Sunday, July 4, 2021

On the two Lebanons living on my Instagram

So yesterday as I was scrolling through my Instagram in the stories section someone posted some alarming statistics "Lebanon: Nearly 80 percent of households do not have food or money to buy food, UN warns". A very startling figure to put it mildly, which can easily explain some of the social agitation, tire-burning, road-closing the country is seeing as of late (I say "some" as to quote another person "chaos is never innocent"). 

But Instagram is also obviously advertising-based. So right next to the image showing the UN statistics, there was an ad for a very upscale internet-only app-based salad bar. You know the kind, the one that sells keto and paleo-diet based dishes (I am not inventing this, this is the label of the advertised dishes), vegetarian-only portions, or gluten-free items, and which has "influencers" peddling its products all over their account and the list continues.

I am a very basic eater mind you, though surprisingly due to my weight which has drastically gone down due to diabetes, I tend to go for large portions. But picky I am not. So it is a bit surprising how come I was targeted by that ad especially that none of my scrolling involves food. Still, I checked the online store and a meal for a regular family (provided they would appreciate tastes such a little off their usual menu) would set you back easily around 600,000 Liras - considering the minimum wage in Lebanon is 675,000 Liras, you do the math.

Just to be clear, this is by no means a criticism but rather a description. Long, long ago, a journalist criticized me for saying this sentence (although she gave a glowing review of my first solo show back in 2002). But I keep standing by it. If you have the means to afford a meal from such a shop, then by all means enjoy it. But also this is the same country where around 80 percent do not have food or money for food (if you look closer to the statistics they are even more distressing - 30% of children are missing an essential meal every day, 60% of families are buying food on credit, and 15% stopped sending their children to school while 25% cannot afford tools for online learning).

But this is Lebanon. Lebanons, plural. Of course, every country has these disparities, but Lebanon has the disadvantage of being too small geographically, and such disparities are there, naked to the eye, too close to be hidden. Paleo diet and no diet coexisting in a small space which is too narrow on the bird's eye view.

Yet, to quote that well-to-do girl who was sitting in a trendy pub in Gemmayze when asked about what was happening in the Southern suburb of Beirut in 2006 (basically the suburb was being pummeled by Israeli airstrikes practically flattening it almost entirely), her ennui-filled answer was: "Je m'en fous".