JournalismPakistan.com March 01, 2013
You know a person’s character on the sports field, playing for money and by how he eats. Just put up a freebie banquet and watch the charge of the burp brigade. Usually circumspect, intelligent, well-mannered people go berserk as they push and pummel to get to the dishes. You'd think they'd never seen rice, curry, pasta and vegetables before. It's bad enough to waste it but to eat it coarsely is worse. Go to a mass party and folks stampede to get to the buffet like you don’t even see on a plane after it lands.
Then they proceed to stuff their faces from mountains of food piled on high, invariably taking more than they can eat. Since it is free, there is no respect for it. I once observed one bigwig Managing Director wrestling for a chicken leg he evidently found more delectable than the other pieces. The slave coffle behind him stopped its shuffling as chicken eater failed to spear his choice. He already had two handsome chunks on his plate but that was not enough. Those behind were now getting restless as overworked salivary glands made a massacre of good manners.
Our chum doesn't give a toss like the rest of his tribe. You have met him. He has now squirted gravy all over the tablecloth, taken the spoon out of the vegetables to aid the lifting of the chicken and it has slipped and sunk in the curry like the Titanic going down. By now there is much pushing and shoving and cutting in and this diner's plate tilts and spills rice on to carpet. No one cares.
They walk on it, squelching it into the warp and the chicken is now kidnapped by use of fingers. Disgusting?
Of course, it is. But, it's many of us who otherwise pontificate on lifestyle who behave so badly. What is it about food that brings out the worst in us, what with the grabbing and the stretching and the snatching like a wolf pack gone mad?
It's not just freeloading buffets that spark the savage. Take flying. We spend thousands on a ticket and when, on landing, asked how the flight was we say, the meal service was lousy oblique good. Isn't that incredible? A $3 plastic-coated glutamated assortment of goos becomes the stellar point of our journey. The biscuit at 30,000 feet is more important than the airline’s safety record.
We use food for bribes, for scoring socially and for making statements of intent. All of which is fine if we didn't lose all perspective in handling it. Little children scramble when a balloon bursts and sweets fall from it. They don't know it but for most of them it will never change. They will stay Pavlovian forever, salivating in reflex at the sight of food.
I cannot think of a nobler explanation for this obsession except that it must be a natural throwback to a hiccup in our evolution when we tore raw meat and killed anyone who took our share. Not much difference really. Thousands of years later we are still able to claw and scrabble for a chicken leg like it was the last one ever.
The process of consuming it is even more depressing. We let it dribble, we overload our mouths, we stain sofas, dirty up carpets, leave soiled tissues and napkins every which way at public venues like sports matches and weddings and receptions, and we do all this truly believing that we are a gracious, courteous lot. Which is why we are so offended if anyone suggests even mildly that we can be crude with our calories. I saw one lady cram three oranges and four apples into her paper-bag at an official dinner. She stole three bucks worth of freebie fruit after buying a $1,000 VIP ticket. It is said that you are what you eat. I believe you are also how you eat. Some of us do that with a lot of noise and little finesse.
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and a former Editor of Khaleej Times, Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
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