Aussie Interfaith Meals: You can’t please everyone!

Interfaith events are a fantastic opportunity to get to know people from a wide variety of religions, theoretically increasing empathy towards those from different cultures. What better way to break the ice than to invite a whole lot of folks with an array of religious beliefs to break bread together.

In NSW, Liverpool Council decided to hold a lunch where more than 14 faiths were to be represented. What could possibly go wrong!

Natalie O’Brien reported:

They were trying to be respectful and cater to all faiths when they decided on the menu for Liverpool Council’s first Christian Orthodox Interfaith lunch.

A Stockman at Rivalea, Australia’s free range pig farm at Corowa, NSW. credit: ABC

But instead of a delicious spread that would be palatable to all, a scandal has erupted that has become known locally as “porkgate”.

It was what was not included on the menu’s menu for lunch– pork – that has upset members of the Orthodox Macedonian community.

As the luncheon was being hosted on behalf of the Orthodox community, they wanted to eat and share their traditional dishes and that, according to author and musician Alex Dzepovski, includes pork.

He said pork is special to the Macedonian community and in historical terms played a large part in their lives under Ottoman rule. To some members of the community it had become a symbol of their survival as pork was their main meat staple for hundreds of years.

So when it was left off the menu it sparked complaints and an article in the online newsite Falanga.com.au about the “discriminatory policy of the Municipality of Liverpool“.

A translation of the article said that the council was discriminating against Orthodox people (including Macedonian, Serbian, Russian and Greek Orthodox), due to the council’s current Islamic leadership.

But the office of Liverpool mayor Ned Mannoun​ has said he has no problem with pork or alcohol being served at the luncheon.

When questioned why pork was off the menu, a council spokeswoman had said that

“to serve pork at such a lunch would mean that none of the Muslims in attendance could eat ANY of the food served from the kitchen where all the food is prepared. Apparently pork contaminates the food area and therefore would be insulting to our Muslim guests (or Jewish) and be completely at odds with the entire point of an interfaith lunch where we are trying to bring together people of different faiths.”

Liverpool councillor Peter Ristevski​ had foreshadowed a motion for a council meeting pushing for the lunch budget to be increased so the menu can be expanded to include a traditional pork dish as a menu choice.

But a spokeswoman for the council said they had relented and they would now give guests the options of pork, chicken and beef.

Two options were usually served at council functions and “because Muslims, Hindu and Jewish people don’t eat pork, we don’t normally serve it”, she said.

credit: www.jewishnews.net.au

The Council have stuffed up on so many fronts and displayed a complete ignorance of Judaism and Hinduism. For a start, for the spokeswoman to suggest that” pork contaminates the food area and therefore would be insulting to our Muslim guests (or Jewish)” is ridiculous. I don’t presume to speak for Muslims, but from a Jewish point of view, it’s totally untrue that serving pork would insult Jewish guests. Even orthodox Jews – while they would not eat any of the food as it was not kosher – have never felt insulted; rather they have historically been honoured to be invited to official events. Non-observant Jews, many of whom don’t eat pork, would happily eat the other food options and would not be the least bit insulted to see a pork dish on the table. After all, many Jewish people go out to restaurants and are surrounded by diners eating pork dishes. Why did this ignorant spokeswoman choose to lump Jews in with this statement, when she was obviously deferring to the Muslim guests? This had nothing to do with Jews; they have enough antipathy directed towards them, without the insinuation they are trying to dictate what others can and cannot eat.

As for her contention that Hindus don’t eat pork, this is not correct either. While many Hindus are vegetarians, there is no religious prohibition against eating pork, only beef, as cows are considered sacred. Subhamoy Das writes:

India has 30 per cent of the world’s cattle. There are 26 distinctive breeds of cow in India. Here cows are everywhere! Because the cow is respected as a sacred animal, it’s allowed to roam unharmed, and they are pretty used to the traffic and the rhythm of the city. So, you can see them roaming the streets in towns and cities, grazing unmindfully on the roadside grass verges and munching away vegetables thrown out by street sellers.

Stray and homeless cows are also supported by temples, especially in southern India.

