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From the Street Cart All the Way Up to the Exquisite Dining Table…

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Submitted By hebafadel
Words 3062
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From the Street Cart all the way up to the exquisite Dining Table…
Based on the infamous common saying of “You are what you eat”; some may argue that they do not possess the freedom of choice in what they choose to eat on a daily basis throughout their life due to the external factors that affect their decision making. With limited income and resources, many people from the lower social backgrounds tend to have a restricted culinary menu of which they can opt to eat from. Investigating the other end of the scale of where the wealthier level of the social ladder are looked at closely; you will find the inverse of this trend where the range of eating preferences are limitless and not bound by any spending power restrictions, thus giving them the liberty to indulge in an abundance of edible choices.
I am thoroughly interested in studying the eating habits of the wealthy and the un-wealthy classes in Egypt. My objective behind this research is to gain an understanding of the differences in terms of eating behavior according to their social background. My aim was to identify their likes, dislikes, thoughts, perceptions and motivations behind certain choices. By studying those factors closely, the motives behind consumption of different classes based on their economic circumstances were revealed.
The reason behind this study was to yield significantly valuable information and insight into the eating habits of the rich and poor segments in Egypt. By doing this, I was able to understand and connect how the food industries in Egypt focus their marketing efforts on different target audiences, and how people tend to make certain decisions based on their income. From this, I was able to identify food decision-making changes that are resulting from social mobility (moving up the social ladder in society). In conclusion, my intention was to identify how substantial the size of the social gap is with regards to the topic of eating habits, behaviors and motives.
The facts from this study have been drawn from numerous semi-structured interviews with a pre-set of questions that have been conducted with a sample of five candidates mixed from both social class groups; the wealthy and the un-wealthy. These two groups are identified based on a maximum 1000LE income per month for the un-wealthy class, and a minimum of 20,000LE income per month for the wealthy class. The interviews were undertaken in a casual mannerism through holding an unstructured conversation with some people from my own network and some who were approached randomly on my mission to investigate this phenomenon. I attempted to delve deep into their personalities to identify their past and present experiences in dealing with food psychologically and economically, hence coming up with conclusions to support my study.
Social gaps can often be found gathered in one place with the two ends of the scale existing in the same arena. I was invited by eldest sister to visit her workplace to conduct interviews with a high-end position and a low-end position to even have a direct comparison within one department. Yara, the Customer Experience Director at a foreign Payment Solutions Company based in Egypt has a Call Center as part of her Department that she manages. Her total net income reaches to 20,000 LE and her subordinates which are usually fresh graduates take home 1000 LE. Sitting in Yara’s upscale office, observing the personal touches that she has placed around with photos and souvenirs she gathered from different destinations all placed neatly on her desk. After explaining to her the purpose of my study, she is interested to assist by sharing her culinary experiences as she expresses that food is an integral part of her life because it not only satisfies her hunger, but is a tool in elevating her mood to de-stress from the hectic work lifestyle that she leads. Yara, thirty years old and a single mother spends most of her time at the office so usually orders food on a daily basis.
Yara admits timidly that she skips breakfast although she knows that it should be the most important meal of the day. She orders her lunch, which is her main meal around 2pm from an online ordering website that has a range of restaurants with various cuisines that deliver to her office. Her favorite food is sushi and her specialties are maki rolls with shrimp, crab and salmon. She expresses with utmost delight that she is a seafood lover by nature and also feels that sushi eating is an interesting experience in itself. Wasabi, the green, spicy Japanese horseradish that is served with sushi as a condiment plays a part in putting Yara in a good mood and motivates her to work more! The average bill for a sushi meal is around 200 LE. She eats sushi two to three times a week with the third most probably as a meal out with her friends. She also orders food from a nearby gourmet French patisserie called Le Gourmandise that sells freshly prepared sandwiches that are served in delectable baked French baguette. She opts for the smoked salmon and capers or the turkey and emmental cheese. Yara states, “this cozy, gourmet place reminds me of the corner cafes I used to sit in when I studied in Paris. As I take a bite, I often find myself closing my eyes and travelling back to those nostalgic moments.”. Yara buys her groceries from Metro Supermarket in front of her office where she enjoys selecting imported products for her daughter to match what she used to eat as a child when she grew up in the United Kingdom. Most notably are the McVities cakes, Aero chocolates, pringles and Betty Crocker cupcake mixes that she enjoys making with her little one in the weekend. For herself, she buys low fat yoghurt and fruit for her dinner meal as she constantly trues to watch her figure. Yara treats herself to eating out over the weekend with her friends with either sushi at Four Seasons or steak at JW Marriot Steakhouse where the average bill reaches 1000 LE for two people.
