One Man’s ‘Poison’, Another Man’s Meat: Some “Food” For Thought

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Disclaimer: This post is like an ebook in length! Read it when you have the time, and perhaps a cuppa with you.

Sitting at a gathering, I listen quietly to a sister launch into a heartfelt, sincere monologue about the perils, dangers and risks of devouring packaged milk. She’d apparently seen a ‘report’ broadcasted on a local television channel, in which a company selling such milk was ‘exposed’, and accused of adding Allah-knows-which substances to their milk to make it look whiter and thicker.

Another sister, who is also an open critic of packaged milk, once said something in my presence that almost made me do a double-take, “Milk sold by the doodh wala (milkman), even if it is mixed with sewage water from a gutter, is still better for health than that which comes in packaged boxes!”


Exaggerate much?!

Whether it is milk, meat-patties in burgers sold by international franchises, frozen yogurt, baked goods sold by confectioneries, bottled mineral water, packaged juices, or even the plate of nihari sent to your home in goodwill by your neighbor, nowadays it is not uncommon for food — of any kind — to become the target of criticism, skepticism, hearsay and even slander.

All in goodwill and sincerity for others’ health and well-being, of course.

Us and Them“? What did the Prophets Eat?

وَقَالَ الْمَلَأُ مِن قَوْمِهِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَكَذَّبُوا بِلِقَاء الْآخِرَةِ وَأَتْرَفْنَاهُمْ فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا مَا هَذَا إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُكُمْ يَأْكُلُ مِمَّا تَأْكُلُونَ مِنْهُ وَيَشْرَبُ مِمَّا تَشْرَبُونَ

And the chiefs of his people, who disbelieved and denied the Meeting in the Hereafter, and on whom We had bestowed the good things of this life, said: “He is no more than a man like yourselves: he eats of that of which you all eat, and drinks of what you all drink.”” [23:33]

The Quran testifies to the fact that the Prophets were normal people like the rest of us, who always ate the food that other people ate, and drank the same drinks that the people around them drank.

This indicates that the Prophetic way is to be closer to the layman in one’s eating habits and choices of diet, instead of having an exclusive, elitist mindset that makes one adhere to an “us and them” strategy regarding food, viz. “We” don’t eat “that“/”That” is for “them” (e.g. poor and dirty people), not for “us” .

While the above ayah of the Quran refers to a particular Prophet who came after Prophet Nuh, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was also known to eat the same food that everyone else was eating.

No ‘special’ dishes were prepared separately for him. He did not eat at a special, separate ‘VIP’ section while he was present in a large gathering. His companions (men and women) sent him gifts of prepared food, and he’d never hesitate to partake from it, except in rare cases.

He would also ardently share his food with others, whether it was expensive (mutton), or cheap (trotters).

Breakfast for the BoysCity Food

When the young lads (the “Companions of the Cave” mentioned in Surah Al-Kahf) who had been put to sleep for many years, woke up, they felt hungry.

One of them was sent to the city to buy food whilst being discreet about his identity. He was given the following instructions by the others:

وَكَذَلِكَ بَعَثْنَاهُمْ لِيَتَسَاءلُوا بَيْنَهُمْ قَالَ قَائِلٌ مِّنْهُمْ كَمْ لَبِثْتُمْ قَالُوا لَبِثْنَا يَوْمًا أَوْ بَعْضَ يَوْمٍ قَالُوا رَبُّكُمْ أَعْلَمُ بِمَا لَبِثْتُمْ فَابْعَثُوا أَحَدَكُم بِوَرِقِكُمْ هَذِهِ إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ فَلْيَنظُرْ أَيُّهَا أَزْكَى طَعَامًا فَلْيَأْتِكُم بِرِزْقٍ مِّنْهُ وَلْيَتَلَطَّفْ وَلَا يُشْعِرَنَّ بِكُمْ أَحَدًا

“…Now send then one of you with this money of yours to the town. Let him find out which is the best food (to be had) and bring some to you, that (you may) satisfy your hunger therewith…” [18:19]

The Arabic words أَزْكَى طَعَامًا mean: “prepared food that is the most plentiful (i.e. yielding most growth or increase)”. The Arabic word الْمَدِينَةِ means: the city.

Hence, if necessity dictates it, the Quran itself corroborates the purchase of already-prepared food from the city, in order to satisfy hunger. The condition that needs to be fulfilled is that this food be أَزْكَى – “the best in yielding growth/increase, purest/cleanest”.

If cooking food yourself in order to save the money needed to purchase commercially-prepared city food was a prerequisite of taqwa, or the ‘higher road’, the companions of the cave, being young boys, would have chosen to scavenge and hunt game in the wilderness, and cook it on a fire themselves. But they did not.

Bring to mind that they still thought/believed that they were being persecuted by the current ruling king (oblivious to the passage of decades while they were asleep), and hence, their foraying out into the city posed a unique danger to their lives.

Yet, they all sent one of their own group members down to the city to buy ‘the purest’ prepared food.

Go figure!

