• From canned peaches to refrigerators: Growing to love the American lifestyle

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    RACHEL A.G. REYES

    RACHEL A.G. REYES

    A major economic consequence of American state-building in the early years of us colonization was the massive increase of American imports. In 1910, less than ten years after President Roosevelt had officially declared the Philippine-American war over, it was calculated that US imports throughout one year, 1909, had risen by 129 per cent, with an increase of total imports reaching almost 20,000,000 US-Filipino pesos. The combined efforts of nation-wide public school education through instruction in the English language and advertising campaigns helped, in no small measure, to open the hearts and minds of ordinary Filipinos to American goods.

    As the first few hundred American school teachers disembarked the re-fitted battle-ship USS Thomas in the summer of 1901, and fanned out across the archipelago with the same zeal as religious missionaries to educate Filipinos for citizenship, advertising campaigns sought to educate Filipinos in the desirability of American manufactures and foodstuffs and the modern American lifestyle they symbolised. Domestic science courses taught in public schools introduced new apparatus for the kitchen, tutored Filipinos in kitchen sanitation and refrigeration. Manuals written in Tagalog advised on “modern table manners,” hygiene in food preparation and the use of assorted table-ware including knives and forks. Such advice often went hand in hand with advertisements for American foods and kitchen appliances.

    In contrast to previous European merchandising strategies, American advertising methods strived to reach as many people as possible. Advice to American businesses on how to successfully market products in the colony emphasized understanding Filipino habits, customs, and the country’s climate; and bombarding private residences (through direct house to house leafleting) and the public domain (from newspapers to billboards and streetcars) with posters, handbills, pamphlets, and slides (shown in cinemas). Ad messages, it was advised, should be written in simple English, given with translations in Philippine languages, and heavily illustrated with drawings.

    By the first decade of American rule, greater numbers of urban Filipinos had become familiar with a host of new small foreign technologies – cylinder record players, moving pictures, lantern slides, telephones, and typewriters. American advertising campaigns employed aggressive tactics to sell unheard of comestibles such as breakfast foods and canned goods which required “considerable educational literature to introduce them.” To take other examples, the country’s high infant mortality was viewed as a good opportunity to sell canned sweetened condensed milk, a product promoted as a healthful food for babies. Most effective was the use of “drawings showing Filipino babies, doctors and mothers and testimonials from doctors and mothers in the islands…”

    Although American domestic technological goods inevitably had their greatest impact on the homes and lifestyles of bourgeois Filipino women, the growing suburban Filipino bureaucratic middle-classes were purchasing a range of domestic technologies by the 1920s, investing in gas water heaters, and oil or gas cooking stoves for their homes. Recalling in her memoirs the comfortable Manila middle-class upbringing she enjoyed as a child, Celia Mariano proudly detailed the family’s ownership of a car, an ice-box and a Victrola gramophone upon which her father would play opera and classical music records.

    A growing taste for American foodstuffs, particularly canned fruit and meats, sponge cakes made with wheat flour instead of rice, food and drinks that required to be chilled or kept cold, spurred the sale of electric and gas cooking ranges, pressure cookers, ice-boxes and refrigerators, goods that were directly targeted at women. American cuisine was celebrated in local newspapers and housekeeping manuals that printed ideal menus for “summer dinners” featuring iced drinks, jellies and cakes. The Instituto de Mujeres, a college for women in Manila served tinned evaporated milk with coffee and chocolate. Less affluent women could still modernize their kitchen in line with American ideals by buying cheaper alternatives to electric and gas appliances. Ads for the popular “smokeless mayon stove,” a Filipino-designed stove that still used firewood and coconut husks but directed smoke away through an attached flue, endeavoured to convince husbands to buy for their wives: “treat your wife…it’ll mean so much less drudgery in the kitchen….”

    Even attempts to wean Filipinos away from imported American food undertaken by Filipino nationalist women did not reject imported kitchen appliances and domestic technologies. Maria Y. Orosa (1893-1945), a Filipina educated in the US who returned to the Philippines to work as a chemist and food technologist at the Bureau of Science, struggled hard to undermine the desirability of imported fruit and canned goods and return local food to popularity. Famously, her recipes for fruit preserves substituted imported fruit, such as peaches and grapes, with locally grown fruit. And she had modified the palayok to function like an oven to bake cookies made with rice bran, darak, rather than wheat flour in the fight against beri-beri among the poor. But without irony, the arsenal of equipment she advised Filipino women to use in preserving food included gas or electric steam ovens and steam pressure cookers.

    Domestic science classes in public schools, the spread of the English language, and aggressive advertising campaigns combined to bring the message to Filipino women that American technological goods were part of an American identity that was thoroughly advanced, egalitarian, and economical. In reality, electric and gas kitchen appliances did not end dependence on the labor of servants by the upper and middle-classes, nor did they stop the use of firewood stoves and clay pots, the kalan and palayok. However, there were no signs that the appeal of these technologies would lessen. The possibilities they promised brought an idea and understanding about the good life — healthful living, cleanliness, physical good looks, a cosmopolitan outlook, how it felt to be modern and, even, what it meant to have good taste.

    rachelagreyes@gmail.com
    Twitter @rachelaurea

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    2 Comments

    1. Informative.

      So mostly pinoys were taught how to be good consumers.

      Not bad in itself, improving life, convenience, more time to do other things.

      Now we should learn the hard part, how to be more productive, make our agric crops yield more, etc., and less harmful to the other sentient beings. How to acquire the means to support living well, without preying on each other, stealing from the government, etc.