With the amount of the bill of only one of Yara’s weekend outings being equivalent to the salary of one of the Call Center Representatives, you can clearly observe the social gap in just one department in a company. I step into the Call Center and ask to speak to one of the Call Center Reps. Ahmed, who has been working for one year in this company is eager to share his story as he feels that there is unfairness in the income and in the lifestyles of people who are compelled to make decisions based on their circumstances. Ahmed passes by a street cart that sells foul and taameya sandwiches near his home, before he sets on his trip to work on the underground. There is a crowd of people rushing to get their share of morning nourishment in the form of the high complex carbohydrate foul beans that will settle in their stomachs and keep their palates satiated for hours on end. Ahmed shares his cultural breakfast experience with pride stating that you can make your own sandwich and add select from the different flavored condiment oils that are placed side by side on the cart’s edge. Regular oils, spiced oils, herbed oils are all offered alongside the freshly chopped onions and tomatoes. Ahmed eats three sandwiches that he claims keep him satisfied until late afternoon at least, therefore merging the breakfast and lunch meals as one.
Asking him more about his eating choices, he expresses with resentment that he is forced to eat koshary or liver sandwiches for an early dinner at work around six in the afternoon with his fellow colleagues in the Call Center. Koshary, the rich mixture of rice, pasta, lentils, chickpeas and fried onions topped with hot tomato sauce is an Egyptian Traditional dish that consists of an all carbohydrate meal that similarly to foul that keeps people full to avoid them from spending copious amounts of money, that they don’t even own, on food and survival. Delving deeper, I asked Ahmed how much he spends on these meals and he said, “My three foul sandwiches only cost me a total of three Egyptian pounds where they are sold at a pound each. The Koshary comes in different sizes and I always go for the large size because I have a big appetite and that costs me an average of five or six Egyptian Pounds for a big tub. I like eating liver sandwiches at the beginning of the month when I have just taken my salary as they cost a little bit more at eight pounds for a large sandwich that comes with a free side dish of fries. The liver is usually a substitute for meat for many Egyptians who cannot afford to eat meat regularly.” As the connotation to Koshary or Foul sandwiches to some, including myself even, maybe positive and infuses us with patriotic feelings because we are enjoying a traditional Egyptian meal is more of an extreme negative connotation to someone like Ahmed due to being forced to eat it and reaching the extent of being sick of it and just gulping down the spoonful’s of food blandly and with numbness just to fill the gap in that stomach.
Ahmed has recently been engaged and states that he can only afford to take his fiancée out once a month where they go to a cafe in their local neighborhood and drink tea and coffee and have a small dessert of mehalabeya or cake. His fiancée is accompanied with her older sister that acts as a chaperon; which makes Ahmed end up paying a total of sixty pounds. Ahmed resides with his widowed mother and they usually buy minimum groceries to get them going through the month which costs not more than 300 LE in total. Every three months, this includes 50 LE that goes for a kilogram of meat that is dispersed along the month. There are many long months when they have to go without meat completely and items such as fruit juice is a far-fetched luxury that they would never enjoy and just water is their thirst salvage. As we close in on the conversation, Ahmed goes back to the office situation and states with extreme bitterness that the most psychological pain is caused when he shares the same kitchen table with people who are eating sushi that costs 200 LE while he eats koshary that costs 5 LE. His voice changes as he says this and looks away from me, maybe trying to hide the tears in his eyes which immediately makes me tear and realize how immense this gap is between these levels and how difficult it must be for low-income workers, especially in comparison with people from the other end of the scale.
