I collected my lettuce sandwich from the counter at a my local branch of a well-known restaurant chain and found an empty table. I checked the lettuce to make sure that it had been cut, humanely, with a sharp knife and not just torn apart. The lettuce was OK, but, to my horror, there, in the middle of the table for all to see, was a large bottle of tomato ketchup. Yes, dear reader, this is not a misprint, there was a bottle of tomato ketchup.
I could not eat my sandwich. The blood-red ketchup filled my mind with thoughts of the bleeding body of Saint Sebastian.
As you will remember, Saint Sebastian was an early Christian saint martyr killed by the Romans in CE 288. Tied to a tree, he was shot with arrows. Many years ago, I had been unlucky enough to see El Greco’s painting of Saint Sebastian’s horrific shooting when I visited the Cathedral of San Antolín, Palencia, Spain. The cathedral had neglected to post a warning and I had not been able to close my eyes fast enough. It put me off tomatoes for weeks afterwards.
I called for the restaurant’s manager. How could you subject your customers to such an unpleasant sight, I said, pointing to the tomato ketchup. Before the manager could answer, I was joined by a group of university students from a nearby table.
We have the same problem, one said. In our university’s dining room someone has hung a painting showing a collection of dead animals, including a swan, a boar, a deer and various game birds. We have been unable to eat there because it is on the wall, right above our table. We, who don’t eat meat, find it repulsive. We have demanded that it be removed.
Yes, said another, we have turned to vegetarianism and veganism not so much as a dietary choice but as a political choice. We must rethink our relationship with animals and how we treat them in today’s world. The third student, rather thinner than looked healthy to me, joined in. Our choice of food is determined not only by political considerations but must take into account our moral anxieties which include diet, self-image, over-consumption and our bodies.
The manager was beginning to understand how serious the situation was. One of the waitresses came over to our table. Back home in the Philippines, she said, we only use banana ketchup. It’s made from mashed banana, sugar, vinegar, and spices and has a brownish-yellow colour; nothing like blood.
But not all the news from the food front is bad. In a surprising, but welcome, nod to the Jewish Sabbath, the BBC worker’s canteen is restricting diners to six chips each. Yes, following Exodus – Six days shalt thou labour – the BBC has decreed – Six chips shalt thou savour.
Cambridge University students cry fowl over 17th century painting that upsets vegetarians
The Telegraph – 21 November 2019
BBC staff in ‘uproar’ over new canteen rule ‘limiting them to six chips each’
The Telegraph – 23 November 2019