Allah Created Manna and Salwa as a “Favor” Upon the Children of Israel

I find it very interesting that Allah mentions the two special, easily-acquired kinds of food that He sent down upon the Bani Israel, along with the other favors He bestowed upon them. This food was called manna and salwa.

Tafsir ibn Kathir states:

Manna was a sweet substance that descended upon them from the sky and the quail (salwa) was a type of bird that would fall down to them.

They would fill every pot with them as ample provisions until the following day. This was a kindness and a mercy from Allah upon them. It was a manifestation of Allah’s good treatment of them.

For this reason Allah says,

كُلُواْ مِن طَيِّبَـتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـكُمْ وَلاَ تَطْغَوْاْ فِيهِ فَيَحِلَّ عَلَيْكُمْ غَضَبِى

Eat of the tayyibat wherewith We have provided you, and commit no transgression or oppression therein, lest My anger should justly descend on you.”

This means, “Eat from this sustenance which I have provided for you, and do not transgress against My sustenance by taking it without necessity or you will be opposing what I have commanded you.”

End quote.

Elsewhere in the tafsir (of an ayah in Surah Al-Baqarah), a more detailed description of the manna and salwa is found:

“The Manna used to descend to them to the trees, and they used to eat whatever they wished of it. Also, Qatadah said, the Manna, which was whiter than milk and sweeter than honey, used to rain down on the Children of Israel, just as the snow falls, from dawn until sunrise.

One of them would collect enough for that particular day, for if it remained more than that, it would spoil. On the sixth day, Friday, one would collect enough for the sixth and the seventh day, which was the Sabbath during which one would not leave home to seek his livelihood, or for anything else.

All this occurred in the wilderness. The type of manna that we know provides sufficient food when eaten alone, because it is nutritious and sweet. When manna is mixed with water, it becomes a sweet drink. It also changes composition when mixed with other types of food.

As for the quail (salwa) in question, `Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said, “The salwa is a bird that looks like the quail.”

Also, `Ikrimah said that the salwa is a bird in Paradise about the size of a sparrow. Qatadah said, “The salwa is a bird that is similar to a sparrow.

During that time, an Israelite could catch as many quails as was sufficient for that particular day, otherwise the meat would spoil. On the sixth day, Friday, he would collect what is enough for the sixth and the seventh day, the Sabbath, during which one was not allowed to depart his home to seek anything.”

Allah said,

كُلُواْ مِن طَيِّبَـتِ مَا رَزَقْنَـكُمْ

Eat of the good lawful things We have provided for you..” [7:160]

End quote.

Yet, at another place in the Quran, Allah describes how the Bani Israel became ungrateful of this wholesome food that He specially provided to them without much effort or toil on their part, and how in their ingratitude they started demanding lowly food that they’d have to grow themselves:

Allah said, “And remember My favor on you when I sent down the manna and quails to you, a good, pure, beneficial, easily acquired food. And remember your ungratefulness for what We granted you.

Remember how you asked Musa to exchange this type of food for an inferior type that consists of vegetation, and so forth.” [Please see 2:61 for reference to this demand that they made]

Al-Hasan Al-Basri said about the Children of Israel, “They were bored and impatient with the type of food they were provided. They also remembered the life they used to live, when their diet consisted of lentils, onions, garlic and herbs.”

They said,

يَـمُوسَى لَن نَّصْبِرَ عَلَى طَعَامٍ وَحِدٍ فَادْعُ لَنَا رَبَّكَ يُخْرِجْ لَنَا مِمَّا تُنبِتُ الأَرْضُ مِن بَقْلِهَا وَقِثَّآئِهَا وَفُومِهَا وَعَدَسِهَا وَبَصَلِهَا

O Musa! We cannot endure one kind of food. So invoke your Lord for us to bring forth for us of what the earth grows, its herbs, its cucumbers, its “fum”, its lentils and its onions.”

Their phrase ‘عَلَى طَعَامٍ وَحِدٍ’ (one kind of food) meant, the manna and salwa (quails), because they ate the same food day after day.

The ayah mentioned lentils, onions and herbs, which are all known types of foods.

Allah’s statement,

قَالَ أَتَسْتَبْدِلُونَ الَّذِى هُوَ أَدْنَى بِالَّذِى هُوَ خَيْرٌ

He said, Would you exchange that which is better for that which is lower?”

…criticized the Jews for asking for inferior foods, although they were living an easy life, eating tasty, beneficial and pure food.

End Quote Tafsir ibn Kathir

The reason I am quoting from the tafsir of some of the above ayaat of the Quran regarding the reaction of the Bani Israel to the special food of manna and salwa that Allah sent down specially for them, is because I see a very similar attitude prevalent among people around me today.

In their endorsement of, and strict adherence to the daily consumption of, homemade, traditional Pakistani food that they choose to cook from scratch in their kitchens, they look down upon those (like me, I will openly admit) who frequently choose to partake from already prepared food.

The reasons cited are: homemade food is better, cleaner, more hygienically prepared before your own eyes, cheaper, and more nutritious.

