Having a ‘fat tax’ to combat obesity

From ‘Combat obesity with fat tax’, 1 April 2014, ST Forum

(Dr Edmund Lam):…The obesity epidemic has become a worldwide phenomenon. Singapore has not been spared – our adult obesity rate increased from 6.9 per cent in 2004 to 10.8 per cent in 2010.

…The Health Promotion Board has done its utmost to encourage healthy eating through public education and collaboration with the food and beverage industry to provide healthier options. But gorging is still common in food centres, fast-food outlets and eat-all-you-can buffets.

In tandem with existing efforts, a “sugar” and “fat” tax of at least 20 per cent to 30 per cent ought to “shock” Singaporeans into changing their eating habits. Taxes on vices are not new – we already have high tobacco and alcohol taxes. Taxing unhealthy food, such as sugary drinks and junk food, will hopefully induce people to opt for healthier food, which needs to be cheaper than unhealthy food.

…In short, take the scourge of obesity seriously – now.

Singaporeans are getting fatter, just like people from most developed countries. In 1992, the rate of obesity was half  of where we are now, yet we’re throwing away more food, 796,000 tonnes of it in fact, just in 2013 alone. Can you imagine how much fatter we’d be if everyone actually finished all their food?

In 2011, the Danish government decided to impose a fat tax of 16 kroner or $3.76 per kg of saturated fat in products. Before the tax was implemented, the Danes behaved like how most Singaporeans would: HOARD all the fatty stuff they could get their hands on. Within a year, the controversial tax was scrapped because it was detrimental to the economy and led to loss of jobs. Moreover, Danes who had a lust for fat were crossing the border to do their grocery shopping in next door Germany. You can imagine the same situation here with Malaysia. Lesson learnt: You can’t change our eating behaviour overnight. We’ve been nursed on fats since birth through our mother’s milk, we’ll die without it, and we’ll die for it.

Dr Amy Khor stressed that there’s no scientific evidence that increasing the cost of guilty pleasure foods ever reduced the rate of obesity. Not only would it affect lower income Singaporeans, but those who consciously refrain from eating fatty stuff may overcompensate by gorging on CARBS, which add to the flab but with half the flavour and enjoyment. The slapping of monetary disincentives also undermines the ability of consumers to exercise willpower (that includes the willingness to EXERCISE). It also doesn’t help matters when it comes to preserving our hawker culture, which is centred around high-calorie, high fat (hence delicious) food.

Fast food giants are not going to take fat taxes lying down either. Even if you raise the price of a Happy Meal to exorbitant levels, all you need is a Hello Kitty promotion to get people biting the bait again. Raise Krispy Kreme doughnuts by 30%? No problem! Just run a promo 1 for 1 and all your revenue problems are solved. Gong Cha pearl topping up by 20%? Borrow a friend’s Watsons discount card! Restrict menus to serving wholemeal buns only? Well, introduce a double bacon with cheese McMuffin, dammit!

It’s easy to point a finger at food as the primary reason for our ballooning weight, and they make easy targets to tax while there are in fact other factors that may contribute to weight gain. Maybe we should have a cable TV tax because people who’re glued to the googlebox tend to put on weight. Or tax people for using the lifts and escalators instead of climbing the stairs. How about a fat tax on driving less than 1km to any destination? Conversely, in order to encourage people to lead active lifestyles, marathons should be FOC and the Government should sponsor a Brompton bike for every commuting Singaporean. From all that fat tax revenue of course.

We need to work on empowering consumers through nutritional information, not introducing artificial scarcity on fat food like how a diet is supposed to work (It doesn’t). Businesses will do anything to survive at the expense of our waistlines, like it has been for the longest time. You can’t overcome human psychology with taxation. It’s like putting bloody disgusting pictures on cigarette boxes; people still smoke that shit anyway. Even if you manage to cut down obesity levels through severe psychic starvation, you’ll probably see a corresponding increase in people getting warded in IMH for depression because every morsel of lard they chow down has become as unappetising and unfulfilling as swallowing a stack of 1 dollar coins.

