Nothing is more personal than the choice of food we eat. It is strange, therefore, so often in the modern world, that choice is removed from us. We are forced to eat food components we would rather not.Monosodium
Glutamate is a flavour enhancer widely used around the world. It is also something which many people react negatively to, in particular, non-Chinese people. It is a curious observation that Chinese people have a biological advantage in clearing MSG from their systems. Thus, a Chinese person has much greater tolerance for MSG than a non-Chinese person. This makes for interesting situations. You see, it means that a Chinese person may be perfectly comfortable eating food that a non-Chinese person would find unpleasant.
I once had such an unpleasant experience in a restaurant. We were in an Asian country that likes to use MSG in its food, so we made a particular point of telling the waitress that we didn't want MSG in the food. She nodded her understanding: there would be no MSG.
Then the restaurant did something odd. The woman we had spoken to went away and a new waitress came back. So, just to be safe, I repeated the request to this waitress: no MSG. Again, she nodded her understanding.
Then they did something very strange. A third person attended to us. So, for the last time, we repeated our request that there be no MSG in the food.
Eventually, the food came. Now, as is the way with many restaurants, the food was strong on flavour and low on quantity...but that didn't particularly bother me, having seen this phenomenon in many other restaurants. It tasted rather good. In fact, I began to become suspicious about the intensity of the flavour. In particular, the soup left a strong tingling on my tongue as of a flavour that would not go away. This seemed a lot like MSG to me.
By the time the meal had finished, I was feeling the typical effects of MSG on me: a dazedness
combined with a severe and growing headache. Indeed, such was the strength of the response that, in my estimate, that "MSG free meal" that we had requested contained MORE MSG than any other meal I had eaten in memory. I could not recall a more intense and sudden reaction.
This irked me. It just wasn't right that I - and the others who had dined - were to suffer for several hours from headaches and dazedness
, after we had specifically requested that there be no MSG in the food. The restaurant had broken its basic contract with all customers: to give them what they want. They had given us specifically what we didn't want.
Sure enough, for the next few hours, I nursed a terrible headache. I was also rather dazed. Without any doubt, I had consumed a lot of MSG.
Now, if you are of Chinese origin, you may be wondering why I am making a fuss about this. Well, it is simple. This "flavour enhancer" may make a meal taste better, but in my particular case, it also comes with a headache and hours of dazedness
. The side effects outweigh the benefits, considerably. For me, and for those who share my genetic construction (ie
. quite a few non-Chinese people), a meal with significant MSG is a ruined meal. It is a meal that will punish its consumer for several hours, thereafter. Personally, I don't think any meal is worth eating, no matter how tasty, if it leaves me dazed with an awful headache for the rest of the day.
It comes back to choice. Everyone should have the choice on whether or not their food is adulterated by anything which is not innately part of the food. If it is not part of the food, in nature, it should be optional for the consumer. MSG is NOT part of most foods. It is added in cooking. Now, this adulterant and all others, should ONLY be added if specifically requested by the consumer. It should be an OPT-IN situation, not an opt out situation. The reason for this is clear: opting out just doesn't work in many cases. We tried our best to opt out of MSG in this particular meal, but their assurances and nods to us were nothing but lies. Perhaps they thought we were just being eccentric in making this request and that it could be safely ignored because we wouldn't notice. Well, of course, we noticed because to those of our genetic background, this particular adulterant is basically a poison and has noticeable toxic effects.
Given that we tried our best to opt out of the adulteration by MSG and that it had not worked, we decided that the only option left was never to eat out in that country again: those headaches were just not worth it. Thus, the lies of one restaurant, cost every other restaurant in the land the possibility of our patronage.
Thus it is clear that giving the customer choice in such matters makes good business sense: if a restaurant doesn't allow a customer to opt out of an adulterant, owing to food sensitivity (and a reaction to MSG could be called a food sensitivity), then restaurants will lose business. People will simply go to where they can opt out. In our case, this meant avoiding all restaurants in that country altogether.
Food sensitivity is a serious matter. All in the food and beverage business should take it seriously - for not only does it affect the customer, but it affects their bottom line, too. If a customer wants to opt out of MSG, or salt, or wheat, or soy or dairy, then they should be allowed to do so. A responsible restaurant that allows such opting out is one that will get more business, too.
I realize that most will not share my concern about MSG, in this post, because most people will not react with headaches and dazedness
. However, a proportion of people will react to it and for this reason all should have the right to opt out. In Chinese dominated countries, MSG is used a lot in cooking. However, such countries should still allow opting out because they will have non-Chinese in their midst who are not so genetically equipped to process the ingredient.
People's food sensitivities should be respected and restaurants should take steps to accommodate those of their customers. To do otherwise, it to ensure that certain customers will never come back - and is that good for any restaurant?
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Labels: Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, food poisoning, lack of customer service, Monosodium Glutamate, MSG, respect