Yet, even though they more often than not choose to eat at home and scrupulously avoid eating the “lowly” food outside, I’ve observed that they are ironically not free from being affected by diseases and ailments related to the gastronomical system.

I think a lot about why Allah calls the already-prepared food (manna and salwa) that He specially sent down to the Bani Israel as a ‘favor’ upon them, and their subsequent preference/request for lentils, wheat, herbs and onions (food that they’d need to tediously toil hard to cultivate on earth) as a form of ‘ingratitude’ to Allah.

It makes me wonder if, readily accessible, already prepared, nutritious food that is delivered to your doorstep, for which you do not have to toil for hours, is actually a favor of Allah upon you?

And along the same lines, it also makes me wonder, if the person who can receive such high-quality food easily, but instead, he or she chooses to toil for hours in preparing food of lesser quality and nutritional value, is showing ‘ingratitude’ to Allah?

“From Scratch” — Really?

I sometimes hear sisters singing praises of the complicated, time-consuming and difficult recipes that they cook from scratch at home, following the customized and highly personalized special instructions handed down to them by generations.

The exact way the rice has to be layered, and the exact temperature at which the stove has to be tempered in order to get the ‘just right’ flavor and tenderness of the meat and spices in the special kind of biryani that no one in the clan besides them, have been able to master since their great-grandmother’s paternal aunt (who originated the recipe) passed away.

I never use cheap supermarket substitutes. I grind my own spices, even if it takes hours.

Believe me, for their sake, I do appreciate their endeavors, and I do try to listen appreciatively as they go on and on about their exquisite, superior culinary expertise (without being asked, mind you), even though – personally – I think spending hours cooking up something in the kitchen when you can save at least half of the same time by easily acquiring simpler food to put into your stomach, reeks of not just a lack of wisdom and prudence, but also indicates ingratitude towards Allah for the blessings of time and energy that He has blessed all of us with.

But for the sake of fairness, let’s appreciate their efforts of cooking up things in a very complex way in their kitchens, from “scratch”. Truly, they are earning great reward by feeding their families fresh food that they have toiled to prepare, daily.

What’s more, I appreciate even more those cooking gurus who go a step further to share their culinary knowledge with others, via articles, blogs, classes, or youtube videos, because they are truly doing younger amateurs around the world a huge favor by teaching them how to cook basic dishes. 🙂

I have benefited tremendously from many such online chefs, bakers and cooks (I think that, here, Bajia of Australia needs a special shout-out, in particular because I really appreciate that her videos contain no music and that she remains behind the camera).

What I find a bit disconcerting about locally-based aficionados of homemade food, however, is when they attempt to justify and validate their extra hard work in the kitchen by launching into intense verbal criticisms of all the food that is available outside the home, in shops, restaurants and cafes.

Their tone and attitude inches towards arrogance as they comment on how ‘disgusting’ and unclean it is; how badly it is prepared; and how many diseases it causes. And how they can never eat it because of it’s inferior quality.

They also indirectly imply that anyone (especially a married woman) who partakes from this food and/or allows his/her family to also eat it, is not just lazy, extravagant and selfish, but also glaringly inept as a home cook. That s/he doesn’t love their family enough to ‘save’ them from the filthy, toxic outside food (bahar ka khana).

I want to suggest that they step on their brakes for a few seconds, in order to glance at the ingredients they use to cook up the supposedly superior, clean and hygienic food in their kitchen, because I want to point out something:

That unless they have their own farm where they grow their own produce, breed and slaughter their own animals, and process their own edible raw material, they are still bringing in food from ‘outside’ to their home.

Let’s take a look at the main categories of ingredients used in the average Pakistani household: flour, rice, meat, cooking oil, vegetables, fruit, eggs, packaged bread, lentils, spices, herbs, sauces, honey, milk, water and sugar.

I think I’ve covered most of them.

Critics of ‘outside’ food seem to completely ignore the fact that each and every edible, perishable item that they purchase as ingredients for their recipes i.e. the raw material that they use in preparing food at home, is bought from ‘outside’; from the same markets that sell prepared food.

They readily and willingly purchase all these ingredients in a packaged form from either the local meat shop, grocery store, supermarket, or open-air ‘farmer’s markets’ (a.k.a sabzi wala, doodh wala, dry fruit wala, gosht wala, store wala, or Sunday/Friday bazaar). And most of the blue-collar people who transport and sell these ingredients to them observe the same level of personal hygiene that they so abhor.

Their purchase of local ingredients indicates their high level of trust upon the shops and stores that sell them these items, as well as for the local factories, plants and distributors that process, package and transport this raw material.

What’s more, almost all of their ‘special’ celebrations and family ‘treats’ involve – in a rather self-contradictory way – eating food from outside, primarily weddings and birthdays. When was the last time that you attended a wedding that served food that was only cooked at home? (I’m talking to local Pakistani’s right now).

What’s more, when they travel, they readily eat food that is served to them by the airline (“We paid for it!”). And when (Allah forbid) they get admitted to a hospital, they eat the food delivered via room service to their hospital room. And when they go for hajj or umrah, they readily eat the food sold at hotels and restaurants in Makkah and Madinah (who can forget the shawarma’s and the chicken at Al Baik!).