As opposed to the West, where the cow is widely considered as nothing better than walking hamburgers, in India, the cow is believed to be a symbol of the earth – because it gives so much yet asks nothing in return. They are guileless in their behavior and from them flow sacrifices… and milk and curds and butter. It acts as a surrogate mother by providing milk to human beings for the whole life.

credit: dietsindetails.com

In the end the council was forced to backtrack, and gave the option of pork, chicken or beef. It’s odd how ultra sensitive they are towards some groups, but don’t seem aware that there are others who they have not accommodated. There is a sizable population of Buddhists and Hindus, many of whom are vegetarian, yet they don’t seem to have focused on providing them with a vegetarian main dish. Perhaps they consider their needs of lesser importance, and feel that can make do with the vegetable side dishes and a bread roll.

If the council cared so much about its guests’ dietary requirement, maybe they could have found out about the dietary practices of the Buddhists, which vary according to the different sects:

The modern sects of Buddhism have different rules regarding diet. While most practice nonviolence, many consume meat. Chinese and Vietnamese sects consume meat, fish and eggs. However, these same sects reject the Five Pungent Spices, which include garlic and onion. Tibetan Buddhists will not consume fish, avoid fowl but may consume red meat. The belief is that the animals from which red meat comes are large and can provide for many people with their sacrifice.

Has the council thought about other special dietary needs, such as those of vegans, who don’t eat eggs or dairy? Or don’t they matter?

Considering the whole event was hosted by the Christian Orthodox community, it was extremely disrespectful to ignore their dietary preferences, which should have been given priority and a  pork fest laid on to celebrate their culture. There would be no compulsion for other religious groups to partake of such a spread, but at least they would have gained an understanding of the culture from which the Christian Orthodox community came.

Liverpool Council claims to care about diversity:

 Diversity is a key theme of Liverpool, with an amazing harmonious diversity of cultures and religions present in our City.

With one of the most ethnically diverse communities in Sydney, Liverpool residents come from 149 different birthplaces and speak 109 different languages. The largest overseas birthplaces are Fiji, Vietnam, the UK and Italy. In turn, the main languages spoken, other than English, are Arabic, Italian and Vietnamese.

Although Christianity is the main religion in Liverpool, Islam and Hinduism also having a strong representation.

This diversity is represented in the brand by the intertwining colours, shapes and designs featured in the graphic. These important features each have their own distinctive place in the brand, fitting harmoniously together in a creative and colourful representation of the City.

Here’s a chart of the main religious mix within the City.

Religion – ranked by size
Liverpool City 2011 2006 Change
Religion Number % Greater Sydney % Number % Greater Sydney % 2006 to 2011
Western (Roman) Catholic 57,018 31.7 27.5 54,705 33.2 28.3 +2,313
Anglican 19,262 10.7 16.1 20,194 12.3 17.9 -932
Islam 19,199 10.7 4.7 13,734 8.3 3.9 +5,465
Buddhism 10,512 5.8 4.1 9,238 5.6 3.7 +1,274
Hinduism 8,761 4.9 2.6 6,456 3.9 1.7 +2,305
Greek Orthodox 5,154 2.9 2.7 5,074 3.1 2.9 +80
Serbian Orthodox 3,702 2.1 0.3 3,359 2.0 0.3 +343
Christian,nfd 2,938 1.6 1.7 2,034 1.2 1.3 +904
Other Non-Christian Religions 2,898 1.6 0.2 1,336 0.8 0.2 +1,562
Other Eastern Orthodox 2,780 1.5 0.6 2,799 1.7 0.6 -19

From this it is clear that Christianity is by far the largest religion represented. also noteworthy is that Judaism doesn’t appear in this chart, presumably coming under the heading “Other Non-Christian Religions”, so why would the spokeswoman even mention this statistically insignifcant group?

Array Of Aboriginal Bush Tucker including a Witchetty Grub

Liverpool Council goes to great lengths to acknowledge the original inhabitants of the Liverpool area, who have lived here for 40,000 years, ” being the Darug, Gandangara and Tharawal Aboriginal people”, and that it “provides a number of initiatives to promote and celebrate Aboriginal culture within Liverpool”.

If this is to be more than tokenism, surely the Council should provide some suitable food to reflect this respect? This website might give you some ideas:

Oh, and don’t forget the Witchetty Grubs!

So, Liverpool Council, time to lift your game. Maybe next time you have an interfaith meeting, make it a food-free one. That way, you won’t offend anybody!

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2 comments

  1. And folks think the “Tower of Babel” is a myth! It may have no historicity; but it is, nevertheless, permanently true.

  2. Acher, thanks for your comment. I think a lot of the bible stories have deep significance, which often go unheeded in modern times.

    What to me characterises Liverpool Council is its mixture of arrogance and moral confusion – which I guess is a simlar state found in the people who tried to build a tower to reach up to the heavens.