Settling the Ketchup “Dictatorship” at Home

Today, I pause from all my work and resurrect the blog from its hiatus because I just want to write about ketchup. Don’t laugh. It’s not a funny story. I don’t even cook, but this matters a lot to me, and I think other people should know about it.I don’t write anymore these days, but for this, I am making an exception.

For the past few days, I have been tortured with the idea that my kitchen condiments have been in full support of a modern-day tyrant.Recently, the post about the horrible working conditions of workers of NutriAsia (owner and manufacturer of popular condiments like Datu Puti, Mang Tomas, UFC, Jufran, and my favorite Del Monte ketchup plus the recently buzzed about Locally fruit soda line) went a bit viral online.

This whole time, I was habitually dipping my hotdogs in ketchup stained with blood and sweat of people suffering under modern day slavery.  My adobo was filled with Datu Puti vinegar. I sometimes use Mang Tomas sarsa as my emergency viand when I only have rice left at home.

All this time, those workers making those bottles in production are made to work under 40-degree Celsius factories for 12 hours per day. People who get injured hide their injuries out of fear of getting fired. And they are contractual workers, only given contracts that get renewed every five months. There were no benefits. And the hazards were real.

I could not believe it. How can this still be going on at this time and age? Finally they mustered the courage to hold a picket line in front of the factory. A lot of people were arrested and brutally treated. Human rights activists were not allowed to go near them. And families have not been able to feed themselves as the remaining workers hold the fort and seek better employment conditions.

The infographic that circulated on Facebook was insanely disturbing. News outlets were compelled to pick up the story because it kind of made a few waves on the social media channels. An insider tells me there was a media gag on the story but they could no blatantly longer ignore the story because of the casualties, the people inhumanely arrested in the picket lines, and the horrible aftermath of the working conditions of these workers paid minimum wage for 12 hours of work. A puff piece was made but it did not gain any traction.

I never really realized that while I made the menial and basic choice of my condiments in the supermarket aisles, all of my money goes to the same pocket. And that rich, filthy pocket is enriched minute by minute with the sweat and suffering of grossly underpaid workers who are putting up with the shitty conditions because there are not enough employment opportunities out there.

So 2 days ago, I was having my usual breakfast with my husband. It was our favorite hotsilog meal. A bottle of Jufran was on the table, and I was telling my husband that in solidarity of all the abuse, we will no longer be accommodating or actively using any of Nutri-Asia’s products in our home. Jufran was my husband’s favorite ketchup.

There were some theatrics in the discussion with my husband. “How can you still enjoy that ketchup knowing how gross a tyrant the owner is to scores of other human beings like us?”

We argued over the ketchup decision for an hour. I still maintain that it was one of our best days as a couple because we have conversations that involved some depth and social involvement outside of our family unit. It was not about the usual drama you find about husband and wife such as in laws or child decisions. That kind of emotional shit is more exhausting, utterly damaging to the relationship, and usually pointless. At least, this was a substantial argument, small as the impact was to the rest of society.

I cannot bear to think that I am promoting or even sponsoring a tyrant. I want to boycott the brands by this horrible company. And I resent all those years that I have patronized their products.

My husband has his own counter arguments on the matter. He says that if I boycott the products and other people do the same, profits will dip and the company will downsize. That means layoffs. And it will make things worse for the remaining employees who are hanging on to their jobs. He tells me that my boycott, if widely spread and shared by a majority, can dent the income of the business owner and make him even harsher to those who remain faithful to their jobs.He also tells me that my other option in the market are expensive imported ketchup brands.

We lose the cost-friendly option of condiments in the supermarket and other people who cannot afford imported ketchup brands are at a losing end. Then he also tells me that if I support a foreign bottle of ketchup over this local NutriAsia monopoly of ketchup brands, I become a supporter or “tuta ng Kano” as most of the old school UP tibak kids would say.

It was a dilemma for the both of us. We laugh over it, at the incredulously intense intellectual argument that came out of a half-consumed bottle of ketchup over breakfast. But we persisted on the topic for 2 days, until he gave in. But he called it a kitchen dictatorship that I am banning NutriAsia products on our family home.He acknowledges my idealism and well, strange sense of nationalism. But he still thinks Jufran deserves to stay in our kitchen cabinet. I told him he can enjoy his Jufran ketchup and keep it in his office cubicle but it’s not going to enter our home¬† anymore.

I counter argued that even if we are not suffering from minimum wage, we should not forget to stand up and do something directly or indirectly for these people who are being oppressed and unable to speak for themselves.That no matter how old I get or how much I earn, I will not forget my roots. I will not let him forget it too while I am alive.

All that shit you achieve anywhere does not matter if there are still people out there being treated like slaves from the 15th century and you don’t take a stand for what you believe in.

I had classmates who went to school unable to feed themselves. Tinatakbo ang pagkain sa canteen. I saw poverty in the street as I grew up in a small barangay where killing sprees with a butcher knife were as regular as the sunrise.I don’t need manufactured immersion programs by burgis schools to expose people to assimilate the poor people’s lifestyles and somehow be more sensitive of the less fortunate people. I lived and breathed the stark poverty as my reality for almost 3 decades of life. Whatever income I had as I worked initially went to hospital bills which were unreasonably priced.

No, I am not going to leave my job to join the picket lines and hold banners and get teargassed.These things are not my style. I never joined any rally when I was in college. But surprisingly, I am really staunchly affected by this and I am reminded that I am still an iska at heart.

I won’t be supporting those products after what I discovered about how these things were made, what it actually cost just for me to enjoy my ketchup or other condiments on a meal.

It’s funny because it may seem petty to consider purchase decisions like this as a political statement. But if there is anything I have learned from 4 years of digital marketing work, it’s this: all purchase decisions are emotional decisions. It tells a message. What you buy, what you allocate your tangible resources like time and life and currency, is part of your top priorities. It speaks more about you than what you say. What you do speaks more volumes than what you say, and sometimes those two things are not the same.

So yeah, I am just posting about this in case anyone visits this space again. If you are a Filipino, let’s try to find other alternatives to these condiments. I am willing to pay 40 pesos for a ketchup bottle if it means that the workers of the manufacturer are treated well.

There is blood on our condiments, and I don’t mind owning up to a kitchen dictatorship at home because that is our family unit’s small way of showing support for those who have been wronged in so many ways.