And when they go to someone’s house on a happy occasion, they never prepare the box of mithai that they take with them as a gift, at home in their own kitchen.

Rather, last I checked, this mithai that is gifted to others is almost always purchased from a sweetmeat shop. (Once again, I am talking to local Pakistani’s, because those leading ‘privileged’ lives abroad have no such options. They have to make almost everything at home.)

Pakistani mithai is actually transported in boxes to others with great zeal and fervor all across the globe. And the names of the local sweetmeat shops that sell the best mithai’s are almost ingrained in stone by now, as thousands of their international customers lip-smackingly vouch for their products’ excellent taste and quality.

However, most of these mithai shops have the same level of cleanliness and hygiene that many of their customers tend to turn up their noses at in disgust.

So how do you explain the contradiction?

Granted, food prepared by many outside street vendors, stalls and low-cost ‘dhaba’s‘ is low on hygiene and quality of ingredients, but did it ever occur to all those who look down upon and regard this food with contempt and disgust (laced with arrogance, “Eww, I’d never eat that!”), that this is the quality and hygiene level that the impoverished street vendors can actually afford? That, based on their social, economic and educational background, this is the level that is the ‘best’ that they can possibly do?

Instead of looking down upon them, and considering yourself much better than them because you are so much cleaner, more educated and civilized than them, maybe you should be appreciating their hard work at trying to make an honest living, and at providing low-cost food to the many blue-collar workers who form their core, daily customer base?

Because the person who contributes his sweat and toil towards feeding a hungry person, has a great reward waiting for him, even if he charges his patrons for the food that he serves to them, in order to make a living and to feed his own family.

An Ode to Unsung, Underpaid, and Undermined “Heroes”

You should think about how you get the food that you eat at your table at home.

You should think about the number of hard-working, often overburdened pairs of hands it went through to reach your plate. I am talking specifically to Pakistanis right now.

Think about the bread and eggs in your fridge. A driver who awakens every morning long before you do, usually delivers them fresh in his van to the corner store in your vicinity, on a daily basis. He usually has a young boy with him, who gets off in front of each store on their delivery route, opens the van’s doors at the back, offloads packets of sliced loaves of bread/trays of eggs, and transports them diligently to the store. And this happens on a daily basis.

What about the fresh milk that you receive every day (presuming that you are one of those Pakistanis who refuse to use packaged milk and prefer the one delivered personally by the “doodh wala” (milkman))? Did you ever wonder how many hands it went through before it reached your pot? Who milked it from the udders of the cow or goat? Who lifted up and hauled the heavy milk canisters from the dairy farm to the delivery truck, and off again?

What about the heavy sacks of wheat flour that you purchase from stores, from which your daily chapati’s/roti’s are made? Did you ever wonder about how many hardworking hands handle that sack of wheat until it reaches your plate in the form of a hot, fluffy roti (flatbread)?

And what about the chunks of succulent, halal chicken, beef, lamb or mutton that are placed in front of you in a bowl, floating around in flavorful, sauteed curries?

Did you ever think how many hands they pass through before they reach your table? Who slaughtered the animal? Who chopped it up into boti’s?

And what are the hygiene habits, educational backgrounds, and the financial conditions of those who provided the cheap services that enable the food that you eat to reach your table?

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said,

حَدَّثَنَا مُسْلِمُ بْنُ إِبْرَاهِيمَ، حَدَّثَنَا الرَّبِيعُ بْنُ مُسْلِمٍ، عَنْ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ زِيَادٍ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ ‘لاَ يَشْكُرُ اللَّهَ مَنْ لاَ يَشْكُرُ النَّاسَ‘ ‏

He who does not thank the people, does not thank Allah.” [Sunan Abi Dawud]

The social class, education level, and hygiene habits of the possessors of these undermined, overworked, undernourished and often calloused hands who bring you the raw material for your everyday homemade meals, is often the same as those who operate the local khoka’s, dhaba’s, and ‘dirty’ restaurants that you turn your nose up at, which feed scores of poor people every day. Who are human beings with empty stomachs, just like you.

These blue-collar workers hailing from among the mostly poorer lot in our country provide us with cheap labor because of which we can avail so many low-cost, personalized services for ourselves that make our lives easier.

In particular, the food industry thrives upon the services of this lower working class. The “khan” who kneads and bakes naan’s (flatbreads) daily, as well as the young boy who delivers piles upon piles of these hot-from-the-oven flatbreads to nearby offices and businesses for their weekday lunch.

Similarly, the tea-boy who delivers hot tea in little kettles to members of the same working class, to help them get their caffeine fix for the day, which helps them keep up their hard, manual labor.

The mechanic who fixes your car when it needs repair; the young bog who gives it’s windshield a wipe at traffic signals. The man who comes to install or fix the air conditioner in your home/office, which henceforth helps you ward off the terrible summer heat from your back.

