‘Unli’ Unleashed


Saturnino P. Javier, MD, FPCP, FPCC, FACC

Dr. Saturnino P. Javier is an interventional cardiologist at Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital and Medical Center. He is a past president of the Philippine Heart Association (PHA) and past editor of PHA’s Newsbriefs

For comments, spjavier2958@yahoo.com

Many Filipinos love buffets – and all related schemes and promotional campaigns. Eat-all-you-can. ‘Unli’ (unlimited) rice. Bottomless drinks. ‘Happy hour’ promos. Drink-all-youcan. Can one consider this an extension of our penchant for bargains and discounts? But then again, who does not want a good buy at a good price? Or this a reflection of our colonial and cultural history – the gastronomic abundance displayed on dinner tables during town fiestas – where every home has a vastarray of dishes and desserts which awaits anyone to partake of?

Buffets provide some interesting observations – about how we carry ourselves with ‘eat-all-you-can’ offers. There is a very disconcerting tendency among some to fill up their plates with more than what they can realistically swallow and eat. The end result is a plate where every square centimeter is occupied by a serving of every possible dish which in the end will just go untouched and uneaten.

What drives people to get more than what they can eat? What brings about this tendency to take more than what we can chew (pun intended)?

Is it the motivation to make sure that one gets his money’s worth? A blogger (Diana Camacho) calls it the “sulit” hunter in the buffet diner – one who exacts the greatest worth for one’s hard earned money? Is it visual gluttony [‘takaw-mata’] and sheer bacchanalian pleasure – the propensity to satisfy the eyes fundamentally and overindulge wastefully – that eventually cannot be commensurate with what the stomach can possibly handle?

I recall having my first ‘eat all you can’ experience some 20-25 years ago. It was when the group of restaurateur Vic Villavicencio famously launched Dad’s and Kamayan. It probably was the recognition of the ills of this ‘unli’ mentality that drove management of Kamayan then to mandate that if the plates were not empty, then the discounted buffet rate would not apply. No sharing was allowed (to discourage opportunistic companions). No leftover was tolerated (to discourage over-plating and wastage).

A few years ago, even Max’s Restaurant had a promo of ‘eat-all-you-can’ chicken that led to long queues and horrendous waiting times in many Max’s outlets. The popularity of buffet offerings must be the same underlying reason why the unlimited rice (‘unli’ rice) of Mang Inasal made such a killing in the restaurant industry. It hit the Filipino palate and the Filipino diner on target. As the staple fare of the Filipino diet, the marketing campaign was a genius innovation to capture the attention of every discount hunter. With one meal to pay – one gets all the rice he wants. The strategy paid off. Mang Inasal’s profits must have skyrocketed.

No wonder therefore that when Senator Cynthia Villar proposed to ban ‘unli’ rice promos in various food chains in the country a few years ago, it was met with thunderous dissent – especially on social media, forcing the senator to pull the plug on the ban before it even took off. While dieticians, food critics and countless health professionals are fully aware and regularly caution people from overindulging in this carbohydrate-rich staple food, there are many more health maladies and afflictions worthy of attention – least of which is the generous serving of the one single energy supply for the toiling, wageearning and studying sector.

In reality, as appropriately alluded to by Cielito Habito in an earlier column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the people who enjoy the ‘unli’ rice most (and therefore the most affected by an “unli’ rice ban) should be the least concerned with excessive calorie intake. He argued that those who take advantage of free extra rice are those who need and want it and will not waste it.

As noted in a Business Mirror editorial (Oct 31, 2018), eating healthy can be prohibitive to many in society. The Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s calling for greater consumption of fish, lean meat, poultry, egg, beans and nuts, dairy products, will largely remain unheeded – when the stomach calls for sustenance, the satiety center of the brain demands immediate satisfaction and the pockets are not deep enough to support buying expensive items from other food groups.

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