If you’re going to charge $1 more for Char Kuay Teow, I’d still eat it as per normal anyway, except that instead of a Coke to go with it I’d order the other version with the artificial sweetener aspartame, which has been linked to cancer (unproven) in some studies. So, instead of getting thinner, I stay just as fat, but expose myself to unnaturally occurring chemicals because I refuse to pay extra for sugar. If I’m unsatisfied by that combination, I’d refuel during tea break by mindlessly chewing on ‘organic’ assorted nuts, misled into thinking it’s the ‘healthier choice’ when I’ve already far exceeded my daily calorie requirements compared to having my original Char Kuay Teow with normal Coke without a nut snack in the first place. I can’t possibly eat a stick of raw carrot in my workplace without being oestracised by everyone on a normal diet.

Why stop at taxing just sugar and fat then, how about going the whole hog and tax SALT too, too much of which is bad for your blood pressure and kidneys? Or caffeine? I’d might as well eat tree bark for the rest of my life.

 

 

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Singaporeans queuing overnight for Krispy Kreme doughnuts

From ‘Krispy Kreme fans start queuing for doughnuts’, 11 Oct 2013, article by Mohd Azhar Aziz, Today

It seemed a promising start for the American doughnut giant with the queue for Krispy Kreme doughnuts starting from as early as 11.42am today (Oct 11), ahead of the store opening tomorrow. Yet, at about 10.30pm, there were only eight people in the queue at Tangs Orchard – after one person dropped out – with several curious onlookers.

“It is heartwarming to see fans of Krispy Kreme queuing up. We are expecting more to come to the place. But the night is still early,” said a Krispy Kreme spokesperson.

The opening of Krispy Kreme’s first store in Singapore, at Tangs Orchard Basement, has been a widely-anticipated affair with free doughnuts offered to the first three customers and goodie bags for the first 500 customers.

The first customer will win a one-year supply of the Original Glazed Doughnuts — a dozen doughnuts every week for an entire year. The runner up will be awarded with a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts every week for the next six months, while the third in line will get 12 doughnuts every week for the next three months.

MMMMM.. Doughnuts

MMMMM.. Doughnuts

When Singapore’s own Donut factory was established in 2007, thereby kickstarting the doughnut craze, this was how people queued at Raffles City Basement before the shop opened. A familiar sight whether it’s for a new HnM store, Hello Kitty, iPads of Bak Kwa.

D’oh! Nuts

If Donut Factory hadn’t set up shop within the mall premises, you would have had Singaporeans pitching tents overnight like how we do today. A promising start, but foiled by the likes of J Co, Vinco (later Dippin’ Donuts), Munchy Donut, and eventually Dunkin’ Donuts penetrating the market. The ‘donut craze’ of 2007-2008 filled a gaping hole in our appetite for deep-fried confectionery. In its hey-day, carrying a box of dozen around was a status symbol like flashing Lim Chee Guan bak kwa during CNY, and it was only a matter of time before the sugar-high and novelty began to wear off and we glazed over anything ‘Donut’.  Even the cops couldn’t save it from near extinction then.

By 2011, Donut Factory realised they couldn’t just sell donuts anymore, no matter how ‘artisan’ or exotically flavoured they made them. They experimented with ‘bon-bons’ or mini-donuts for the calorie-conscious. Then burgers, cakes, patisserie before going bust in June this year just after starting an online delivery service.  Enter Krispy Kreme, which until today has been the stuff of gastronomical legend and described by Singaporeans who tried it overseas as if it were manna from heaven or rare 1000 year old honey, a must-eat holy grail and the MOTHER OF ALL DOUGHNUTS , like the Haj for sweet-tooths. It’s also the only doughnut shop around that spells its products as ‘DOUGHNUTS’ and not ‘DONUTS’, though the deliberate misspelling of ‘Crispy Cream’ looks more to me like the name of a circus clown rapper than a donut joint (‘Yo give it up for MC Krispy Kreme!’).

Donut or doughnut, this sickly sweet snack is the comeback kid of food fads. In 1983, Dunkin Donuts landed in Singapore, and Mister Donut was scheduled to follow in June 1984, though I’m not sure if that actually opened shop here. DD disappeared for more than a decade and made a comeback at Ion Orchard in 2009, though even that flagship store has since closed down. With KK making its ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’-style appearance to bring out the greedy kid in all of us, rival DD has its work cut out.  As it is, they’re already diversifying with sandwiches, bagels and wraps, looking more like a Subway ripoff than a donut shop. In August this year, they came up with a bizarre star ‘donut’ to celebrate Ramadan, which will appeal to anyone below the age of 5. Things do not bode well if you make your donuts anything but ROUND.

