Sisig and Foucault: Why should we care about it?

In the ever-evolving virtual realm, a tempest of culinary debate has been whipped up anew, as food enthusiasts passionately clash over the quintessential question: should the revered sisig (babi) be adorned with a crown of egg and mayonnaise, or should it remain loyal to its Kapampangan roots, untainted by these embellishments?

I am reminded of the French philosopher, Michel Foucault, whenever the question of sisig comes into my mind. To some, Kapampangan are just obsessed with the way sisig must be presented, and that it be respected by putting an end to a seemingly insulting practice of putting an egg and mayonnaise on top of it!

As a Kapampangan myself, I am not against innovation or any change but let me offer my arguments as to why Sisig must be protected as it is an important part of Kapampangan cultural heritage that has been neglected because of power and cultural structures that shape our understanding of things. With this, let me borrow Foucault’s philosophy in substantiating my case.

Foucault believed that discourses are not only linguistic tools but are also social practices that create meaning. Sisig, being a Kapampangan traditional dish made from parts of a pig’s head and liver, is serving an important role as a culinary discourse that shapes the cultural identity of the Kapampangan people. Unknown to many, the word sisig does not necessarily refer to the food itself, but first and foremost, it pertains to a process – it is the process of dressing anything in a spicy souring ingredient. With that, sisig is deeply embedded in the Kapampangan community as they do various sisig dish: sisig babi, sisig pusung saging, sisig talaba and the likes. Hence, to protect sisig as a cultural heritage is vital to the development and maintenance of this culinary discourse in the preservation of the Kapampangan identity!

In the midst of the hegemonic influence of Western cuisine and fast-food culture, many traditional culinary practices in the Philippines have been marginalized or appropriated in order to fit with insatiable tides of industry and power relations. In line with this, the seemingly obsession of Kapampangan to protect sisig is a reaction and resistance against the dominance of Western food culture, and sadly of the totalizing tendencies of what we call Filipino identity! The Kapampangan resistance to any form of power relations and social structures against sisig is a way of reclaiming their culinary sovereignty and identity within such context.

In this, Foucault’s concept of the archeology of knowledge becomes significant as it is concerned with the historical conditions that enable specific systems of knowledge. Following such logic, protecting sisig as a Kapampangan cultural heritage means that we are actually preserving a culinary knowledge that has been passed down through generations. The making of a sisig dish serves as an embodiment of the collective memory and history of the Kapampangan people, and that the flavors, ingredients and techniques are intricately woven into the cultural fabric of the people. To protect Sisig means we are giving justice to future generations by giving them an access to this savory repository of culinary knowledge, and that tasting and eating any sisig dish would mean to experience the taste of Kapampangan ancestors.

Finally, in the latter works of Foucault, he focused on the importance of ethics and self-care. In view of this, it is our ethical responsibility to protect sisig as a Kapampangan cultural heritage. When we acknowledge and preserve a unique and distinct cultural heritage of different communities, we are doing each other a favor by fostering intercultural understanding, empathy and respect for diversity. Part of Foucault’s emphasis on the vital role of self-care and the cultivation of personal virtues is to uphold the differences and diversity among peoples without marginalizing discourses and repositories of knowledge.

Therefore, when we draw upon the concepts of discourse, power relations and the archeology of knowledge in Foucault’s philosophy, we are given a philosophical understanding of the need to protect Sisig as an integral part of Kapampangan cultural heritage and identity.

And when we protect sisig, we are safeguarding a culinary discourse and that we collectively resist the homogenizing effects of Western cuisine and fast-food culture. And when we resist from crowning sisig with egg and mayonnaise, we are safeguarding a vital culinary knowledge and we contribute to a more intercultural understanding of diversity and uniqueness amidst a global mindset.

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