The History of Meat in the Philippines: Why Our Markets Carry Chicken, Beef, and Pork but Not Horse or CrocodileMay 20, 2019
Go to any grocery’s meat section and you’ll often find the same things on display, beef, pork, and chicken. If you’re feeling a little “adventurous,” they sell the animals’ various innards, like the liver, intestines, and brain as well. Still, all those internal organs are technically beef, pork, and chicken. Unlike in other countries, the availability of other meats, such as game animals like deer or rabbit and birds like pigeons and turkeys are either harder to find or, in the case of horse or dog, are seldom eaten because of cultural taboos.
In the Beginning
Pigs are indigenous to the Philippines.
The Philippines, before it was even called the Philippines, has always favored pork. Pig meat was often raised as offerings to the gods to curry their favor. Pigs are also considered indigenous to our lands, with the Tagalog word “baboy” also having variations in the Indonesian “babi” and “bawi” in Malayan. The existence of these similar words in neighboring countries is important because they confirm that pig was a pre-colonial food source in Southeast Asia. In the book Philippine Agricultural during the Spanish Regime, it is said that the Bugi and Sama people of Southeast Asia had pig-shaped asterisms (a simpler version of a constellation) as part of their means of navigation when they explored the seas.
Meat also held ritualistic importance to our ancestors. The anito was revered for its perceived power over the tribe’s agricultural and fishing yields for the entire year, so the maganito ceremony was a common practice among people in the 1500s. In this ceremony, food is offered to appease the anito. It’s the same food that the believers ate on a daily basis, consisting of bananas, tubers, millet, and yams, along with trapped game or fully-fattened chicken and pigs. Chickens also held the same significance, to go along with the fowl’s other use in sabong. The Ilongos offered chickens to the underground people as part of the lampong. The Maranaws ate wild chicken on the table, but they also raised some varieties for ritual offerings, like the totem chicken, itotoro, that a clansperson gives to his or her twin spirit.
Batangas was the only province with the proper fodder grass for the cattle.
Cattle were brought to the Philippines from Mexico, but the Spaniards were faced with the unexpected challenge helping the animals adjust to an entirely new setting. Batangas was the only province with the proper fodder grass for the cattle. The first cattle came in 1586, by 1606 only 24 ranches remained in Manila.
Cattle became a fairly common choice for homes wanting to raise their own animals. The traditional native house’s lower area—the part of the ground below the elevated first floor—was where fowl and cattle were kept and raised. Some of the birds that were raised included geese, ducks, swans, and pigeons from China; while the carabaos that have always been a native domesticated animal in the country continued to be bred both for their meat as well as their use as labor animals on farms.
Other now-common animals, such as horses and donkeys, were not native to our lands. Spain had them brought in. Even then, pork and carabao were still the preferred meat to eat for Filipinos even after the introduction of cattle, while the Spaniards relied on beef for their cuisine.
The palengke grew from the parian, the “ghetto” areas the Spaniards left to the Chinese.
Provincial homes were well-suited to raising their own herds but the urban setting of Manila made raising the different animals difficult, so markets were opened for residents to allow them to acquire their food rather than having to hunt, grow, and fish for food themselves.The palengke grew from the parian, the “ghetto” areas the Spaniards left to the Chinese.
Domingo Salazar, our country’s first archbishop, listed game birds, wild hogs, buffaloes, and ducks among the merchandise being sold. However, a lack of order and leadership among the vendors led to inflated prices and low quality products sold at a premium. Beef wasn’t cut, cleaned, divided, or even weighed fairly. The effect of this, as Sta. Maria reports in her book, was the citizens’ clamor for a “decent, royal-run slaughterhouse.”
The Americans were the driving force behind imposing stricter sanitation standards in the country. General MacArthur’s authority allowed him to require the improvement of waste disposal systems and the adoption of general health regulations. The nightly scrubbing of tables, food only being served hot with clean tableware, and the ban of used paper, printed or otherwise, to wrap food are just several of the immediate sort.
