x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Keeping up with the ethics of eating

Foods that are forbidden or are hard to come by, and consequently eaten occasionally as a treat, can, for some, have a uniquely powerful allure.

I owe my aunt Kathy an apology. Last December, when I made a brief stop to visit her in New York before flying home to Abu Dhabi, she approached me with a crate of enormous pink pomegranates. "Look how beautiful these are," she said. "Can you bring them to your parents?" I picked one up to admire its heft. "Sorry, Auntie," I apologised. But there was no way I was going to truck those beasts half way around the world just to watch them get confiscated.

The following evening on Emirati time, I unzipped my suitcase to unpack my things. There, tucked in amid dark socks like a nest of bloated garnets, were eight huge pomegranates. I couldn't believe that my sneaky aunt, who later received an e-mail from me letting her know what I thought of her ploy, had turned me into a fruit mule against my will.

One of my earliest memories is of the post-traumatic stress counselling my poor mother had to administer to my brother and I during a tearful car ride home after our Winnie the Pooh cartoons were withheld at Muscat International Airport in the late 1980s. Sadly, our beloved Betamax tapes met their demise at the airport that day. It left me shaken, scared of authority, and confused about what constitutes contraband items from one place to the next.

Frequent back and forth travel between the US and the UAE has primed me for coasting through customs without a hitch. When I travel from the UAE to the US, I load up on things that I love and that are unlikely to raise the eyebrows of US customs officials or the hackles of any of Boston Logan Airport's three food-sniffing dogs (Apache, Bison and Hoover). Until last year, I refused to travel with kishk (a ground cereal of cracked wheat and yogurt), one of the things I miss most when away from home, but I just wasn't brazen enough to try nestling the bag of powder into my checked luggage and hoping for the best. Logan Airport collects around 140 kilos of contraband foods a week, all of which have to be destroyed.

Foods that are forbidden or are hard to come by, and consequently eaten occasionally as a treat, can, for some, have a uniquely powerful allure. It's hard to keep up with which new foods are being deemed politically incorrect, bad for our health, bad for morale, unethical, destructive or unsustainable. Though some restrictions are misguided, others, such as the UN-mandated trade embargo on Caspian and Black Sea sturgeon caviar makes sense, given that the survival of the species is at stake. Is it backwards that our primary incentive for the species' survival is that we want to keep eating it?

When various American states began prohibiting the production and sale of foie gras in defence of the geese, I wondered how many members of Chicago's city council (which voted 49 to 1 in 2006 to outlaw the sale of foie gras) went home and ate a battery or factory-raised piece of chicken or beef for dinner.