These are the unsung heroes working hard daily in all major Pakistani urbanized cities, who make the lives of people like you and me easier, especially by helping to deliver to us the ingredients/raw material of our food (or in many cases, the prepared food itself) to our homes and tables, with which we ward off our hunger pangs.

Don’t look down upon these poor people. Please don’t think of yourself (and your homemade food) better than them or their food. Be careful when you criticize their level of hygiene and/or cleanliness as you scrunch up your nose in disgust at the restaurants and street food stalls that they help operate.

Because here is a piece of enlightenment for you:

Abud-Darda (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said,

  و عن أبي الدرداء عويمر رضي الله عنه قال‏:‏ سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول‏:‏ ‏ ‏ابغوني في الضعفاء ، فإنما تنصرون، وترزقون بضعفائكم‏‏

[‏[‏رواه أبو داود بإسناد جيد‏

Bring me the weak ones, for you are given help and provision because of the weak amongst you.”  [Abu Dawud]

As the above hadith suggests, perhaps the food in your home is coming to you because of the weak ones who live around you.

And perhaps your constant disdain of, and rejection of the food cooked by, the restaurants run by these people, is indicative of your own ingratitude for the affordable and easily attainable blessings that Allah has made available for you.

Which is why I was specifically addressing the local-dwelling Pakistani’s who are reading this post. I know that my blog readers mostly comprise of the “upper crust”: the educated, privileged lot who can read English. The majority of the people in Pakistan are, however, unlike us, poor and uneducated, lacking basic hygiene and good manners.

Can you spot the man risking his life?
Can you spot the man risking his life to help construct this building in my neighborhood?

Yet, us, the so-called educated ‘bourgeois’ of Pakistani society, are absolved from doing many tough tasks involving tiresome physical labor because of these poor who live around us (just ask any Pakistani-American family living in the suburbs, who mows their backyards, washes and wipes their cars, fixes their plumbing, shovels their snow, or scrubs/polishes clean their bathrooms for them?).

Most of these poor people even need to work on Sundays, which is otherwise a day of rest for everyone else.

Just look at the lavish homes being constructed in Defence, Karachi on any given Sunday, and – while most of us are out picnicking or brunching after sleeping in till late morning – you’ll see construction workers busy working as usual in the hot sun, for whom it’s a normal working day, just because they need their daily wage in order to put food on their tables at home.

Food Service Industry: The Human Chain Behind the Finished Product that Lands on Your Plate

I once attended a dinner party at someone’s home. It was actually a barbecue. Once the grill was painstakingly brought and stationed at a strategic outdoor spot, the smoke the barbecue emitted started to permeate the rooms in the home because of the wind billowing it inside via the open windows.

My children, being still naturally curious because they are unschooled, of course wanted to watch how the chicken was being barbecued. However, they were repeatedly shooed away in a loud voice by the person who was barbecuing the chicken, and told to go inside the home and not come near them (perhaps they were a little stressed out by the amateur barbecuing experience, or so it seemed).

After a painstaking half hour or a bit more, the food was finally served. Men went first (this is actually the norm in the house where this party was hosted — to each their own).

By the time us ladies were asked to help ourselves, the whole barbecue chickens were by and large dissected into a messy heap of bones and shreds of meat (the thighs conspicuously missing, no surprises there). The beef barbecue chunks were a bit hard and difficult to chew.

Anyhow, my point is not the food, but what was said about it with much flair and pride as the guests were partaking from it. I will try to quote it (not verbatim):

“Look at this whole roasted chicken that I have just barbecued for you. These (whole) chickens cost only Rs 250 each. Now if you were to order the same kind of chicken at BBQ Tonite, you’d have to pay Rs 2000 for it!

Truth be told, there is a reason that BBQ Tonite is doing such great business; why people pay them for barbecued chickens.

Suffice to say that we should let home-cooked-food aficionados presume that theirs was just as good. But the reason why I am mentioning this incident here, is that I want to elaborate about what we pay for when we go out to eat somewhere.

The money that we outwardly pay for the experience, does not just cover the price of the food raw material that we order and consume, as the person who barbecued the chickens that night seemed to have believed.

There is a difference between a Rs 250 raw whole chicken, and an expertly barbecued Rs 2000 one. And this difference is what the extra money (shock, horror, gasp – oh, the extravagance) is all about.

For one thing, when we pay Rs 2000 to eat a whole chicken roast at BBQ Tonite, we are in essence paying for:

  1. Someone to go out and buy the raw meat.
  2. Someone to clean it.
  3. Someone to marinate it (cost of marinade, and it’s preparation included). Marinating is extremely important for barbecued meat, because the softness of the finished product depends almost entirely upon it. Just recall the hardness of the meat barbecued by an amateur, and you’ll understand.
  4. Someone to barbecue it for us: a very tricky business, requiring much skill and expertise. FYI, the chefs at outdoor restaurants do not shoo away inquisitive children who want to watch them, nor are their barbecue stations positioned in a way that waiting customers end up inhaling, or having their eyes watered by, the barbecue smoke, as they wait for the food to be served to them. Please note that this step also includes not just the cost of the barbecue equipment, but also the human effort behind getting this equipment ready before the barbecue, and in grilling the meat on it whilst standing in the midst of the smoke emanated by the barbecuing meats.
  5. Someone to set it on a platter for serving to us (includes decoration etc.)
  6. And finally, someone to bring it to our table, hot and fresh, along with the cutlery.

