Some food for thought on eating out - GulfToday

Some food for thought on eating out

Birjees Hussain

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

Some food for thought on eating out

Muslims have a hard time in some countries where halal food is not available.

Eating out is always fraught with difficulties. You might be on a diet. You might have a health concern where it is mandatory that you avoid certain types of foods such as sugars, certain types of fats and excessive salt.

The problem is actually exacerbated if you have to avoid certain types of foods for personal or religious reasons. For example, many religions, including Islam, Christianity and Judaism, forbid the intake of pork products and alcohol. Some restaurants might be accommodating when you make a request that the food be prepared in a certain way but there are other outlets, like fast food ones, that may not be able to do that despite their best intentions.

Muslims, vegetarians and vegans have an especially hard time in some countries, particularly Muslims living in non-Muslim countries where, for example, there is no such thing as Halal food in mainstream food outlets. If you go into one of the many dotted around non-Muslim countries you might find yourself having to eat salad, a fish burger or a veggie burger. But that’s where it gets a little tricky as one vegan in Atlanta, US, discovered last week.

After ordering some kind of vegan whopper meal he learnt that the burger patty had been grilled on the same hot plate as the meat patties. I’m not sure how he found out but he’s now suing the fast food outlet for misrepresentation. The burger outlet isn’t denying the allegation but, oddly enough, it is arguing that the customer should have been more specific about how vegan he was and that he wanted his burger to be cooked on an entirely separate hotplate….What?!

That makes no sense at all. A vegan is a vegan because he doesn’t want cross-contamination of meat in his food.

As I said eating out is very hard, especially if you’re a Muslim in a non-Muslim country. When I worked in London, getting lunch was a huge challenge especially since there weren’t any halal food outlets around back then; maybe there are now but none in my area when I was there. It was ether a packed lunch, cheese and tomato sandwich or a prawn mayonnaise sandwich that came prepacked from a local supermarket.

Just up the street from where I worked, right next door to the tube station (metro) there was a sandwich shop. They sold all kinds of sandwiches including tuna. Time and time again I had to ask the men behind the counter to use a separate, clean knife when slicing my sandwich because they had the habit of using the same knife for beef and pork products. When they were not accommodating it was either pot noodle or a cuppa soup and croissant for lunch that day. Here’s a funny story. A friend of mine recently paid a visit to Japan and he spent the entire 2 weeks eating a fish fillet for lunch and dinner. When he came back he told me that he never wants to see a fish fillet again!  

In non-Muslim countries you don’t sue a food outlet for cross-contamination of foods because you go into them fully aware that they will be serving all kinds of meats and other non-vegetarian products. You know the inherent risks so you choose your foods carefully. It might also help you if you make friends with the proprietor so he and his staff are extra careful when they prepare your order.

Eating out is also very tough for people with allergies. In some cases there is a risk of traces of their allergen making its way into the food they ordered. It could have been during the preparation stage or cross-contamination could have occurred when the dish was being plated. Before they know it, they’re going into a casualty in a hospital to get a shot.

Children with nut allergies have a hard time too. Sometimes even the smell of nuts, or being in an area where nuts are being consumed, even if they don’t touch them, can cause them to have a severe allergic reaction. Some airlines have even stopped serving nuts on their flights just in case a child on board has a nut allergy. You might notice that when drinks are being served, your snack is no longer a packet of peanuts.

Even buying meat and poultry is often difficult and this is where I would like to dispense a word of caution. Some supermarkets have been known to inadvertently risk cross-contamination of pork with meat and poultry. The two counters may be at completely different locations in the supermarket but when they’re short staffed they might ask the person manning the pork counter to cut your meat and poultry. The person may change gloves but they overlook the fact that the person’s apron may have been contaminated with traces of pork which they may inadvertently transfer to your meat and poultry. It isn’t on purpose but it does present a worry to a Muslim customer.

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