Seares: Attack on Carcar food products: Chicharon in 2010; lechon in 2019

Pachico A. Seares

NINE years ago, Carcar City was thrown into an uproar after then Cebu Provincial Board Member Arleigh Jay Sitoy filed an ordinance that would require each pack of “chicharon” or pork skin cracklings being sold in towns and component cities of the province to bear a label that warns of its health risks.

In the ordinance’s initial version, that would have amounted to telling buyers that eating “chicharon,” like smoking cigarettes, was dangerous to their health.

Two public hearings were held on Nov. 12, 2010: one at Capitol and the other in Carcar City (then barely three years old as a city). Sitoy didn’t go to the Carcar hearing and presided the Capitol forum, having known already the sentiment of Carcaranons on his proposal. Then vice governor Agnes Magpale heard the Carcar complaints instead.

No evidence on ‘chicharon’

What the hearings clarified was that Sitoy was apparently excessive in his zeal to protect the physical well-being of people, including his personal health. The talk then was that he had over-eaten “chicharon,” was hospitalized, and would like to warn people of its danger. (Sitoy died of pulomonary embolism on Nov. 13, 2016 at 58.)

There was yet no evidence that “chicharon” is dangerous per se. Besides, big-time makers of “chicharon” already complied with the laws, particularly the Department of Health administrative order 88-B, series of 1984 that required labels on pre-packaged foods. The label contains, among others, nutrition facts that the Sitoy ordinance sought to require.

If Carcaranons are testy about “chicharon,” it is due to its being one of the three principal products which Carcar has been famous for. The other two are “ampao” or rice krispies and “lechon” or roasted pig. On Oct. 7, 2010, amid the firestorm over “chicharon,” Gwen Garcia, also the governor at the time, pushed Carcar’s delicacies—“from lechon to chicharon”—among participants in the International Culinary Congress held at the Waterfront Hotel in Cebu City.

Not the food but vendors

Last weekend, it was Carcar’s “lechon” that was being attacked, not by legislative action but by social media complaint. A buyer alleged on Facebook that he was stopped from going to other “lechon” vendors and was employed hard-sell methods, complete with threat of bodily harm. It drew reactions on a dull-news day and generated enough public heat to prod the city mayor, Mercedita Apura, to summon the “lechon” vendors and look into the incident.

It turned out that it was not the food that was being criticized but the methods used by the city’s vendors. And it concerned only one or two vendors; there was no showing that it was market-wide practice.

Social media’s flaw

A flaw of social media--which operates without rules, even its own--is that an offense or situation can be blown up to scary proportion, and the explosive reaction, unverified, may turn out to be not totally true.

Besides, the business practice of a wayward vendor or two is not limited to Carcar “lechon” sellers, who must not have originated such ways of cheating as mixing fresh “lechon” with portions of yesterday’s unsold stock or “shaving away” some of the chopped pieces when the buyer is not looking. The strong-arm method in Carcar though was novel.

Caution on complaints

Deeper study led to the junking of the Sitoy “chicharon” ordinance. It was well-motivated and not “silly” as one high official called it but the public hearings showed the national law already takes care of food labeling and the “dangerous-to-your-health” warning was not yet justified then.

As to the “lechon” incident, the food was not the problem but its marketing by the vendors. And while vigilance among consumers must be encouraged, public officials need also to be cautious about complaints from some click-happy media users, which routinely need to be checked out.