TN health minister roasted for remarks on shawarma & other 'medical' gaffes
Tamil Nadu health minister Ma Subramanian, DMK’s social media poster boy from the time he assumed charge last year, is now under fire for his comments on the shawarma, a dish of Lebanese origin and loved by Arabs. Loyal DMK fans of the minister are caught between their admiration for the fighting-fit health minister and there’s no smoke-without-a-fire aromas of this grilled chicken wrapped in pita bread roll.
Some of the most ardent MaSu’s (the moniker of the health minister) supporters were gobsmacked, when they heard the minister say at a press conference recently that people of the state should shun the dish because it is not “native” enough and because “shawarma is a dish that is suitable for eating in cold countries”.
Shawarma is extremely common in the Middle East and made with marinated meat grilled and wrapped in pita bread.
Talking to the media, MaSu said, “There are proper procedures that should be followed while making the shawarma. When people eat substandard or contaminated food items, it causes health problems. It is commonly consumed abroad because of their weather conditions. Weather is generally cold abroad, the meat stays fresh even without refrigeration. But, in tropical countries like ours, preserving meat for long is difficult.”
The minister’s comment comes in the wake of three veterinary college students falling ill after eating shawarma at Thanjavur on May 5. The incident created a panic in the state since it happened close on the heels of the death of a 16-year-old girl in Kerala, after she also consumed shawarma recently.
Officials from the food safety and drug administration department carried out raids in the eateries of Trichy and Karur districts and seized nearly 130 kgs of meat that was believed to be stale. It is in this backdrop, the health minister declared that the Tamil Nadu government, like Kerala, is contemplating banning shawarma.
Minister’s unfounded claims
More than the talk of banning shawarma, it is the minister’s remarks which has no scientific backing that irked people. A marathon runner and a fitness enthusiast, who is credited with establishing the first-of-its-kind school for muscular dystrophy children at Chennai, during his tenure as Mayor of TN’s capital, Subramanian earlier strongly endorsed herbal drinks such as ‘nilavembu kudineer’ (comprising nine ingredients of equal measure) and ‘kabasura kudineer’ (a poly-herbal Siddha medicine) to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He also suggested that breathing exercises like pranayama could counter the effects of the coronavirus.
The recent transfer of Madurai Medical College Dean and his reinstatement over the issue of the Charak Shapath Oath is also being viewed as a major slip-up by the minister.
A senior doctor who requested anonymity said, “There are 9 MLAs from the DMK party who are qualified doctors. Anyone could have been given the health portfolio. But the party decided to give it to Subramanian because he is a senior leader and has experience in public life. He is being advised by a team of doctors on various issues. Despite that there have been slip-ups. However, he is affable and ready to correct himself when the mistakes are pointed out.”
Talking to The Federal, Dr Shanthi, secretary, Doctors Association for Social Equality said that the minister listens when any wrong claims made by him are corrected with facts.
“For example, in the case of students protesting against high fees being collected in Cuddalore Medical College on par with private colleges, the DMK stood in support of the students when it was in the Opposition. But now it says that the students’ protest is wrong. When we took up the matter with him, he listened patiently and assured us of a positive result. Similarly, we hope that our association’s demand that the ‘Physician’s Pledge’ should be invoked, instead of Hippocratic Oath and Charak Shapath Oath will also be considered,” she said.
Targetted attacks on non-veg foods?
Ravishankar Ayyakkannu, a DMK supporter, had posted on social media that in Arab countries, “where the temperature hovers around 50 degree celsius, people love to eat shawarma but the minister speaks as if the food item is consumed by people living in Iceland”.
“It’s high time that the state health department should be headed by people having scientific temper,” asserted Ayyakannu.
Some observers felt that only selective foods were being targetted. Non-vegetarian food is often at the wrong end of the stick when it comes to healthy versus unhealthy debates, they said.
However, Dr Farook Abdulla, a medical practitioner, told The Federal that the criticism against meat- related foods could also be based on the hygiene factor. He added that while 95 per cent of eateries are following the right procedures in making these food items, there could be a five per cent aberration.
“We cannot say that non-vegetarian foods are being targetted without substantial evidence. But post-pandemic, due to loss of employment, many have started biryani and shawarma eateries, which attracts a lot of people. When the food items do not meet their quality standards, it causes problems. The meat items should be freshly bought and properly preserved and the eateries should clear the stock every day,” he said adding that the government should monitor whether the food safety and standards protocols are properly implemented every now and then.