Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Smelly Lunch

There is rarely a pairing of words so irksome than the combination of "Smelly" and "Lunch" together in a sentence.

Smelly lunch. Dropped into a statement, like a command, edict, rulebook, guideline is so insulting that I would prefer, even now to just use its acronym for today, SL, rather than write it out ever again. Putting that in an e-mail, an office memo, the posted sheet taped neatly to the office refrigerator means you're sure to get a reaction.

And for me, my reaction is that my blood boils.

Food choice is as essential to a person's identity as skin and hair. Its where you're from. "SL" implies you don't even exist as a separate and unique entity, from a place, a culture, a community. When asked to keep your "SL" out of nose-shot from your office mates, you're being told, indirectly, how you should be "acceptable" for everyone else. Its as bad as saying your eyes should be round, not almond-shaped. Your skin more fair. Your nose less flat. The constant, tired, incessant demand for homogeneity of one's thoughts and culture.

In effect its saying, "Why can't you be WHITE?"

So you can imagine my reaction when my sister told me she got one of "those" emails from a collegue referencing the SL in a list of rules defining what is "Office Etiquette" for her workplace.

"How could I say I was insulted in a way that wouldn't hurt his feelings?" she asked.

"Why would you care about his feelings?" I responded.

Let me go over there and show him a smelly lunch.

But my sister is a far more reasonable person than I am. It is her workplace, after all, and I'm not there to experience the consequences of her decision on how to react. This is all her decision. However, in case she may be lurking today, I offer the following thoughts, serious and ridiculous, to use in making her stand:

  1. The nose is not a gated community. It lives in a big wide wonderful world full of smells that alarm, delight, attract. Smells from all over the planet. Trying to contain or control what smells you encounter is trying to stop the ocean from crashing onto the beach.
  2. Unless you plan to stay rooted to one spot and not plan to go anywhere ever again, they should get their noses used to thirty minutes or so of smells that will challenge their habitual senses. They might learn something important about the people they work with. Where they're from, for example.
  3. Food allergies are an exception (peanuts or strawberries or any food creating a lethal toxic reaction).

The smell of a durian, most often described as a cross between ripe honey and a rotting corpse, is common to and policed by most citizens in Southeast Asia. Those from the culture where its grown and eaten set up rules of containment for its consumption. That's self-policing. Would I want to be in the same room as someone eating a durian? Probably not. But I would probably take my lunch and nose elsewhere, and not make a rule about whether or not they bring it to work. Am I getting clearer here?

To my sister, I hope you're getting my drift. I know you'll work your way through this with aplomb. To that person who wrote that ridiculous "Office Etiquette" memo with the offending SL rule in it, I say "Up yours" with an upraised fork, knife, chopstick, spoon, bowl, ladle, tortilla, banana leaf, fufu dollop or whatever utensil chosen by whoever it is whose lunch is deemed too offensive to your delicate sensibilities. Or better yet, I say it with the upraised eating utensil so dear to my own people in the motherland.

We use our fingers.


Nikko said...

Foober, you're awesome. I'm recommending this blog to my cooking friends and anyone (everyone) who loves your food.

Auntie Fi said...

why thank you, Nikko. Pass the word to your friends. And PLEASE get them to share recipes with me, or exchange ideas. That's what this is for.