I remember the first time I had beef, I was 6 in a supermarket. I lived in Riyadh as a kid and the large supermarkets always had yummy food samples. I would hold my dad’s hand and tell him that we had to catch every ‘food sample-man’. My dad, a food lover like me, would happily agree. Also because with me, a child, he could conceal his excitement.
Getting back to the first time I had beef, it was a Thursday evening at a supermarket, where I saw a Al- Kabeer stall. I screamed with excitement. “Baba, we have to go there, Al Kabeer has the best chicken nuggets, comeee.”
The next minute we were at the Al Kabeer stall, there were nuggets, samosas and burgers. My dad handed me a chicken nugget and mutton samosa, ate some himself and said, “done!”. What happened to the burgers I thought?
“Why not that burger?” I asked, slightly confused. “Uh, that is beef, you want to try it?”. Obviously! I thought and nodded. We never made beef at home because apparently we weren’t supposed to. He smiled and offered it to me and said “It is different. You’ve never had it, but if you like it, let me know, OK?” I loved it! It was yum. “Let’s buy it? Please?” I asked him. “Let’s not do that, because it is kind of not OK, Aai won’t be pleased. But if you really like it, I will buy it for you outside, OK? he said. My dad was my hero and he always kept his word, so I didn’t argue with him.
When my mom got to know, she looked at my dad and said “dharmabhrast” – which basically means you’ve gone against your faith. She then looked at me and said, “anyway, it is your choice. Every human being has the right to make his/her choices. But use your brain when you do” she said. I nodded, not sure what was that all about.
As I grew older, my parents kept their word, I was allowed to make my own choices. Some they didn’t get, some they were proud of. Whether it was boys, food, education or alcohol. There were some choices that didn’t work too well. There were heartbreak nights and mad hangover mornings. Sometimes there were hugs to console me while I cried my eyes out, sometimes there were dialogues like, “drinking like a fish will only make you feel this way.”
When I look back today, these experiences and freedom helped me become a more respectful person. The team I work in today, my colleagues are vegetarian, Jain, vegan and non-vegetarians. The lunch table is quite exciting. There are a lot of questions about the ingredients, the dishes, the rules. It works out best for me because I eat almost everything.
In the past six months, the hardcore non vegetarian I am, I have tried everything, Jain food, vegan food, vegetarian food and an alcohol free meal. There is nothing that is less impressive than the other. Lunch at work is with a bunch of people who have made individual choices about food – eating without judgement – is great. It makes me appreciate and respect my colleagues more – something which makes work meaningful.
The past few weeks, where most of us talk about what are the right or wrong food choices. I can’t help but think of my parents and appreciate how they let me make my own choices, which only helped me respect another’s.