At $2.60 for an original glazed, KK’s doughnuts are the most expensive to date, though you do get your money’s worth of calories (200), fat (12g) and sodium(95mg) for ONE doughnut.  A Snickers bar, in comparison, has 250 calories, the same amount of fat, and 120mg of sodium, and in my opinion more satisfying and value-for-money than chewing on air wrapped in deep fried dough. A KK doughnut also has SIX TIMES the amount of fat you get from one Goreng Pisang. A ‘Golden Ticket’ thus entitles you to a dozen doughnuts a week, or 144 g of fat, equivalent to 12 bars of snickers, or 72 freakin’ pieces of goreng pisangs. A Golden Ticket to a cardiac arrest, more like it. Does it come with a free bypass surgery, I wonder.

Getting fat isn’t the only thing you need to worry about if you overindulge in KK. An original glazed is made up of more than 50 INGREDIENTS, making it the McNugget of Donuts, including ‘dough conditioners’, corn maltodextrin and locust bean gum. It also has a seemingly innocuous preservative called BHT, or butylated hydroxytoulene, the same chemical we use in cosmetics, jet fuel and EMBALMING FLUID. If you leave a KK doughnut in a closed jar, it would probably remain intact and edible until the craze wears off once more. If this is the food of the Gods, then we must have been praying to very evil gods indeed.

I’m no doughnut market analyst, but I think we were all addicted and fell for Krispy Kreme BECAUSE it was relatively inaccessible and was ‘forbidden fruit (tastes the sweetest)’ prior to its launch here. When it starts popping up all over the island, it’ll be like hearing your favourite song on repeat airplay for at least a few months. They have successfully regressed us all into slobbering babies with their Golden ticket gimmick, and it’s only a matter of time before we wean off it. Does ‘Beard Papa’ (probably the best cream puff in the world) ring a bell? Anyone?

Singing Bone Hello Kitty selling for $126K

From ‘McDonald’s urges public to stop profiteering from Hello Kitty Plush Toys’, 27 June 2013, article by Rachel Tan, ST

The McDonald’s Hello Kitty plush toy craze has translated into a opportunities for online sellers to capitalise on the fad. Several advertisements selling the toy were seen just hours after they went on sale early Thursday morning. In one posting on eBay there were 125 bids for the “Singing Bone” model.

News of the online transactions have reached McDonald’s headquarters in Singapore – and the management is not happy about it. “We do not support people buying the Kitties for resale, and we have been regularly removing posts offering such services from our page. We take the conduct of our staff very seriously and if any of them are found to have misappropriated the Kitties for personal gain, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action,” the fast-food chain posted on their official Facebook page.

The toy has also resulted in a number of confrontations among consumers. According to Stomp, at McDonald’s Bukit Batok Central outlet, a policeman was asked to clear a dispute over people jumping queues.

Bad to the bones

The winning bid for a Blackface Kitty is a whopping $126,000 (turned out to be fake), and this being a country where people own million dollar HDB flats and $5 million dollar racecars, I’m not surprised that some fans are willing to fork out a ridiculous sum of money for a plush doll, one that’s not even studded with diamonds to begin with (Just for comparison, the famed Jewel Doll costs US$167,000). I suspect the reason why the Singing Bone is getting everyone in a tizzy is not that it’s limited edition (they all are), but because you can’t COMPLETE the collection without it. For a Singaporean, braving the haze overnight to finish your holy quest for the Last Kitty is a crowning achievement, like putting your hand on a car for days just to drive it home a winner. Kiasuparents folk are selling the same toy for $50. Pfft…amateurs.

