WHAT is it about fiestas and parties that transform sane and courteous people into wild automated take-home machines (ATM)?

That’s a euphemism for kabya or to bail water out of a flooded boat. By extension, it means to “bail out food” from a serving dish into your own plate. At the same time, it can also mean stuffing your mouth with food, like chicken, spaghetti, pizza, and burgers. There are simple and porcine principles in kabya. Do we hear “oink” to that?

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You have to cover every centimeter of the plate with food; form a mini Mt. Everest; and you have to overestimate how much you can consume. The idea is to have it all, to the detriment of the other guests at a party or fiesta.

Those who do it have twinges of guilt, like all great men who have fallen into sin, but the siren call of crispy pork rind is enough to justify kabya.

It is a heartless act as it disregards the needs of other people, yet it can be rationalized that the party fare is free and therefore all for one man to take, if that were possible.

The mantra is “I am the captain of my plate, the sole master of my destiny, the table,” thereby injecting the right amount of anesthesia to your sense of propriety.

To survive the feast, you must know when to use your elbow to remove a competitor blocking you path, and you should have a strong ribcage like a boxer so you can sustain jabs from the elbow of the guy standing beside you.

As a newbie kabya convert waiting for your turn to get food, you wonder whether The Hulk and The Thing ahead of you had eaten breakfast. They hover too long at the lechon station, which makes you imagine piranhas mercilessly assaulting their protein meal.

Kabya stems from the principle that the food will run out before everyone has had his share. No one wants to wrangle over the last piece of fried chicken or worse, walk away with an empty plate. So kabya is applied as an insurance against hunger.

A sub-agenda of kabya is the ATM. The curious point about this is that while you diminish the needs of other people because of your greed, your philistine heart thinks of the people in your home who have not been invited to the feast.

Usually, the host will invite you alone to the dinner, or allow you to take along a loved one or a friend. So you worry about the tribe and what they would be eating while you are enjoying your roast pork at the party. You did promise them some “doggie bag” delights. To go home empty-handed is a greater shame compared to getting caught overloading your plate for an ulterior motive.

Under that “pressure cooker” situation, you use your ATM.

As a wise kabya practitioner, you tuck a couple of plastic pouches in your huge shoulder bag or backpack before you leave for the party, and carry this bag when dinner is announced.

You have to edge close to the buffet table, and order your companion to cover you as you shovel huge chunks of humba into a plastic bag. Move to the next food item with the precision of a shark, and repeat the process using a fresh plastic bag each time. You have to maneuver the ATM swiftly and covertly.

You can also ATM some of the food in your overloaded plate.

Does polite society frown upon kabya? Is kabya endemic to the Philippines? Has there been a psychological study done on kabya? Does kabya appear in all classes of society?

Right now you can’t answer. Your mouth is too full and busy chewing “good intentions,” and your hands are busy saving good food for the hungry tribe at home.