Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ramadan, Junk Food and Fungus Burgers

Ramadan is supposed to be the month of not only fasting but remembering those less fortunate who are not able to eat or drink clean water daily. A time for striving to be a better Muslim and person, acting modest in every way (including eating). This should definitely not be the month to indulge in fast food. Many locals and Muslim expats however have the habit of over-eating and splurging on food among other things during this month. It's like a month long pig-out fest for some.
People often opt to eat their iftar, the meal which is eaten after breaking the fast, out at restaurants for a change. Restaurants try to attract hungry customers by offering lavish iftar buffets. Fast food chains are in the game too by offering their own "Ramadan Specials". People will be out until the early hours in search of a quick meal to eat at sohoor just before the Fajr prayer is called around 4 am. There are long queues at McDonald's, Burger King, Herfy's and other fast food joints during this time.

Here is the KFC version of iftar:
The amount of fast food chains available in the Kingdom might come as a surprise to many first time visitors or to those unfamiliar with Saudi-Arabia. The majority of the most popular American chains have branches in Riyadh and Jeddah and there's junk food available at every corner. New burger joints are sprouting around Riyadh like mushrooms after rain. American diners are among the most popular restaurants in town and becoming very common. So are heart diseases, diabetes and obesity.

The popularity of fast food in the Kingdom is very unfortunate. Combined with a very sedentary and lazy lifestyle (Saudi-Arabia was recently found to be the world's third most lazy country) the effects on the public health are enormous.

There seems to be a complete lack of  health awareness and education in Saudi-Arabia. Very obese kids can be seen indulging in french fries and burgers and sipping on caffeinated drinks. Sometimes I wonder what is the future like for these kids who have been spoiled by food and most likely by maids as well. They sit with their iPad's and computers all day never lifting a finger let lone doing some physical exercise. They are like ticking time bombs.

I find it best to avoid giving my daughter fast food at all costs. Especially those fries. All those saturated fats, bad carbs and possible carcinogens are best left alone. On the very rare occasion we do go eat fast food I always try to pick out the more healthy options, if you can really even call them such! In Finland kids meals actually contain baby carrots and milk instead of fries and Coke. One fast food chain I never went to in Saudi is Hardee's. Thank God I never ate there.

Check out their "Ramadan special" the "Fungus Burger" found inside a kiddie meal the other day:
This pic was posted in a Facebook group today. Apparently a woman in Jeddah had ordered a kids meal which was delivered to her house in the early hours of sohoor time. Yes, fast food chains DELIVER to the door in Saudi-Arabia. The poor kid ate half of the rotten burger before the parents noticed the "extra flavoring". According to her Facebook, thank God the child did not suffer any food poisoning but nevertheless this is totally unacceptable and disgusting.

The woman and some of her friends had tried to post this image on the Hardee's Saudi-Arabia FB page which resulted in them being blocked from the page. The manager had offered them a new meal to compensate the damage. Ermm, no thanks buddy.

This is such a gross violation it should be reported to the health authorities so they can go and check the branch and take action against them. Junk food is already unhealthy enough!

I find this image at the same time nauseating but not at all surprising. The standard of hygiene that is practiced by some of these workers here in Saudi is below appalling. Staff at fast food places don't receive proper hygiene training and I've hardly ever seen them wear gloves or other protective clothing. I wonder how many wash their hands after going to the toilet?

This reminds me of a BAAK branch in the D.Q Kindy plaza, which had no running water in the entire restaurant at one point. Yes, you read correctly, no running water. I guess that answers the previous question and also why my friends got a severe food poisoning after eating there.

Another recent incident I recall was with Chili's here in Riyadh. It was shut down for a while after the authorities found oh just a few TONS of expired meat and cheese in their kitchen. Chili's is now open again and remains one of the most popular restaurants in Riyadh.