McDonald’s ditched the ‘purchase with every meal’ promotion out of good intentions; to stop people from throwing away burgers and wasting food, as evident during the initial 2000 Kittydemic.  But as lucrative as this craze is for the company, you can’t help but wonder what founder Ray Kroc feels about this marketing sacrilege, that instead of rushing for old-fashioned American hamburgers, Singaporeans are saying ‘To Hell with Big Macs’ and thronging stores for Japanese dolls. A psychiatrist in 2000 called it ‘compulsive-acquisition syndrome’, I call it madness. Meanwhile, I can’t even order an Apple Pie from the counter because of these lunatics. How are those senior counter staff going to cope with demanding, violent Kitty addicts? McDonald’s might as well get rid of the tables and chairs and just fill their stores with snaking queue lines and armed guards, like a methadone clinic. They would also do well to equip all staff with parangs and tranquiliser darts to defend themselves in the event of a queue-jumper wrecking havoc like a bull in a china shop.

We should always prepare for Hello Kitty mob violence. In 2000, a glass door in a Boon Keng Macs was SHATTERED by the crowd, causing injuries to 7 customers, with 3 HOSPITALISED. 6 people were also arrested for making a nuisance of themselves. A DOCTOR and a lorry driver got into an ugly scuffle. There were even reports of fainting, traffic congestion and MOLEST. It’s the kind of rowdy looting you would expect in a famine or zombie infestation, yet no such ruckus has been reported for N95 face masks to date. Even if we were threatened with poison gas, I think Singaporeans would queue up calmly for gas mask or antidote supplies. Getting your lungs incinerated is a small matter compared to the shame of your neighbour snagging a Singing Bone while you HAVEN’T.

The Singing Bone, however, is not so much ‘fairy tale’ as it is a macabre horror story of revenge and FRATRICIDE. Few would bother to find out more about its origins and assume that the Kitty was inspired by the Nightmare before Christmas and is just a jolly feline skeleton that goes around distributing candy during Halloween. Like the Sirens that sent Greek sailors to their watery graves, the Singing Bone has lulled the nation into a stupor of compulsive queuing and quick regression into base savagery, flushing decades of courtesy campaigns down the toilet. It’s no coincidence that this Hello Kitty resembles a voodoo doll; it has infected us all with its dark, wicked spell. If you’re a parent, do your child a favour and tell the Singing Bone story at bedtime while he’s hugging the toy. Next thing you know he’ll be setting it on fire or brandishing a crucifix at the cursed thing.

As a money-spinner, Hello Kitty is a phenomenal success. As a branding exercise built around service, Happy Meals and the Golden Arches, it’s a CATastrophe.

Postscript: A fake alert was posted on the McDonald’s Facebook page according to Lianhe Zaobao once Singing Bone sold out, warning black market profiteers that the ‘Management Team’ would be working with the police to bring perpetrators of this outrageous scalping to justice. ‘Dissapointed’ is either a grotesque lapse in spelling or a deliberate combination of ‘dissed’ and ‘disappointment’. As if muckracking at outlets isn’t enough, some resort to impersonation to make sure that if they can’t have their Kitty, NO ONE ELSE WILL.

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Singaporeans can’t eat McNuggets without Curry Sauce

From ‘Curry sauce will be back:McDonald’s’, 15 Nov 2011, article by Jessica Lim, ST

CURRY-SAUCE lovers are up in arms over the unavailability of the dip at McDonald’s outlets. The fast-food chain started facing a shortage of the sauce – which is exclusive to Singapore – two weeks ago, but most outlets ran out only over the past weekend. The shortage led to fans going online to air their grievances.

Most hoped their favourite dip would make a return, and others called for a boycott of the fast-food chain. One consumer even started a petition on Facebook. Complaints started appearing on the McDonald’s Singapore Facebook page last Wednesday. Hundreds more poured in over the weekend.

…Its (McDonald’s) curry sauce is the fast-food chain’s most popular chicken nugget sauce here, and has been available for more than 20 years. Supplies come from the United States.

…Facebook user Firdaus Humphrey said: ‘I won’t be tucking in to my McChicken and McSpicy till the curry comes home.’ ‘I cannot live without curry sauce!’ exclaimed netizen Jorena Tan.

…Mr Charles Lim, 29, said he would still eat at McDonald’s, curry sauce or not, but he would be ‘sad’ without it. ‘It’s an essential part of every McDonald’s meal for me. I use it for fries and nuggets,’ said the graphic designer, who found out about the shortage when he asked for the sauce at a Tampines outlet last week. ‘It makes my McDonald’s meal Singaporean. It’s been around since we were young.’

