Lihle Tshabalala
Lihle Tshabalala

Food for thought

So there are certain things that we natives have learned from the coming of the civilised. Well, I will not say learned, but rather cultivated to certain systems. This cultivation is particularly rife when it comes to our food. Why do you think people have subjected themselves to the consumption of raw fish eggs and call it caviar?

And then of course there is the manner in which all these are consumed, the deportments, the table manners. Anyway we have been “cultivated” and have caught on to the “how to” of civilised eating.

For instance I explicitly refuse to eat using a fork and knife together because, first of all, I learned the skill later on in life (I must have been sixteen years old) and secondly it’s downright complicated. I mean how do you expect me to enjoy my meal and actually be full when my brain is cracking open thinking about ways to manoeuvre these tools? Hhai, suka!

And then there are the easy-to-adhere-to rules of the game, like not putting your elbows on the table when eating, which is rather questionable seeing as the art of “fork and knife” often requires the elbows on the table (how laborious). Anyway, table manners, as these set of policies have been dubbed, are relative as I have discovered.

The thing is that this civilisation is only applicable when it suits the so-called civilised. I remember my first introduction to the life of those who claim responsibility for civilisation, abelungu, I learnt a table-manner lesson that I actually practise religiously — “never comment on people’s food, be it the portions, colour, smell or anything”. Good lesson indeed, and more so because it bordered on one other great lesson my mother taught me — “always remember that people are not the same, so never say something that will make someone feel uncomfortable about being different”.

Lovely lessons those two I tell you, especially for all those who have commented on my food. But more particularly for work colleagues who insist on engaging on this offensive tendency.

You see this week alone, I have twice been a victim of this food commentary sin. First by a colleague whose ancestors are co-founders of civilisation, a white colleague. It doesn’t matter that I was, at the time, eating a burger with a bun the size of the head of a fully-developed infant. He had no right to call it nasty, IMAGINE! Nasty?! My food! Yho!

First I reminded him that it was un-kosher to put his face and business right into my plate and that it was even worse because he was white. I must say, I was not offended by his action, I was too shocked to be offended, he is white for crying in a bucket, he should know better.

Then there was my colleague who might have not known better, but who sure as hell is civilised enough to establish and label one of my favourite South African hip-hop artists “ghetto” because he raps in tsotsi taal (that requires a whole new blog).

My dear colleague walked in on me and my exotic hotdog. “Eew Thembe, potatoes with mayonnaise on bread?!” exclaimed the tall, slender, lettuce-munching colleague with her face screwed as though she were me on the sight of Bakers Eet-Sum-Mor biscuits (now that is eew). That there was the moment that confirmed a thought I’ve had for many years. “Civilised” people are not so civilised. I mean how dare you even think you have the right to say anything about my hotdog, which is just sitting there ready for me to eat, yeh? Nogal in a kitchen packed with other colleagues? (OK there were two other people.)

I mean my ex-boss gave me a certificate for my enduring love for potato chips but I never, not once heard him squeak anything out about the size of my chip chows, although he should have because those things were huge and they are the reason I turned out like this … (shhhh, we are not talking about weight, we are talking about food).

Unless I misheard or got lost in translation, I explicitly remember being schooled about the ritual impurity of uttering even a word about other people’s food. I think I can take a sporadic “that looks like a healthy snack” or something of that nature.

If I hear another being belonging to the civilised world saying anything about somebody’s food in my presence I will demand there be a revolution — drop all forks and knives and return to the days of dipping the phalanges into food.

I do think that even the most unsophisticated bundu-ites know better than to say something about the colour of the ostrich egg on their neighbour’s wooden plate. What am I saying? You dare ask, I am saying be consistent.