A while back there was a video circulating of a McDonald's restaurant in Medinah Saudi-Arabia that claimed to show lettuce being washed in the washing machine in the backroom. It was never totally clear if the video was a staged fabrication or not. After the incident the McDonald's Arabia page issued a statement saying the video was fabricated and that they don't handle lettuce in such a way in their restaurants. They even said they have an "Open Door" program:

“McDonald’s prides itself on its transparency. With our Open Door Program, we open our doors and welcome you to tour our kitchen to take a close look at the quality standards of our products and procedures. This is an open invitation for those interested in learning more about our kitchen at any point in time,” 

I was immediately interested and contacted them by email as requested to book an appointment. But why by appointment only, and why only certain locations? I thought they had nothing to hide? Photography was mentioned to be strictly forbidden. I still wanted to check it out. I waited a week for a reply then emailed them again. In total I sent four emails requesting for the Open Door tour without ever receiving a response. I guess they thought issuing the statement was enough and that nobody would actually be interested or bothered to come and look.
So what exactly goes on in the kitchen's of Saudi-Arabia's fast food joints? It remains a mystery.
Will you take the risk?


45 comments:

Anonymous said...

You have such a pretty pink design on your abaya and love the handbag!!

Fruitful Fusion said...

Excellent post! Thanks for sharing this!

Alice said...

I loathe fast food restaurants and American soda drinks. It's food for low class people ( less educated, less health aware, with less income). It's funny how many people  here take eating in KFC, McDonalds, Hardees etc as some kind of "prestigious, fashionable, cool" places to eat *a vomiting smiley*
The popularity of fast food in the Kingdom is very unfortunate. Combined with a very sedentary and lazy lifestyle (Saudi-Arabia was recently found to be the world's third most lazy country) the effects on the public health are enormous.
The above quote is very true for the UAE as well.  It's frustrating to see so much advertizing and so many fast food restaurants around. We regularly get menu leaflets  from this type of restaurants  thrown into our yard. I'm sad to see such aggressive marketing of fast food here, it's bad for health, I wish  it was restricted like tobacco.  They often write in the newspapers about high rates of obesity in children and adults, diabetes, fertility problems in women due to bad nutrition and sedentary lifestyle.

mominsanity said...

Ew, that's gross. On top of the complete lack of nutritional whatever that a fried anything has, there is mold on it too. I tend to avoid that garbage here in the States as well. Fresh veggies and apples etc. from the local farmers' markets when possible and the grocery store when not. I tend to be vegetarian for myself bt the kids eat meat, so we do have meat in the home bt not fried...

Anonymous said...

is that you in the last picture?

Laylah said...

Thanks but that's not me :)

Laylah said...

It's my friend that likes to pose for my silly pics :)

Laylah said...

Thank you!

Laylah said...

Alice-that's very true that in GCC fast food chains are not seen as places for the "lower class people" to eat. I guess everything that comes from america is so cool!
Same here, they have all sorts of promotions and they target especially the children, which is of course clever of them because what they learn young..

Laylah said...

Yup, mold indeed. And mold takes a while to form like that, this stuff is OLD!!

Hope said...

It's funny how in the US's McDonalds drive thru you only see the construction workers, laborers and low incomed families, whereas Saudis McDonald's drive thru have all the Mercedes, top cars, drivers picking up food for their masters .. It's a focal point for beggars, they knew where the rich people eat.

Anonymous said...

Laylah,

Agree with what you said about America here. I have heard Shaikh Hamza Yusuf mentioned it in one of his lectures, a young Algerian he met while he was in Algeria was in awe of him being from America and the man said, Ana maridh, Amrika shifaa' or أنا مريض، أمريكا شفاء. Although Algeria is Africa, I suppose a large chunk of the younger generation in the Middle East share similar point of view about America equates cool, thus fast-food originating from America is cool too. Here in Malaysia I would say the eating culture is more or less the same with Saudi in terms of frequent visits to fast food joints. Franchised fast-food restaurants are everywhere, silently contributing to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Non-communicable disease is an epidemic and ischemic heart disease tops of the list. I personally do not dislike fastfood, but I do try to limit the intake to once in every three months or so.

Sireh

Anonymous said...

This was very innformative, thanks. I too, tend to avoid fast food joints here in the states and while traveling abroad. Junk is junk, no matter where you go.

Another observation, is that people from the Middle east don't eat much in the way of vegetables. My husband and I were just talking about that before iftar. I don't share in the iftat at the masjid for that simple reason. I crave for green veggies. I can't take eating all those carbs (rice, pasta, potaoes, etc) and meat, meat, meat.

Thanks for sharing

Bourne69 said...

Thankx for this article layla too bad we can't sue fast food chains here :(

Bourne69 said...

