The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - |SEVEN DAYS | EATING OUT - AOIFE McEL­WAIN


For some­thing so es­sen­tial to us, many of us hu­mans have a com­plex and com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with food. From the fate­ful bite of the for­bid­den fruit in the Gar­den of Eden to the pro­hi­bi­tion of al­co­hol in the US in the early 1920s, hu­mans, by na­ture, tend to be drawn to what­ever is out of our reach.

Misog­y­nis­tic un­der­tones aside, the story of Eve and the ap­ple is drip­ping in guilt and re­gret – it’s a tale any­one who’s ever bro­ken an un­re­al­is­tic diet can re­late to.

Re­li­gions can be fiercely di­dac­tic when it comes to their fol­low­ers’ di­ets. Bud­dhism preaches veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and ve­g­an­ism, and Hin­dus don’t eat beef. Pork is not deemed to be kosher in Ju­daism, and it is also haram, or for­bid­den, for Mus­lims.

I grew up in Saudi Ara­bia in the 1980s and 1990s, where my par­ents were teachers for nearly 20 years. We lived on a com­pound in a very multicultural so­ci­ety, yet cer­tain of the strict Saudi rules were en­forced within the walls of the com­pound. Women couldn’t drive, and ba­con, or in­deed any pork prod­uct, was com­pletely haram.

There were ru­mours that pork could be found be­hind the gated walls of the Amer­i­can Em­bassy but my abid­ing mem­ory of cooked break­fasts as a child is of beef sausages and beef “ba­con”.

When we flew home to Ire­land in the sum­mers, we had a stop-over at Lon­don Heathrow. We looked for­ward im­mensely to the break­fasts on Aer Lin­gus on the Lon­don to Dublin route, as it was of­ten the first time in a year we had eaten a pork sausage.

There’s a par­tic­u­lar Christ­mas spent in Saudi that stands out. It was the year we had ham. Our great fam­ily friend, Mary, who was ad­ven­tur­ous and fear­less, had smug­gled this pre­cious piece of meat into the coun­try in her bra to con­ceal it from the cus­toms of­fi­cers. The of­fi­cers would check our suit­cases for haram con­tra­band when we landed in the coun­try, but Mary made it in with the ham and Christ­mas never tasted so good.

Peo­ple have their own rea­sons for eat­ing par­tic­u­lar foods. I would never force shell­fish on any­one, for ex­am­ple. That’s how a lot of food com­plexes de­velop. Be­ing force-fed some­thing against your will won’t cre­ate pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tions with that par­tic­u­lar in­gre­di­ent.

On the other hand, I won­der about the blan­ket ban on cer­tain foods. There’s a the­ory that Ir­ish peo­ple went off fish after the Catholic Church forced us to eat it on Friday.

Kids who are for­bid­den from eat­ing sweets at home of­ten go on a com­plete sugar ben­der when out of sight of their par­ent/sweet war­den.

There are valid rea­sons for ban­ning foods, of course, and some­times they are for­bid­den for sound health rea­sons.


A Guardian ar­ti­cle from a few years back ( dan­ger­ous­chem­i­cals) dis­tilled a few chem­i­cal com­pounds that are pre­sent in mod­ern food that sound scary as hell. But there are other bans in force around the world that feel a lit­tle too over-pro­tec­tive, such as the Kinder Egg ban in the US, out­lawed be­cause of the po­ten­tial for chil­dren to choke on the lit­tle toy found within the hol­low cho­co­late eggs.

There are also times when food pro­duc­ers fight back against gov­ern­ment bod­ies’ at­tempts to over-reg­u­late. In 2011, the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment wanted to ban the sale of raw, un­pas­teurised drink­ing milk be­cause of the po­ten­tially harm­ful bac­te­ria that can be found in it. It had been banned in Ire­land up un­til 2006 but that ban was lifted be­cause of a change in EU law, and the Food Safety Author­ity of Ire­land (FSAI) in par­tic­u­lar wanted the ban re­in­stated.

Pro­po­nents of the health ben­e­fits of raw milk, in­clud­ing Sheri­dan’s Cheese­mon­gers, led a strong cam­paign protest­ing this through Raw Milk Ire­land (rawmilkire­ In 2015, it was an­nounced that in­stead of an all-out ban, the gov­ern­ment would work closely with Raw Milk Ire­land to reg­u­late the pro­duc­tion and sale of raw drink­ing milk. This was wel­comed by those in­volved in the cam­paign and those of us who are fans of raw milk.

There is an ur­ban myth about that 1980s sta­ple, red lemon­ade. I’ve of­ten heard it said that this sticky red min­eral is banned in all other Euro­pean coun­tries and I’ve even passed on that story my­self, be­liev­ing it to be true. The Daily Edge re­vealed last year that this was in fact a red-tinged ru­mour – a spokesper­son from TK con­firmed there wasn’t a grain of truth in it.

Still, I kind of like the idea of red lemon­ade be­ing a con­tra­band item that only us folks in Ire­land have the priv­i­lege of con­sum­ing. It gives it an edge which, when paired with the sweet taste of nos­tal­gia, makes red lemon­ade feel like a pretty spe­cial min­eral and ar­guably the best ac­com­pa­ni­ment for a crisp sand­wich.

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