Sunday Essay: Tinunoang monggos®

Isolde D. Amante

IN THE age of social media, “the ability to stir up emotion is as important as ever to the success of any piece of content.”

Many writers have made similar statements. The exact wording in this quote comes from Oliver Luckett and Michael J. Casey, who in 2016 published The Social Organism: A Radical Understanding of Social Media to Transform Your Business and Life.

I feel optimistic about the way things are when a thought gets credited to its authors, which is why the paragraph right before this contains that attribution. Yes, it overloads and stretches the paragraph, but it’s the right thing to do. And this week, a tempest in our corner of social media brought Luckett and Casey’s comment to mind.

A restaurant in Cebu has claimed on Facebook that they have secured intellectual property rights over the term “tuslob buwa.” That translates loosely as “dipping into bubbles.” The bubbles in question are those grease-filmed ones that surface in a shallow pan where pig brains and chopped intestines are simmered with spring onions and various seasonings.

The term refers to how the dish is consumed, not to how it’s prepared. I have not tried it myself, but have heard that to consume the dish, one simply picks up a bit of rice (typically “puso”) and dips it into the pan. My overprotective internist might scold me merely for typing those words here.

Whether amused or annoyed by this business owner’s claim, several Cebuanos have responded on social media. Writer and tech entrepreneur Max Limpag finds Ginabot® superior. Government communications officer Rene Martel thinks entrepreneurs should keep their hands off Inun-onan® and Linusak®. As far as I know, my claim to Tinunoang Monggos® is the first.

But as much as I love my monggos—that’s mung beans simmered with moringa leaves in coconut milk, for the uninitiated—I know each family has a version of it and it would be pointless to try to keep them from using the term. I say, the more versions of tinunoang monggos there are, the better for all concerned.

Is this a marketing gimmick? If so, it’s certainly getting attention. Whether that attention is positive and sends people rushing to the tuslob buwa—sorry, cholesterol bubble bath—provider’s door, is another matter.

“Just because an image or a piece of text is shared doesn’t mean the memetic replication will automatically conform to the positive image, persona, or brand management we intend to cultivate,” Casey and Luckett wrote. People may talk but not necessarily want to buy.

For one, some public officials in at least one Cebu City barangay aren’t buying the business owner’s claim. They pointed out that residents of the villages of Suba and Pasil have prepared and enjoyed “tuslob buwa” long before some business owner thought of claiming exclusive rights to it.

And why should he? Imagine how inconvenient it would be if every food purveyor asserted his or her exclusive right to use certain food terms and the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines let them get away with it. How many synonyms would we have to we come up with for lechon manok (roast chicken) or sikwate (hot chocolate) or leche flan (diabetes in a saucer)?

Now, in some cases, communities with a unique claim to a type of food or drink have asserted their right to a protective geographic indication. So, it’s not really champagne unless it’s from the Champagne region. And it’s not really Roquefort if the cows responded to commands that weren’t uttered in French.

There’s something that needs to be said here about the ownership of ideas, genuine claims to uniqueness and giving credit where credit is truly due. But all this talk of Tuslob Buwa® has made me hungry, so now I’m off to the market to buy some coconuts and beans.