Now you decide, which chicken is more worth the money: the amateurishly prepared one left over after hungry men have partaken from it, or the perfectly tender, expertly barbecued one that you get exclusively on a plate placed right in front of you?

Sorry for being such a ‘selfish’, gluttonous woman, but I prefer the latter. 😛

By the way, hasn’t Allah mentioned food of your choice being personally served to you by waiters, as one of the blessings of Jannah?

And since when is it desirable to deny a brief glimpse of that in this world? Isn’t a happy marriage also one such glimpse?

Loving Food is Not Synonymous With Gluttony

Some people, may Allah guide me and them, assume that I overeat, or eat a lot on a regular basis. They presume this on the basis of viewing the photos of the food that I post online, and reading my raves about restaurant food awesomeness in general, on my eating out blog.

I have also been asked by a sister (very politely, might I add), how I don’t put on weight if I eat out ‘so much’, and because I love to eat ‘so much’.

The answer is simple: Portion control. Self-control while eating. Replacing meals with smaller-sized, healthy ‘snacks’. There is no need to eat a lot of something that you love, or to eat it very frequently. But it is okay to love the little bits of food that you do eat, and it is actually praiseworthy to openly thank Allah for letting you enjoy their great taste and flavor.

So go ahead and ‘sample’ all the foods that you like, and keep switching between the different varieties that Allah has placed before you as rizq, in His vast benevolence, but do so while keeping yourself and the amounts of food that you consume strictly in check.

  حَدَّثَنَا هَنَّادٌ، وَمَحْمُودُ بْنُ غَيْلانَ، قَالا‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو أُسَامَةَ، عَنْ زَكَرِيَّا بْنِ أَبِي زَائِدَةَ، عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ أَبِي بُرْدَةَ، عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ‏:‏ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم‏:‏ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَيَرْضَى عَنِ الْعَبْدِ أَنْ يَأْكُلَ الأَكْلَةَ، أَوْ يَشْرَبَ الشَّرْبَةَ فَيَحْمَدَهُ عَلَيْهَا‏.‏

Anas relates from Allah’s Messenger that Allah is pleased with that servant who eats one morsel (bite) or drinks one sip, and gives thanks to Him.”
[Shamail Muhammadiyya]

Sort of like, partaking from a variety or ‘carousel’ of food. Try everything halal and tayyib that Allah has created for you, but in moderation. Then praise Allah for it, and move on without overeating.

And FYI, in case you still don’t get it: my praise for the food that I sample is not based on greed, gluttony, or a desire to brag about the fact that I can afford it.

It is a way of thanking Allah in public for His blessings, according to this ayah of the Quran:

    وَأَمَّا بِنِعْمَةِ رَبِّكَ فَحَدِّثْ

And the bounty of your Lord – rehearse and proclaim” [93:11]

And you know what? I think that it is actually very sad that I even need to make this clarification. Sort of like how sad it was for me to need to post photographs of the food that I cook at home online on this blog, through my Flickr feed (check out the very first photos in my photostream), in order to stop many people (mostly ladies) from presuming that I couldn’t cook, and criticizing me on my face for ‘always eating out’.

I love their silence since then, by the way. 😛 Sorry for stifling an impulsive laugh as I recall this, but it is very amusing for me, how no one doubts my cooking skills any more, nor asks me what I cook at home.

Most of these people can easily go out and purchase the same food that I go out to eat (and which I also photograph and blog about online). This category also includes my maid (the girl who cleans my home. By the way, she likes KFC. And she eats there sometimes with her family. Shock, horror, gasp! Isn’t she extravagant?)

However, most of these people choose not to eat food outside the home, because of their mindset, or because they regard all kinds of food that is prepared outside the home with disgust and disdain (even that which is not unclean). Or because of their innate insecurities about family relationships that are supposedly tied together by the hungry stomachs attached to male homo sapians.

Go figure that last bit out yourself. Think: insecure woman getting jealous when her man dishes out (pun not intended) praise for any food cooked by hands other than her own.

Or: insensitive, controlling men forcing the woman in their home to cook for them like a personal chef because of years of habit, even though she clearly can’t do it anymore because of ill-health, or chronic fatigue.

Enough said.

Extravagance in Eating is Not Gender-Dependent

I have touched upon this many times. So I’ll keep it simple.

What, how much, or where someone eats their food, and how much it costs them, doesn’t fall into extravagance or non-extravagance (in the light of Islam) on the basis of their gender.

Rather, it depends upon the wealth that they own (which is a private matter, i.e. none of your business), and whether or not they follow the Islamic etiquette of eating as highlighted by Allah’s messenger ‎ﷺ.

