I remember that day clearly. I had just finished school and my ma picked me up. She was waiting by the gates, outside the huge concrete playground where about a hundred tents were propped up as classrooms. I was in grade 2 and the massive earthquake had hit the Northern part of Luzon just a few months before. Our elementary school buildings were unsafe to be in, so all the students had been set up to continue their studies outside.
Looking back, I realize that we were in the middle of a natural disaster. As a child, the idea hasn't crossed my mind. To me, all it meant was that we lived in tents for 2 weeks and went to school in tents for the rest of the school year.
It also meant that my ma would pick me up more than usual - I was already allowed to go home by myself but perhaps it was the possibility of another disaster that prompted her to get me every other day.
Perhaps she was just being my ma.
Once we left the school compound, we walked downhill towards the market. It was then that I got to know how my ma bartered for produce, how she made connections with vendors, how she was kind enough to lend utang to the coconut lady, an old friend, who I thought wasn't kind enough to pay her debt back.
Sometimes, during those after-school market visits, she would get me a treat. An ice cream from Coney Island, streetfood on the walk home, or a trip to Jollibee or McDonald's. That day was burger day.
While the rest of the world fawned over corporate responsibility and ethics and unhealthy fast food choices, I was simply a little girl spending time with her mother on the second floor of that Baguio City's Session Road McDonald's where I discovered that this 90-lb woman's favourite thing to eat was a Big Mac.
Fast forward to 2011, I had not touched a Big Mac in 10 yrs. While my decision to stop eating McD's that was born mostly out of health, anti-globalization, and understanding of the role of fast food industries as corporations, I also had another reason I conveniently leave out of conversations.
After living in Canada for a long time, a family eating McDonald's was a stamp of social class we North Americans like to believe doesn't exist - that a family who eats fast food over home cooked meals was a family who was either poor, unintelligent, lazy, or just plain unhealthy. And yes, I admit, I had feelings of shame whenever my own family would gleefully gather around a box of fried chicken or piles of burgers. Hell for 10 years, I watched (and judged) instead of joined them.
But this year, for no special reasons other than curiosity and doing the run for my coworkers when I pick up my own lunches next door, I had my first Big Mac in over a decade.
Was it amazing and led me to burger heaven? Not really.
Does it taste the same as I remembered it? Eerily, yes.
Did it make me go to the washroom within the hour after eating it? Totally. (Sorry, TMI)
Did I uncover some lessons I needed to learn for myself? Yes.
As I ate my burger, it reminded my of those years I spent walking with her. Just like a student in the middle of a natural disaster who is excited to learn in tents instead of thinking about the crumbling buildings nearby, sometimes, it's not about health, globalization, or ethical high grounds. Sometimes, it's about a mother in her youth, spending time with a little daughter by her side.
When we talk about food bringing people together, we need to acknowledge that the memories attached to the food are what we look for, not necessarily the nutritional factor. And burgers, well, they count too.
I remembered my own judgments and internalized classism and how I desperately, in those 10 years, I wanted to be as far away from all things that would reveal that I belonged to the lower social class - that my family wasn't wealthy enough, intelligent enough, successful enough to know better. Something immigrant generations know far too well.
Oh how very wrong I have been. It only took me a decade to truly understand this.
So I made a promise to myself that the next time I am home and she asks me if I would like something to eat, I will say yes, regardless of where it came from. She's just being my ma afterall. A thoughtful mother is more than anyone could ask for. I should be so lucky.
Oh, and she still very much likes Big Macs. Something I inherited from her, I guess :)
This isn't a plug for the fast food chain, I promise. Eating their burgers wreak major havoc in my system, but once in awhile, I'll deal.