Too Bad we can't sue fast food chains here :(

Laylah said...

I guess they have the same level of health awareness and education then :)

Laylah said...

There are lots of arabic dishes that contain veggies but I'm afraid the plain chicken and rice option is more common nowadays.I would say they don't eat lots of salads, if you don't count tabbouleh.

Laylah said...

Yes too bad. But that's even more worrisome because they know this and that they can get away with anything and still operate! Look at Chili's, it's unbelievable they opened up again and people would still queue for an hour just to get in there to eat that crap.

Anonymous said...

Where did you get that first picture? It is too funny. It looks like a cartoon.

Annie

Geoff said...

"low class people"? Wow Alice, how truly enlightened of you! Fast food might be a scourge on the world, and the marketing strategies they employ are despicable as well, but the fact that you believe there are "low class people" and that you obviously aren't one of them speaks volumes about the things wrong humanity in general. Things wrong that go far beyond "fast food" and "American Soda drinks".

Anonymous said...

I don't know what part of U.S you live in but even the 'high class' families often are seen taking their kids to Mc Ds. I live in a posh area and it is very common to see well educated, well earning people going there for food. And sorry but implying that only construction workers, laborers, and low incomed families eat at Mc D's is a derogatory comment to make.. no need to look down at people :)

Anonymous said...

Most of Saudi dishes are fatty. Even those prepared in house. Many Saudi cook with Gee (semen, melted butter) or animal fat. Saudis eat few vegetables and fruits. I am surprised Saudis like eating in restaurants or buying their meals ready-made. I remember when One day my neighbour came home while I served the meal. She asked me if somebody was sick because there were only vegetable dishes, whole bread and the dessert was a home-made fruit salad with orange juice (not syrup). In the supermarket you can glance at the shopping cart of a Saudi woman and you notice a lack of vegetables and fruit. They have big families. Here it’s the paradise of junk food, chips and industrial drinks.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIxyoZ0fP4k

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCTS76kZo8M&feature=relmfu

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this!! :) i was dishearten after this incident.. especially when hardees Facebook group kept deleting my n my friends posts and disabling us from commenting... and then when i called the branch manager he said "my first concern is your 4 years old Daughter.. thank god she is fine and then he said he will send me another meal to test for free"!!!! it pissed me off!!! now we are getting calls from Dubai office and some head of the western region in Saudi... My husband was too busy to talk to them but lets see.. my husband plans to call the health ministry but we cant speak in Arabic... Lets see...

Anonymous said...

Hello Laylah,

I normally love your post but I did take offense to people saying only lower class people tend to eat fast food. I beg to differ I have travel to many countries from being in the US Airforce and I find all walks of people eating fast food. I know plenty of people that are not rich that eat very well (veggies, fruits etc). I don't think a persons class has anything to do with how they eat. I think it has to do with fast food being readily available and convient. I don't eat fast food here in the states it's just not healthy and tends to make me sick so I stay away from it. I have seen plenty of rich people eating fast food here in the states.

Teresa

Laylah said...

The first pic I found also circulating in fb.

Laylah said...

Uhhh, what? they cook with semen?? I guess I'll have to watch out from now on when eating at Saudi homes :)
On a more serious note I know families that practically live on junk food, but on the other hand there are many families that do use lots of fruits and veggies.

Anonymous said...

in North Africa fast-foods,industrial drinks are just too expensive (thanks god) so most of people don't eat junk food or drink that unhealthy drinks. and I am surprised that in the two holly mosques country people eat at fast foods in Ramanda for iftar and sohour.

Laylah said...

No problem, this was such a serious incident I felt compelled to write about it! I have posted the link to this post twice on their fb page but it soon got deleted. I hope many had the chance to see it and word spreads. it would do people good to eat something healthier in any case!
The amount of fungus on that burger is just disturbing, I mean before mold becomes visible it can take weeks, and for it to spread like that could take MONTHS!!
I hope your daughter if fine and you get some other compensation for this. Please do contact the health ministry!

Laylah said...

Hi Teresa! I'm sure most people have had fast food at some point in their lives, rich people in US and elsewhere do take their kids sometimes too..I guess it's something kids know to ask for! Maybe it was meant by the commenter that lower income families tend to eat there more often. I have heard and read this on numerous occasions and there are studies to prove it, so it's not that far fetched idea really.