Others such as Mr Pyi Soe, 32, were less bothered. ‘I don’t feel anything. If there is no curry sauce then I will just use chilli sauce instead,’ said the engineer from Myanmar. ‘Why is it such a big deal?’

There’s no doubt that the curry dip is just about the best thing about Chicken McNuggets. Mac’s nuggets were DESIGNED for dipping; just look how each piece is precision-cut to tuck nicely into the sauce container. It’s a classic food-condiment pairing like fish and chips with tartar sauce, roti prata and gravy, pulau hitam and coconut milk. You just can’t have one without the other, and I have never tasted a McNugget on its own, nor do I ever intend to. Rumour has it that it tastes nothing like chicken, but neither does the indispensable sauce taste anything like curry as we know it. You could say the nugget, with its deep fried texture, is merely the vessel for the sauce, that you could dip styrofoam tempura in the same sauce and not tell the difference. This outrage over a temporary out of stock situation not only proves  that we have a curry sauce addiction, but also that Singaporeans eat Macs WAY too often. Or maybe it’s all ‘Cook a Pot of Curry’‘s fault.

In my opinion, the closest ‘curry’ that the Mac’s classic resembles would be sweet Japanese curry. But let’s analyse the ingredients: Mac’s Curry Sauce vs an off-the-shelf Instant Japanese Curry Mix.

Mac’s Curry sauce: Water, sugar, soy sauce, maltodextrin, peanuts, modified corn starch, vegetable oil, spices, onion (dehydrated), citric acid, chili pepper, salt, garlic (dehydrated), MSG, curry FLAVOR, potassium sorbate (preservative), xanthan gum, titanium dioxide, extractives of paprika.

S&B Golden Curry Instant: Vegetables (potato, carrot, onion), edible oils (palm oil, canola oil, soybean oil), wheat flour, sugar, salt, curry powder, spices, monosodium glutamate (flavor enhancer), caramel color, powdered Worcestershire sauce, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (soybean), malic acid, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, calcium lactate.

What’s unusual about Mac’s curry sauce compared to your supermarket  instant fodder, other than the vague ‘spices’, is that it has curry ‘flavor’ (product of U.S) instead of ‘powder’. We don’t even know if it’s ‘natural’ or ‘artificial’, as required by the FDA for food labelling. It also contains a common food dye Titanium Dioxide, a chemical you also find in sunblock lotions. Which casts doubt on whether Mac’s curry sauce contains any actual CURRY at all, or is it really modified lab goo. It also has peanuts, which explains the hint of satay gravy in it. I find it strange to dip fries in curry sauce, but apparently Singaporeans love the taste so much they would even smother their lettuce with it, or smuggle it into BK and secretly use it for onion rings. But wait, what do the Americans know about curry and why are we calling the McNugget and curry symphony ‘Singaporean’ at all?

Enough about the sauce, what about the McNugget itself? I’ll leave it up to fans to decide on how much chicken they think each nugget contains, looking at the listing below according to Wikipedia. I’m not sure if it’s meat anymore, or washing detergent.

Chicken, water, salt, sodium phosphates. Battered and breaded with bleached wheat flour, water, wheat flour, modified food starch, salt, spices, wheat gluten, paprika, dextrose (sugar), yeast, garlic powder, rosemary, partially hydrogenated soybean oil and cottonseed oil with mono- and diglycerides, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, ammonium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), natural flavor (plant source) with extractives of paprika

The closest rival to a McNugget today would be KFC’s ‘Popcorn’ chicken, though BK has also ventured into the miniature-chicken market with their Chicken Tenders. A blind, sauceless, taste test would determine which fast food giant produces the best grade chicken finger food, before we may conclude with confidence that the McNugget is nothing without its dipping sauces. The first nuggets (imported from US as well) arrived in 1983 with the basic tomato and chilli accompaniments, stirring a ‘chicken war’ between Macs and KFC.  According to Mac’s nutritional chart, a typical Chicken McNugget meal takes up 338 kCal and has more cholesterol than a Hot Cakes with Sausage. But that’s excluding the effect of the sauces, which could easily bump up the calories, looking at how Singaporeans are gobbling the dips up. According to this Fatsecret website, the amount of calories in Curry Sauce (assuming it’s the same as what we’re eating) is 45 kcal per serving. Assuming the average McNugget lover could easily use up 2 packs for a 9 piece meal, this works out to be about 430 kCal in total (probably a conservative figure), putting it on par with the Double Cheeseburger (433 kCal). And that’s excluding fries and soft drinks.

