Epicuriosity: The forbidden fruit

Updated: March 8, 2015 12:34:18 AM

While most food bans are plain displays of idiosyncrasies, a few actually make sense. A look at some ‘surprising’ food bans from around the world.

One may be forgiven for thinking that this week has been one of bans. Whilst most debates have been contentious and challenging of strongly-held principles, the ban on cow slaughter in Maharashtra led me down an interesting path. With Bollywood celebs tweeting in defence of ‘beef’—the kind one consumes and not the unstated sort that exist among them—it really became quite the buzzword of the week.

I decided to look at other ‘surprising’ food bans from around the world and was impressed by the list of unlikely candidates that came up. Take, for example, the ubiquitous ketchup. Found in plastic squeeze bottles and mini tetrapacks, it is the condiment of choice for many. Who would have thought that people would object to it? But it has been objected to and most vociferously by none other than the French who take their gastronomy very seriously. Was ketchup too all-American for French fries (pardon the pun)? But how else can you eat them? Not to worry, as an exception has been made in the case of fries. The ban, imposed in schools in France, has been placed in order to moderate the sugar intake and to preserve Gallic cuisine, the contention being that ketchup tends to overwhelm all other flavours. Sattvic food in schools, anyone?

If you thought Somali pirates were the only worrying aspect of Somalia, then the gastronomic intolerance in the country will make you think again. The Al-Shabaab group there has banned the humble samosa. Their usual method of propagating bans is carried out atop vehicles with loudspeakers, cautioning people from consuming samosas. Why, you might ask? It’s all in the shape. As per the group, the samosa’s triangular contours display a similarity with the holy trinity and it is, hence, considered too dangerous for consumption. Conversion by eating? Presumably, it happens in Somalia.

However, not all food bans are displays of idiosyncrasies. Some may actually be for the dining public’s good. Take, for example, pufferfish. It is banned because it can be poisonous and fatal when not prepared correctly. The toxins in a pufferfish can kill as many as 30 human beings and there is no known antidote for it. A two-star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo fired its head chef when a diner nearly lost his life because of the fish he ate at the restaurant. Chefs who prepare the puffer are trained and skilled to surgical perfection in its preparation. A known delicacy in Japan, it is called fugu and can cost as much as 30 pounds for a serving, giving a whole new dimension to a food complaint.

If you thought food bans only had to do with ingredients, you are mistaken. Some places even monitor how food is eaten. The American South takes its fried chicken very seriously (I should know, as I lived there). In Gainesville, Georgia, a 90-year-old diner was charged with breaking a 1961 ordinance that disallowed people from eating their fried chicken with a fork and knife! As it turned out, it was a birthday joke. However, the ordinance does exist, though this incident was more a PR stunt to put Gainesville on the map as the poultry capital of the world. Those southerners, not so gentlemanly after all!

The highly litigious society that is the US is a hot bed for interesting and, yes, weird laws when it comes to food and drinks. In Texas, an old law—since discontinued—restricted beer drinkers from taking more than three sips of their beer while standing. The reason? It might cause an affront to teetotallers, who could see them in full standing view. That’s beating the tolerance stick a little too hard, but then POTUS did bring that message with him when he visited us earlier this year.

Stick reminds me of carrots, which were considered blasphemous by an Islamic cleric in Europe, along with bananas and zucchinis, for creating immoral thoughts in women (reported in The International Business Times). The sheikh decreed that if women must consume these blasphemous vegetables, they must do so only after a husband or father dices them into delicate pieces. As for shopping for veggies and inadvertently holding them, that’s between God and the woman, he said. Clearly, men are exempted from vegetable shopping.

Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad

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