25 February 2016

Some of us have become rather obsessive about the religious pristineness of our food and are perpetually on the lookout for whoever may next cause offence.

ONE of the fascinating things about India is the food. While there is a wide variety of all sorts of cuisine from all over the large country, one thing that you will always see in every restaurant menu are two categories: vegetarian and non-vegetarian.

A large number of people in India are vegetarians, that is, they eat no meat at all. Then there is another lot of people who are non-vegetarians, that is, they do eat meat. Of the meat-eaters, there are those who don’t eat beef because of their religion, and those who don’t eat pork, also because of their religion.

There is then potentially all sorts of confusion to be caused by all these different food preferences. There is the possibility of non-veg people being offended by restaurants that only offer veg food, or the other way round. Meat-eaters are at great risk of being offended if they happen to walk into a restaurant that serves meat that they are forbidden to eat.

The odd thing is that rarely is there any confusion at all among Indians regarding which restaurants to go to. Virtually every restaurant serves the food that anyone can eat, whether they are vegetarian or non-vegetarian, non-beef or non-pork eaters. People sit side by side and order whatever they want. There is no need to practise culinary apartheid.

Recently there was a case where some villagers in India beat a Muslim man to death because they thought he was eating beef. It has to be noted that all this is occurring in a scenario where a rightwing political party has gained power.

After his death, tests of the meat in his fridge showed that, poor as he was, he may have been eating mutton and not the more expensive beef. It just goes to show that anyone can kick up a fuss about food, if provoked enough, even to fatal consequences.

Malaysians are not dissimilar. We love our food. And some of us are rather obsessive about the religious pristineness of our food. Which is not the same as being obsessive about hygiene, I might add.

So if someone should suggest that the 1000-calorie-a-bite bar of chocolate should have the slightest hint of porcine DNA, without so much as demanding to see the lab test reports, our people will go hysterical.

Ever-alert that someone wants to taint their pristine bodies, the same bodies that consume more sugar than any other South-East Asian country, their antennae are perpetually tuned to whoever may next cause offence, intentionally or otherwise.

Now unlike India where people speak English and understand that ‘no’ means ‘no’, in Malaysia, ‘no’ can mean ‘maybe got something else which someone insidiously put in because they want to taint us’.

Thus a sign that says ‘no pork’ doesn’t just mean that. It also means ‘we won’t know if there is anything else we shouldn’t be eating.’ It is a wonder how Muslims in Malaysia haven’t starved to death from food anxiety every day. What on earth do they do when they travel?

Of late I’ve noticed restaurants with names that make it so clear exactly what they serve that nobody with half a modicum of brain could fail to realise what food of the non-vegetarian kind it is. But even then there is room for confusion.

If people are so protected from the sight of little fat pink creatures with curly tails to the point that even the movie Babe was once banned (funny, I never knew movies were free in Malaysia!), then they may not recognise the icons used in the restaurant’s graphics. When we start seeing people exiting restaurants in a panic all of a sudden, we’ll know what happened.

At that point, I’m sure our ever-righteous leaders will step in with a law to ban restaurants from serving pork in order to save fragile Muslim souls from ever being offended, regardless of whether they ever go into those restaurants or not. Never mind that there is a much higher likelihood of Muslims dying of diabetes from too much nasi lemak and fast food than from inhaling the smell of non-halal food.

All of these are of the utmost importance these days. Our bodies must be presented on Judgment Day in pure form, never mind if they are flabby and overweight from unhealthy halal eating habits and lack of exercise.

Never mind also that the brains these bodies are attached to are atrophying from lack of use. Never mind also that the hands attached to these bodies sometimes handle money that may not be righteously earned.

These are all irrelevant. What matters is that we must be perpetually on guard against all manner of insults and intent to injure.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is passing us by.