One of my mother’s friends, Gilan, who is the wife of the CEO of an IT Software Development Company shares her experiences with me. She is a stay at home mother of two and resides in a villa in Rehab on the outskirts of Cairo. She starts by articulating her meticulous planning for grocery shopping at the beginning of every month. They have an in-house chef that prepares an abundance of exquisitely prepared and cooked meals from various cuisines. She utters, “We like to purchase our groceries from Gourmet that is in New Cairo. Or meat choices are very specific; we like to buy the Australian Beef Fillet Steaks that are sold at 330 LE per Kilogram and we enjoy the special Japanese Wagyu Beef that is sold at 550 LE per Kilogram. The beef comes from cows that have been raised in a very special way and are even given massages to relax their muscles on a daily basis. It is considered to be the most tender, most succulent and tastiest meat in the world. The meat should be cooked ‘medium’ so the the fats can melt inside the steak. As for the seafood, we eat Norwegian Salmon fillets served with steamed asparagus. The fillets are priced at 200 LE each. We also treat ourselves to the Poseidon Extra Large shrimps and I usually buy a carton that is 800 grams that provides around five meals and is priced at around 1500 LE.” I am awestruck at the prices and Gilan notices the shock in my eyes and how my jaw drops down when I hear the drastic figures. She continues to astonish me further with stories of Italian Fresh Char Grilled Tomato Ravioli pasta and Scotti Nero Black Italian rice and Italian Black Truffle Olive oil at 100 LE per bottle! The list goes on with exotic fruits from around the world, frozen delicacies and killer gourmet desserts. As I get ready to ask the question of what their monthly shopping budget is, I am eager and apprehensive at the same time to hear the reply. I was astounded with the 15,000 LE figure that was thrown at me unexpectedly.
Proceeding with the remaining of my interview, eager to get to know more of this movie-style lifestyle that I was not the least bit aware that it existed amongst people residing in Egypt, I attempt to probe Gilan to tell me more about their eating habits. She clarifies that she ensures that all her family members eat six meals a day with three proper meals a day plus another three for snacks as this is the right way for a healthy metabolism. She has forbidden any home deliveries and has made the promise to her kids that they can challenge the in-house chef to cook literally anything that they would dream of. She laughs slightly and states that she knows they will go and eat whatever they want behind her back when they are out with their friends but she always advises them with certain places to go to as much as possible. As for her and her husband, they meet their friends every weekend where they host them for dinner, get invited at their houses or dine out at Four Seasons or sometimes if they are feeling extra spontaneous, they will take a private jet and travel to Sharm ElSheikh for the evening for a warm private dinner by the beach, where the evening costs a total of 5000 LE. Gilan concludes by stating so confidently that she is proud to be living amongst the A+ class in Egypt as she was raised like this as a child and would wish for nothing less for her children. When asked what she thinks of the people on the other end of the scale, she uttered a few words in a somewhat heartless tone of voice, “everyone gets what they deserve and anyway, we are always sending our driver with our leftovers to give out to people like that. That way at least I know I am contributing to the society.”
Amidst the current situation in the country, I figured that the best place to interview people from the lower social classes was actually at Tahrir Square. This is due to the fact that the initial objective of the people’s protest was to object to their economic situation and to ask for more rights and justice in that regard. I managed to communicate with a couple of young men in their mid-twenties, Mohamed who comes from Ismailia Governorate who works in Cairo as a salesman in a shoe shop downtown and Mostafa, from Cairo who is currently unemployed. When I started asking them my pre-set of questions, they responded sarcastically and looked at each other and laughing before giving the answer. They shared that their main food items are foul, taameya and mashed potato sandwiches, but those are the days where they actually find the few sparse pounds in their pockets. Mostafa explained, “Some days, I have to tear a piece of the sheet that I cover myself with at night and tie my stomach tightly with it to avoid the feeling of extreme hunger. Many times I toss and turn at night as I cannot sleep from the rumbling of my stomach and the feeling of emptiness.” Mohamed nods to what Mostafa says and adds that there are times where he has to make a sandwich of bread where he puts a loaf of bread inside a loaf of bread to give him the feeling that he is eating a real sandwich. They share their experience in Tahrir where they wait for anyone to pass by and give them any food as they do not even possess the money to purchase the cheapest of items. Mohamed states that there is a take-out shop that sells Hawawshi sandwiches at 3 LE each, Hawawshi is a pocket of Baladi Bread that is filled with seasoned minced meat. In more upper-class restaurants, the filling is made from 100% pure meat but at the cheaper shops, the mixture is made from only 10% meat and soy beans and an abundance of chopped onions and spices. This combination when placed in the pocket of bread gives the simulated feeling that the person is eating a significant amount of meat, making him more satisfied. Both guys reveal many stories of how they take each day as it comes, waiting for whatever is thrown at them. Tomorrow is total unknown to them.
As we can see, food does not merely fill a basic need with humans. It rather becomes a statement and an indication of your social class. The type of food a person eats becomes a luxury, similarly to the materialistic things in one’s life, like the car you drive or the transport you take, the type of clothes you wear and many other status icons. The food you eat mirrors who you are as aforementioned, “you are what you eat”. Particularly in Egypt, food is the symbol for social gatherings where people eat to socialize with one another and thus, the food, or lack of will also affect how you fit into society. The gap between the classes is unfortunate and sorrowful, and by time the gap may only get bigger.

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