Wednesday, June 6th, 2012
Fast Food Showdown: A Singaporean Reflection
Pea eating chicken rice in Singapore- incultureparent.com
When we started looking into moving to Southeast Asia, specifically Singapore, we were lucky enough to have friends of friends we could talk to about what to expect. My approach to mining these valuable resources made mountaintop removal look gentle. I will be forever grateful for the long email exchanges and Skype phone calls various folks endured, where conversations were more akin to military interrogations.
Towards the end of one of our marathon calls, I was really surprised by something a mama friend told me. She said that if given the choice between a Saturday treat of McDonalds or chicken rice—a Singaporean staple from the hawker stands, their version of fast food that is NOTHING like fast food as we know it—the kids would choose chicken rice every time. I had trouble believing this on a number of levels.
First off, I couldn’t believe this woman was admitting to feeding her children McDonalds. You have to understand that I had been living in the Brooklyn breeding grounds of Park Slope and its surroundings, where feeding your children fast food was akin to child abuse. It was only tolerated if the parents were deemed poor, because they were considered abused by the system, having not been indoctrinated—sorry, I mean educated—that buying organic vegetables with inedible stalks or leaves and a dapple of dirt was the only acceptable form. My mind raced to rationalize her statement.
Well, she was British, a nation known for drinking copiously during the working day. This was reinforced by the memory that the only time I ever ate McDonald’s on what could be deemed a regular basis was when I lived in London, usually at the end of a drunken night or the next morning with a severe hangover. Ok, this could make sense. She most definitely must not have seen the foodie-mentary “Supersize Me”.
The second thought I had was that this couldn’t possibly be true. What sort of kids could resist the call of McDonalds? We had all been warned: once one of those salty, fat-laden crispy fries crossed the lips of your child, you would be doomed to the perpetual whine and wear of your children persecuting you for happy meals ’til the industrial cows break out of the CAFO. The virginal and pure child’s palate will be soiled forever. I didn’t worry too much about the veracity of this statement since I was sure I would never succumb to feeding my toddler such atrocities. After all, my little girl had been raised on fresh, organic, co-op produce marred with the odd guilty pleasure of a local slice (pizza for you non-New Yorkers) or a bag of Pirate’s Booty.
With hindsight and a large serving of booze, I laugh and tell myself who the hell was I kidding?
A few months later, we moved to Singapore and shortly after our arrival, we were blessed with our second child. We were also extremely fortunate to have another addition to our family, a wonderful helper from the Philippines for whom McDonalds and KFC poppers were a divine treat to which one aspires. Case in point: hunger laughs in the face of additives and transfat. My approach to feeding my kid, or at least letting others feed her, took a substantial step towards turning my formerly known rules into guidelines. In fact everyone’s meals radically changed.
Having previously been spoiled with shopping at a small fresh market where the origin of all the produce and meat was known and where organic food was highly affordable, I had developed quite a culinary snobbishness all in the name of good health and animal husbandry of course! Yet once we arrived in Singapore, I allowed my helper to treat my kids to KFC and McDonalds more than I cared to admit to—in reality I was turning a blind eye as I quickly figured out this was happening on their adventures out and about. I tried once to buy an organic chicken but at USD $40 for a very skinny bird, it just wasn’t something I could afford. Even organic vegetables were prohibitively costly.
We began to regularly purchase all manners of dishes from the local hawkers. I avoided thinking about the additives and the sources of food. My husband, Jav, and I tried to embrace the local culture and explore as many dishes as possible, spices permitting. On our very first outing, we ordered Pacifique a plate of chicken rice. This dish among others always comes with a side of broth. She had become a big fan of soup thanks to our helper and she tore into her plate of food and drank all the broth down to the last drop. There was no turning back.
Despite experiencing all that is evil and bizarrely delicious—well, not so much delicious as addictive—in a McDonald’s Happy Meal, P always opted for chicken rice. In fact, if asked what she would like to eat, 99% of the time, she will ask for chicken rice, which is proving rather challenging now that we have moved to Bangkok. The only time she has ever requested McDonald’s is when we’ve walked by and then all she is actually after is one of their ice creams and nothing to do with the Golden Arches. Whole foods: 1, Processed foods: 0.
© 2012, Cordelia Newlin de Rojas. All rights reserved.
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