Nonetheless, this is yet another unintentionally viral promotion of Macs and its signature sauce,  a conglomerate which has a knack of flipping complaints and bad news to their advantage, whether it’s a trivial out of stock situation or the withdrawal of pig Doraemons from their CNY promotions. But one thing’s for certain, whether calorie-loaded or tasting like Fab in satay sauce aside, Singaporeans are still ‘lovin’ it’ anyway.

Subway sues nonya kueh chain

From ‘Sandwich chain Subway sues S’porean company Subway niche’, 5 oct 2011, article by Selina Lum, ST

The American owner of the Subway chain of sandwich shops has sued the boss of local nonya kueh chain Subway Niche for trademark infringement. A two-day hearing into the case began in the High Court on Tuesday.

Subway, owned by Florida-based Doctor’s Associates, has been selling sandwiches since 1967 and has become the world’s largest fastfood chain with 34,891 stores in 98 countries. The American company started legal action after it became aware that Subway Niche has begun selling sandwiches. It contends that there is a real likelihood that the public will be confused by the similar marks.

But Subway Niche sole proprietor Lim Eng Wah says ‘subway’ is a common English word. He also asserts that there is no conceptual similarity. As his first outlet was at the basement of Wisma Atria (in 1987) near the Orchard MRT station, the idea behind his business name was to attract MRT commuters. On the other hand, Subway’s name has its roots in the submarine sandwiches that they sell.

Subway Nicked

As hard as it is to believe that Subway, with its fattening cookies-and-chips sides and high-calorie soda beverages, was founded by an American DOCTOR in the late sixties, the fact remains that the ‘little guy’ Subway niche was here first, while Subway the fast-food-disguised-as-healthy-alternative-deli  launched its first Singapore store in Lau Pa Sat almost 10 years later in 1996 according to the company website. If Subway niche had appeared after the emergence of the American sandwich giant, I probably wouldn’t fault the latter for thinking Niche was trying to pass off as a Subway ‘Lite’. or ‘Express’. Even if both ‘subways’ referred to the same type of submarine sandwich (Niche maintains that their SUBWAY refers to actual location), one may apply the same logic to ‘branded’ everyday words like ‘pizza’ or ‘fried chicken’ and wonder why PIZZA Hut isn’t sueing California Pizza, KFC Texas Fried Chicken, or Delifrance Sushi DELI,  for ‘confusing’ fast food fans. Incidentally, Niche’s sandwiches are triangle-cut and reminiscent of what Mommy packs for her kid’s lunchbox, while Subway’s are 6 to 10 inch sloppy schlongs, symbolic of the hostile, domineering manner in which they’re ramming this lawsuit down their opponent’s throat.

Fast food giant bullying is nothing new, though the chief instigator of lawsuits McDonald’s hasn’t had much success beating down small businesses for adding a Scottish twist to their brand, like the locally produced instant ‘MacTea/MacNoodles’ trademark battle in 2004, or the McCurry embarrassment in KL, 2009. The same argument applied then, that usurping a brand name would cause ‘deceit or confusion’, as if grocery shoppers in a supermarket or teh-tarik drinkers would think of ‘upsizing their Happy Meals’ every time they see an item starting with Mc or Mac, though the prefix ‘Mc’ has been applied not just to actual products but as a journalistic device to describe anything that reeks of the same time-cutting, capitalist mass-production ethos of the fast food chain, like McChurch, McJob and McPhone (McWords according to wikipedia). More recently a beverage paying homage to a beloved hazelnut spread got coffee chain TCC into a McSUIT for bearing the name Nutello.

It would be a sad day for local enterprise and nonya kueh if the B.M.T (Big McTyrant) wins this case. For the price you pay for a standard sub you could watch a movie on a weekday, or feed two stomachs at a hawker centre. Subway, you’ve already conquered the world with SUB-satisfactory light-bite excuses for lunch, beating even McDonald’s who can’t sell salad dressing the way you do. Go pick on someone your own size already.

