We are what we eat. And the number of variations in diet these days is dizzying. Some are enforced by health reasons such as allergies, others because of religious specifications and yet others for short-term goals – weight loss or gain.
There are the standard vegetarian and meat opposites – called ‘non-vegetarian’ in Indian English with the unique logic that all you need is a negative marker to make a term mean the opposite. Nowadays, we have vegan, gluten-free, nuts-free, processed foods free (which means no white flour, refined oils or sugar).
Coming from an Indian background, I know there are many variations to your regular ‘simple’ vegetarian fare too.
There are communities whose culinary feast can taste fabulous despite excluding onions and garlic; the Jains, who prepare food that even cuts off all root vegetables since pulling up a plant by the roots will interrupt the life-cycle.
Yet others are eggetarians – while dairy and honey escapes the tarred brush of animal produce, eggs are caught in the cross-winds and like Humpty-Dumpty, people sit on the wall about whether eggs are vegetarian or not. Of course, the egg produced for your morning sunny-side-up is no longer a free-range fertilised egg – it is what is known as a ‘table egg’ and the unfertilised product of the chicken’s biological function.
Just like Halal is a prescribed way of preparing meat for consumption according to Islamic regulations, the Indian government has introduced a ‘Saatvic’ certification for restaurants that serve only vegetarian food.
Given the over-emphasis on vegetarianism, people are often surprised to know that Indians are actually largely meat-eating (over 69 per cent), have a rich culinary tradition of preparing exotic meat dishes and India is one of the world’s big exporters of bovine meat (buffalo, not beef).
Now Bahrain is looking to tap the Halal food market and link it to Islamic financing and SME development. That is good news and an important step in planning for future food sustainability.
The kingdom has strict standards about food handling, slaughtering and preparing meat. Now, if only we could take one more step in the right direction and cast the net on the sale of fish in open places by hawkers. These pop-up stalls – usually not more than upturned cartons – appear in the evenings outside large supermarkets on pavements laid down for pedestrian use.
Naturally, they represent a health and safety hazard: not only does the fresh fish attract flies, rodents and stray cats, but the lack of temperature control means they go bad quickly and are discarded by the fishmongers right there on the pavement with serious health consequences.
If you say that these men too need to make a living, I want to say that the government can very well invest in a network of fishmonger shops across the kingdom at various locations – there are already private players in this sector but the hawkers are micro entrepreneurs so need support. The fishmonger shops can be equipped with basics like temperature control and hygiene standards and I am sure customers and the environment on our pavements will benefit from it.
There! I’ve cast the net. Will somebody in authority catch the idea?