a large corporation. This is knowing the hundreds of people you end up helping out, and just as you are dependent on them, they are likewise reliant on us. It isn’t about the 250+ people we directly employ, it is about the thousands of people we indirectly impact through purchasing policies for our basic ingredients and materials such as charcoal, wood, pigs, vegetables, grains, etc. I was really smiling widely by the end of the visit to the Catmon hills the other day. But also apprehensive that there is a finite amount of pigs sourced this way, and I dread the day we run out of supply. But this setting in Catmon just all seemed right. So right.
And that Amorsolo moment? Around an hour into the hills, we turned around a steep bend, and this vision of green on my right made us abruptly stop the car and get out. Bamboo trees, verdant plant growth, nice morning light. A male barako or stud in his Presidential “suite” where he serviced the neighborhood maidens and ladies. Nearby were some females and their piglets in deluxe nipa accommodations. If Fernando Amorsolo were still around, I am sure he would have been happy to paint this scene in his unmistakable style. And I would be willing to pay a minor ransom for that painting, and I suspect, my mom from her perch wherever, would smile with amused approval. :)