Postscript: The sandwich giant lost the suit, with the judge citing ‘very little evidence of confusion among consumers’.

McDonald’s playing Muslim prayers over dinner

From ‘Man complains about Muslim prayers at McDonald’s outlet‘, 19 Aug 2011, article by Faris Mokhtar, sg yahoo news.

A man has generated heated debate online after he posted comments questioning why McDonald’s allowed the Muslim prayers to be played at one of its restaurants. The debate first started after a man known as Alex Chang posted his comments on McDonald’s Facebook wall on Thursday.

He had asked why the fast food giant’s outlets played the Muslim prayers during dinner time at its restaurants. “Can I request to play Buddhism chant on Vesak Day? Please advice,” he asked sarcastically.

…His remarks on the issue drew a few comments explaining that the reason could be Muslims are breaking their fast. In response, Chang said, “Not trying to be disrespectful. But a bit irritating during dinner time. Not respecting other religion(s) at all.”

“By the way, can you tolerate if they play Buddhist chime in the restaurant?” he added.

…Chang issued an apology for his comments, saying that it was not meant to be “racist”. “I would like to apologise for the comment that was posted on the McDonald’s website. It was not meant to be a racist remark which has offended so many people including our Malay friends. Sorry for my ignorance,” he said

‘Alex Chang’ was unwittingly voicing the concerns of non-Muslim diners encountering this oddity but were too afraid to ask, and suffering for it because of a momentary lack of tact. Macs is a certified halal fast food joint and icon of the consumerist Western world. An international conglomerate of its stature broadcasting religious prayers while patrons are tucking into Big Macs just strikes me as rather out of place, nevermind if you’re Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu. It’s like going to a French restaurant and having Waltzing Matilda blasting in your ear, or eating sushi to the mopey sounds of Gregorian monks chanting. Not liking what you hear doesn’t automatically make you a right-wing extremist, and Alex’s careless public rant has become instant, explosive troll-fodder, making LKY’s comment on Muslims’ strict communal eating habits seem as tame as a Grilled Chicken Foldover  in comparison.

It’s  not so much about religious tolerance or racism here, but whether the act of putting such audio on air is compatible with Macs’ behemoth corporate image.  According to Macs, some outlets have chosen to tune in to radio stations other than the ‘standard playlist’. Perhaps it’s only fair that hungry Muslims get to hear the soothing sounds of ‘dinner-time’ prayer during this period of voluntary penance, just as Christians get euphoric listening to Xmas songs with the word ‘Jesus’ in them, where there is a prickly thin line drawn between what is ‘religious’ and what’s merely ‘ethnic’. I haven’t heard what’s being played in Macs myself but unless everyone’s favourite fast food joint and obesity’s bedfellow begins selling ketupats and curry instead of burgers and fries during Ramadan, I don’t see how this is worth starting a tudung saga all over again.  Now that ‘Alex ‘ has taken the flame-bait, and thanks to the rest of the Facebookers giving his McNuggets a good sockin’ even after an apology,  the rest of us who aren’t fans of monotonous chanting of any sort will just avoid Macs during the festivities, which is what everyone who doesn’t want a heart attack should be doing anyway.

I’ve written enough about how Facebook tends to make Hiroshimas out of little dynamite sticks, that it stirs pandemic levels of paranoia whether it’s about ministers’ sons deferring NS or foreign workers insulting Singaporeans, and this episode is no exception. In a related incident during CNY 2010,  Mcdonald’s  chose to remove the Doraemon Zodiac pig toy in order to appease their Muslim diners, offending Chinese customers born in the year of the Pig. I don’t remember if they played any CNY music then. Still, I’m PRAYING really hard that that this unnecessary reminder for solidarity doesn’t morph into a ‘Eat at McDonald’s with Prayers’ event after the ‘Cook a pot of Curry‘ fanfare. You have been warned.

No porridge at KFC

From ‘Bad attitude and no porridge at KFC outlet’, 23 Sept 2010, Speakup, The New Paper

(Irene Khoo): TWO Sundays ago, I ordered a set of original Twister/Milo and an a la carte KFC breakfast porridge for my daughter at about 9am at the Tanjong Katong Road outlet.