Let me ask you a question first, please. 🙂

You hear of a group of corporate men holding a business meeting at their office, and ordering food for this meeting from a particular catering service that costs a certain amount.

You hear of a group of business-women (who earn the same amount of money as the men in the above scenario) meeting at the residence of one of their members, to convene a meeting regarding an important matter, ordering food for this event from the same catering service.

Honestly ask yourself, will you perceive both situations the same way, or not?

I am sure many people will consider the cost of catering at the first meeting something necessary, acceptable and routine, but the latter, a case of extravagance and waste.

Because, in their perception, since men need to work to support their families, they should not need to cook, and their spending on catering is justified.

True, that.

But if women entrepreneurs choose to delegate or outsource the cooking/catering work for their social event, they are being extravagant, because they (being female) should aptly and expertly cook the food themselves. At home. In their kitchen.

After all, isn’t cooking for a large number of people (a la restaurant-chef style) supposed to be an exclusively female-dominated occupation?

You might try checking out the global world statistics about that yourself. 🙂

But that’s just silly old gluttonous, overspending me talking again.

You probably know better.

Conclusion: Ride the Wave, or Live in Your Bubble – It’s Your Choice

The world is fast becoming a global village. Cultures and cuisines are mixing fast, because of instant information sharing, increasing relocation and immigration, and cross-cultural marriages.

Consumerism is one of the trials of this era of mankind. Now, even tents erected in arid deserts have air conditioners, plush/thick carpets, and stand-by generators (think Mina, Saudi Arabia).

Five-star hotels, luxury vehicles, branded products, affordable international tourism, tall buildings, instant communication, varieties of cuisines, global connectivity, explosion of real-time content — these things that are specific to the current era of humankind, are all here to stay, whether we accept them and/or use them as blessings or boons, or not — the fact remains that they are here to stay.

The same applies to the food industry. The almost sudden, worldwide, burgeoning plethora of eateries, cafes, restaurants and hotels is something that will only increase with time.

Side by side, so will small, home-based businesses and entrepreneurial start-ups that deliver fresh, “homemade” food to your doorstep, piping hot and in good time. Some of them charge a tad more because they use only high-quality ingredients and cook the food fresh, from scratch, in clean home-kitchens, just like you do in yours.

So, even if you choose to live in your own little bubble, and painstakingly cook only traditional Pakistani dishes at home from scratch well into old age, ‘priding’ yourself in choosing the better option than those who eat ‘outside food’, who prefer global cuisines, or who cannot/do not cook themselves (throwing in a few disdainful sentences about restaurants too, while you’re at it), please accept the fact that there will be an increasing number of people (perhaps even your own adult children) who will readily choose the alternative option: of eating out or ordering in, more often than you like or approve of.

Just like the Internet has permeated every aspect of our existence via smartphones, tablets, and wifi; just like tall buildings are a rising trend (pun not intended) in the landscape of every geographical region; just like those people who previously scrupulously refused to be videoed or photographed digitally (ever) – because they thought it came under haram picture-making – have finally relented, so that digital content is now permeating every aspect of our existence; food hailing from diverse cuisines from around the world prepared outside your kitchen, will occasionally make its way to your palate, sooner or later, with or without your approval or consent.

Have a pita flatbread with hummus and tabbouleh, my dear traditional Pakistani sister/brother, and please take a chill pill about food. 🙂

Food diversity, food blogs, amateur chefs, online food ‘vloggers’, catering services, all-you-can-eat buffets, all-day breakfasts, gourmet delicacies, upper-end and lower-end restaurants, food magazines, cooking shows, celebrity chefs, restaurant ratings, street foods and food streets are all here to stay.

Ride the wave, or stand on the sides, watching – clucking your tongues and going “tut-tut” – the choice is yours, but you cannot reverse this trend.

Kabab roll or wrap, shawarma or burrito, roti/chapati or crepe/blini/tortilla, bhujia or vegetable hash, dalia or wholegrain cereal, khagina or scrambled eggs, paratha or pancakes, aloo qeema or Shepherd’s pie, halwa or souffle, kheer or rice pudding, pakora or falafel, mithai or cake, pasta or puff pastry, curry or stir-fry, biryani or risotto, khattay aloo or mashed potatoes, chai or coffee — all of these delicious eatables are gifts and blessings from Allah!

While the raw material and ingredients might be more or less the same, the variety of preparation methods and spices used to combine them, by chefs and cooks around the globe, will grant the end-products a refreshingly pleasurable diversity in taste and texture.

In a world that Allah has blessed with so many tastes, textures, colors and flavors, I find it hard to believe why/how anyone would deliberately restrict themselves to just one type of cuisine in the name of traditionalism: “We don’t like to eat that.”

So, trust me, if you ever invite me to your home, – whether you choose to serve me food in boxes ordered in from ‘outside’; or food that you’ve freshly prepared yourself from scratch, I will not judge, tut-tut, or look down upon you either way.

