Lebanon’s ‘Menu of Death’ food scandal: A microcosm of the greater scandal afflicting Lebanese politics?
By Manar Hammoud
Lebanon, Switzerland of the east or so it was called, has seen quite a few scandals in the past few weeks. The most recent of which is the existence of a female Islamic State recruiting group in Tripoli. Of course, this is not what the Lebanese are discussing; they have more pressing concerns. Wael Abou Faour the Lebanese health minister has released a ‘blacklist’, also known as the “menu of death”, that consists of restaurants and supermarkets that do not fit the ministry’s criteria for food safety.
Many of the restaurants and Supermarkets were nationwide chains that many people trust. Obviously many people were outraged, “why should we trust the ministry?” “Abou Faour is trying to gain popularity” “What are the criteria?” “Who is the lab that has done the study? “These are statements made by many Lebanese. In fact, the minister of tourism Michel Pharaon has claimed that Abou Faour’s “ blacklist” hurts tourism and Lebanon is the safest place to eat from in the middle east.
Obviously, to a non-Lebanese these arguments seem a bit odd but everything has an explanation. The First two can be explained by the long history of politicians disappointing Lebanese citizens. The latest example of such a disappointment is the fact that the parliament has extended its mandate for three extra years which means that it has been seven years in office, instead of four. The excuse is security reasons. Ironically enough even Syrians living in Lebanon have voted for elections, Syria is currently in a state of civil war.
The issues concerned with criteria and labs are vital and should be questioned. In fact, when releasing the “menu of death” the minister did not mention, let alone explain, the criteria through which the food chains would be judged. In fact, some of those chains have ISO accreditation so why is it that they have failed the ministry’s standards? Another issue is concerned with the Labs. According to Abou Faour government labs were used to test samples from these restaurants. Of course, the labs themselves would generate a myriad of questions that health officials would ask. Some of which would include the cleanliness of the equipment and the way the samples were stored.
There are more important questions to be asked, “Why now?” and more importantly “why the outrage?” Abou Faour has been a health minister for quite a while before hunting down non-criteria meeting entities. After all, he is the man who said “Tourism and Economy would not rise on the citizen’s dead body.” If he cared so much about the citizen the why did it take too long. He has been the minister of Health for over six months already. One possible answer is the fact that the ministry is trying to cause a bigger scandal than the one caused by the parliament extending its mandate, this may or may not be true.
If it is true then Abou Faour has managed to distract the public through something that the public already knows. Last year, two brothers were tried for selling expired meet in 2012 in south of Lebanon. Of course, they were not the only ones; recently even more expired meat was confiscated in the North. In fact, there were other scandals concerning the change of expire dates on expired goods in storage facilities. Yet, the “blacklist” has sent many Lebanese into a state of panic and unrest after the release of the “menu of death.”
In conclusion, Abou Faour’s “blacklist” or the “menu of death” has managed to raise several important questions. These questions are not concerned just with food safety but also with the way the country functions. Granted many are suspicious of the ministry’s actions but at the end of the day, it is better late than never.
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