I was shocked when the counter staff told me that the porridge had been sold out and that I needed to wait for an hour for a fresh supply.

I requested to see the store manager to ask why a customer should have to wait for so long.

To my shock, the assistant manager retorted: ‘You don’t expect me to give you uncooked porridge, right?’

But surely the manager, who is supposed to oversee operations, should pre-empt such a situation by getting ready a fresh supply before the earlier lot runs low, I pressed?

Then came another shock. The assistant manager told me that I was free to eat at the Banquet food court next door if I could not wait.

In another incident earlier, I had gone to the outlet at about 8.15pm. (KFC had advertised an evening promotion for its porridge, from 6.30pm to 9pm.) Again, I was told that the porridge had run out.

11 secret herbs and spices in this too!

If KFC runs out of chicken I’d probably relate to the complainant’s frustration, but over a bowl of porridge? Eating porridge at KFC is like ordering salad at Morton’s steakhouse. Even if the porridge is so good that it’s sold out by early morning, and that even food guru KF Seetoh swears by it, its really just a case of arse-luck and no reason to tell the store manager how to run his operations, a complaint that totally deserves the gentle ‘why don’t you try elsewhere’ boot. Nobody will prepare a fresh load of  breakfast porridge near lunchtime just for you, Ms Khoo, it’s bad business. Still, the fact that a totally incongruous meal at an ubiquitous chicken icon can be such a hot item that some people raise a ruckus when they don’t have it for breakfast or supper must mean something.

Super 7 incher

From “7-inch-long sandwich ad is bad taste” 13 July 2009 Soshiok.com

A Burger King promotion featuring a woman styled to look like a blow-up doll trying to eat the long sandwich outraged people, who complained about the advertisement’s vulgar sexual reference.

The poster called on people to “fill your desire for something long, juicy and flame grilled with the new BK Super Seven Incher”.

(Szymon Halasa) “It was a misguided coolness image that Burger King was trying to portray. This ad was a result of extreme bad judgment.”

He said that since the fast food joint was a popular hangout for kids and teens, “pretending that they are stupid and that they would not make the connection would be just kidding yourself”.

BK blew it again

Fair enough, this ad caused international furore for its lack of subtlety and if you examine the seven incher it resembles the head of Alien rather than the male organ. BK, of course, no stranger to controversial ads.

Angry Whopper ad

From ‘Burger ad a whopping mistake’ 13 April 2010 St Forum online

It (Burger King’s Angry Whopper ad) depicts a woman and man who are fighting and have bruises on their faces from apparent physical violence.

What is the impact of this advertisement in a world that could urgently do with more peace? What message is this advertisement giving about anger to a child?

And perhaps the company could have a vegan/vegetarian burger and call it a peace burger to make up for this unfortunate decision?

Woman on top, at least

If one knew the history of the radio DJs (Shan and Rozz) in the ad, the depiction of them caught in what this complainant deems a homicidal bloodbath is really nothing much to shout about. I pity the fool who goes up to the counter and orders a ‘Peace burger’, even if he or she goes around wearing a toga and sandals. Ms Vadivu has probably never in her life seen Shan and Rozz in action, or Grand Theft Auto, or Tom and Jerry. Even though the ad doesn’t generally strike one as humorous, a little bruising and black eye in an ad won’t turn children into MMA fighters. Turn your attention to wrestling, Desperate Housewives, or video games, ma’am, though I doubt anyone would seriously listen to your grand ideas of We are the World Utopia. Still, the ad is not as tasteless as the mindblowing seven-incher sandwich one. Shan and Rozz, of course, behind the April fool fiasco that is Ris Low DJ-ing.

Women wrestlers

From ‘Burger King should send Sable packing’ 8 November 2003 ST Forum

What caused me concern was a (BK) poster of a scantily-clad (wrestler)Sable – striking a seductive pose and with a come-hither look- placed in a very conspicuous position.

In one episode (WWE), a woman lashed two men with a leather whip, dressed in attire normally associated with sadomachism.

Always wondered what AWARE thought of S&M, whether they are conflicted over the just deserts that men are getting from a dominant female vs the sexual pleasure the men get out of having their ass whupped. A poser indeed.


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