Because I want to eat from what you eat, and drink from what you drink. 🙂

6 thoughts on “One Man’s ‘Poison’, Another Man’s Meat: Some “Food” For Thought

  1. I get the feeling that rather than saying all this to the women who monologue about food, you decided to vent on your blog 😉 I wouldn’t say that choosing to prepare food from scratch at home is denying the favours of Allah, I mean, to each his or her own. I remembered your post about israaf while reading this. It really isn’t people’s business how others eat. As long as it’s halal and tayyib, there’s nothing to worry about.

  2. nice article, just a few things that i thought:, i just think that u might have misunderstood your sister who told u about the negatives of getting packaged milk. trust me its a known fact by now (ok may b not that known) that the packaged milk has loads of such ingredients that in the end what you are consuming is not actually milk. The milk is taken from the farms by the big companies, and when they go to the farms to collect it (most companies do this), the only criteria they have for taking the milk is that it should have a thick consistency, and so the farmers add to it lots of ingredients that make it thick, and so the quantity of milk decreases and the other ingredients increase. also if u surf on the net (readily available) videos will also tell u how milk can be prepared without adding much milk to it. also, again a known fact that buffoloes and cows are regularly injected with hormones to increase their milk production (this is a fact with the local doodh walas as well). There have been lots of talk shows on this topic and thats why i said in the begining that its a known fact now.
    so i think u mixed her lecturing on ‘why you should not used packaged milk’ to ‘one should spend more time in the kitchen preparing things from the start’.
    And just to add the party that you attended, the sole purpose of shooing kids off from the BBQ area was that a fan was placed there to avoid the hassle of fanning the meat manually, and one kid tried to poke his/her finger inside it, probably u dint know that as you were inside. As the dinner was already late (due to i agree totally avoidable circumstances), watching over kids was one duty no one was particularly interested in. The dads standing there were however welcome to take care of their kids. The dinner that was left for the ladies was again a avoidable mistake, it should have been separated before hand rather than all of it being served at once (this was realized late). and even if the ladies were asked to come first the same scenario would have been left for the male members, (who were by the way served first not due to gender discrimination but due to the fact that as mostly ladies help their kids take food, so they take more time)

  3. You have some valid points. But the tone of the article is off and unsympathetic towards living a simple life for the sake of it. Being articulate is not my strong suit, so bear with.
    Eating ‘out’ i.e in a restaurant is largely seen as a luxury (not talking about McDonald’s). Think of gender as a non issue and that eating out is seen as acceptable. For me the problem is money. If you can afford it, then with respect, keep it to yourself. Otherwise boasting about fancy this and fancy that is only rubbing somebody’s nose in it. The high life should be in moderation. Think of the people that cannot get access to clean water and a morsel of food etc and just because someone can afford a steak (expensive option in a high-end restaurant does not make it OK, to live life to the full just because you can. Allah provides more to some but the responsibility is higher. There are more ways to help others than thinking buying food from ‘outside’ is your contribution to the lower class. Ever come out of a restaurant only to walk past a homeless person or literally children scavaging through rubbish to find food. Intrinsically guilt enters the mind. So my message is buy your ingredients, prepare it at home, buy packaged food or convenience food but eat simply. And if you choose to eat out, make it rare treat, always in moderation. You seem to advocate a certain lifestyle within your own moral code. In my English part of the world takeaway stores sell horrible but addictive cheap food. And restaurants sell quality food (mostly) but its expensive. But it doesn’t mean one should visit a restaurant weekly. Even if making a roast dinner at home is more expensive than buying it in a shop its debatable to whether it is necessary in terms of modesty for women to be making this into a habit, lifestyle choice. To be in a free

    1. I don’t mean to offend. Whilst the modern life is convenient, it is sad that we hold on to something new and don’t let go (modern technology). I remember reading about the callouses on the hands of women in the Prophet Muhammad’s time, due to hard work in order to provide and make food for their families. Eg the prophets daughters. It is a shame to think that Muslim families albeit men too think restaurants and prepared meals are the answer to their modern lifestyle. Heston Blumenthal is a well known experimental chef he is a so called expert and at the top of his game but would you pay for his food knowing that you can obtain good meal through other means?

      Its a attitude change that we need. Jazakallah for putting time into writing your blog.

  4. As for women toiling away in the kitchen, they need to realise there is more to life than those particular four walls. Men need to help out more or be less demanding and particular in the types of food to eat. Education is the key to getting rid of the above mentality and GENTLE reminders from one sister to another. Even if your time is valuable and you don’t want to waste it on them. Being a guide or trying your best to model the faith is the best way to get people on the right path. Don’t save face say it to their face, calmly and politely, educate them. At least it gets them thinking.

    However always taking the moral high ground leaves a sour taste so we can’t be too judgey. And there is a danger of hypocrisy or going to extreme. Can You share some positive message about modern women it might help. Thanks.

  5. Sadaf’s Space wrote:

    > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ Sadaf Farooqi posted: “بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـنِ الرَّحِيمِ Disclaimer: This post is like an ebook in length! Read it when you have the time, and perhaps a cuppa with you. Sitting at a gathering, I listen quietly to a sister launch into a heartfelt, sincere monologue ab”

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