Today, poultry and cattle meat are widely distributed in wet markets and groceries. Supermarkets primarily sell cattle, pig, and chicken, but other animals are also legal to sell, just unpopular. According to Dr. Amurao, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), Chinese restaurants usually order pigeons and hotels are usually the customers of turkey. Goat is another example that is more popular in specific markets, specifically places like Ilocos and Baguio. The BAI reports that goat farming is usually done in backyard facilities by small farmers, thus they are unable to produce as much meat as industrialized poultry and cattle farms. A larger percent of these farms raise the goats for milk (58.4%), while those sold for meat constitute 35.6%. Similar to the self-sustaining houses of yesteryear, rural farm families mainly raise their goats for their own personal nutritional requirements.
Ducks are primarily raised for their eggs (i.e. to make balut), which are considered delicacies in the country. Bay towns like Laguna provide the ducks their main food source, fresh water snails. Ducks are also sold for meat, but as Dr. Amurao emphasized, we usually only get to enjoy this meat in restaurants and specialty sources rather than from our daily dining tables.
From Farm to Table
Meat goes through several channels before arriving to our table. If the animal was sourced from a local farmer, either goes to directly to a livestock dealer or any number of accepted meat establishments. Places such as poultry dressing plants, meat cutting plants, meat processing plants, cold storage warehouses, and slaughterhouses all fall under the title of a meat establishment. As of 2013, the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) has accredited 137 slaughterhouses, 116 poultry dressing plants, 264 meat-processing plants, 42 meat-cutting plants, and 98 cold storage warehouses.
Within these meat establishments, the animal is broken down into specific cuts, leaving behind a carcass, before being sent to the shipper. Cuts usually go to institutional buyers such as restaurants and hotels, while the carcasses are sent to the wet markets and supermarkets. Supermarkets receive a bulk of the cattle and poultry from AAA and AA meat establishments. AAA means that the establishment has been approved and registered by the NMIS and the respective local government unit. An AAA establishment can distribute its meat through both domestic and international channels. The AA establishments have a smaller reach, only able to distribute their meat between provinces or within the province or city. The lowest label for a meat establishment is the single A, where in the slaughterhouse may only distribute within the city or municipality of its location.
Dr. Marvin Vicente, the head of Locally Registered Meat Establishments Assistance Service of NMIS, reported that majority of the A establishments are slaughterhouses unaccredited by the NMIS but are legally registered under their local government unit. It is the goal of the inspection service to provide the proper guidelines and hygienic practices for these slaughterhouses so that they may have a wider distribution in commercial establishments such as supermarkets.
Pigs are hit with a pipe instead of being stunned, and carcass splitting is done on the floor rather than the recommended (and more hygienic) practice of hanging the pig above a table.
Unlike AAA establishments, unaccredited slaughterhouses and wet markets usually do not observe the hygienic slaughtering and handling of the meat. Usually, pigs are hit with a pipe instead of being stunned, and carcass splitting is done on the floor rather than the recommended (and more hygienic) practice of hanging the pig above a table. According to the AO No.19, Guidelines on Good Hygienic Slaughtering Practices for Locally Registered Meat Establishments, the carcass must be hanging on a rail or placed on top of clean surfaces while being cut. Wet markets also tend to receive frozen meat meant for supermarkets, hotels, and restaurants, but they lack the proper storage facilities for these items.
There is no (non-endangered) animal illegal to eat per se, apart from dogs and cats, as long as these slaughterhouses follow the hygienic practices and guidelines required by law. The NMIS has even drafted a guidelines for the hygienic slaughtering of crocodile, as there are crocodile farms in Palawan, Cagayan de Oro, and Rizal. Horsemeat is also considered a legal food animal, but is site specific to markets in Malabon. If you’re the adventurous type with the urge to try all the exotic animals that are eaten in various parts of our country, don’t forget to do your research first and be prepared to do a lot of legwork.
Sta. Maria, Felice Prudente. The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes, 1521-1935. Pasig City: Anvil Publishing, 2006.
Veneracion, Jaime B. Philippine Agriculture During the Spanish Regime. Quezon City: The University of the Philippines Press, 2001.