ربة منزل said...

LOL! I was shocked too although I understood what he/she meant. I think the word is ghee and it is pronounced more like "samin".

ربة منزل said...

I stopped eating fast food a few years ago when I read "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. I then watched the movie "Super Size me" and have been trying to convince my family to stop eating burgers and fries. They switched to shawarma and fries and non-alcoholic beer. I guess I have to get the movie for them.
I have also seen "Food,Inc" and have switched to organic food which is triple the price. It is shocking that a nation like the US would see healthy food and produce a privilege not many can afford. There are many hospitals here and many drugstores that sell vitamins, yet people keep getting sick and fat and the solution seems to always be more hospitals.

Anonymous said...

Laylah,

I've been meaning to ask, with you being a new muslim and all, how have your fasting experience been so far? I do hope you will share some of your experiences.

Sireh

Bourne69 said...

Thats exactly my point i seen the local restaurant chains bribe the health officials aka baladiya whenever they come to look around. A restaurant waiter assured me that the food served in local restaurants is NEVER clean.

Laylah said...

I've seen that movie too, pretty shocking..but people who have seen it still continue to eat fast food, go figure!
I wish healthy organic food was available in Saudi and the stuff they do have here is ridiculously expensive and mostly imported.

When I'm in Finland I feel like I'm in health food heaven, almost all products have healthy or organic options nowadays and they're not overly expensive. Finns are extremely health conscious when it comes to food but the fats food trend is picking up there as well.

Laylah said...

Sireh thanks for asking, it's been going ok, considering I'm heavily pregnant and it's 50C outside..I'm not able to fast all days though, since I don't want to take any risks with jeopardizing the baby's health by getting too dehydrated.

Laylah said...

haha good to know, semen does seem a bit shocking to use for cooking!

Anonymous said...

yes it's ghee : samen or samna ( melted butter )

http://www.google.fr/search?q=ghee&hl=fr&prmd=imvnsae&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=E7YhUL63OeWm4gST04GADQ&sqi=2&ved=0CGQQsAQ&biw=1920&bih=889

Anonymous said...

oh! now I understand what is "semen" in english. I am blushing with shame!

and don't buy restaurant's made kabsah, they use animal grease to cook rice because it's cheaper. this dish can be cooked at home that isn't so difficult.

and to please kids we can make our own hamburgers with whole bread without sauce and some potatoes in the oven with few olive oil you can turn every dish healthy if you want, and if you like cooking.
it's also necessary to move, the easy way is to walk and not have a maid every day. we can have a maid one day every week for ironing ( I hate it)and heavy household like spring cleaning.

we must sleep all the night and wake up during the day the and that's very difficult during ramadan? I am suffering with this it's very disturbing. I try but I fail

Laylah said...

Don't worry it was just a funny typo :) Life is all about choices, we can make fast food healthy by cooking it ourselves and not let the maids do every single chore for us!

Jean said...

Scary about fast food/junk food adaptation so readily in UAE and SA. Of course, things in North America aren't better. Only a minority of people are engaged in vigorous exercise daily combined with healthy diet. (Despite the plethora of media images and sport charity runs/bike rides).

Stick to your path of preparing fun, healthy food for your children and may they know and love 1-2 sports for life. They will thank you in a few ..decades. :)

Sandy Shaw said...

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Nikki said...

Thank you, Geoff! Alice wouldn't dare eat with the peasants! ;)

Nikki said...

And again, thank you anonymous! (I previously thanked Geoff). While I am no advocate of fast food and rarely eat it (mainly because it is not halal in America)I cannot believe the comments judging people who eat at fast food restaurants as though they can all be lumped by profession and/or socioeconomic status. I don't know what part of the U.S. these commentators are in but I've lived in three different states, small, medium, and large towns and fast food has never been "taboo" in any of them.

Coolred38 said...

Fast food is far more expensive in the states then the middle east. My experience in both countries tells me that Arabs eat fast food far more often than Americans...who still view it as treat or a quick meal when time is short. I've known Bahrainis that eat it everyday...some more than once. I have yet to meet an American family that does..though I'm sure they exist.

Meowchies Hideout said...

My curiosity to know more about Ramadan brought me here. Thanks for sharing and wish you a blessed year :) I've also compiled some nice Ramadan greetings =)