Do your parents a favour and eat at home this Ramazan

Published: July 23, 2014
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The first fast food restaurant in Pakistan to have capitalised on this trend in Ramazan was Pizza Hut.

According to a recent research, people in Pakistan spend 47.7% of their income on fast food and beverages. If we compare this to the spending patterns of other countries we will realise that this is, in fact, a very high ratio.

Eating out is a popular pastime for the people of Pakistan – we are seen at restaurants, food courts and even food stands during festivals and celebrations. Ramazan, ironically, is like a month of food festivities for us. With people choosing different food for sehri and iftar, in Ramazan we are seen frequenting food outlets a lot more than in any other regular month.

Honestly speaking, when it comes to planning the perfect iftar meal out, we are tireless. It may seem that we are more concerned about planning and preparing the meal we will guzzle down at iftar than observing our fasts – but we are just foodies.

Anyway, what is important, however, is that eating habits and priorities are changing and it is time we understood that. For example, a few years back, sehri was considered a very important part of Ramazan and people used to meet up over delicacies like khajla, pheni and jalebis to mark the beginning of their fast. Today, however, sehri has lost its charm and people are more inclined to indulging in an extravagant iftar and a light sehri.

A few years ago, the concept of going out for iftar was not nearly as popular as it has become now; as a matter of fact, the mindset earlier was that people should stay at home for iftar and go out after for something light – if required. Similarly, traditional foods that used to dominate our Ramazan evenings have now been substituted by non-traditional cuisine even if it costs a fortune. We have become more adventurous with our taste buds; in fact, we are prone to eating fusion cuisines now more than we ever were before.

This change in trend is something all multinational fast food chains have sneakily picked up on their radars and have started exploiting for their own benefits. After extensive research on what constitutes the ‘perfect iftar meal’ for the average urban Pakistani, these companies introduce various ‘deals’ to entice their customers. The importance of Pakistan in the eyes of these multinational food chains can be gauged from the fact that these two global food chains, Johnny Rockets and Fatburger, have opened their largest dining outlets in Pakistan.

Previously, competition was not very intense because there weren’t many competitors, but today, all that has changed. Today, there are multiple food chains providing, if not the same then, similar food for their clients. As a result, not only do these multinationals have to compete with each other, they need to maintain a standard above that of popular local food chains too. As a result, what we, the foodies, are left with are an array of options, lots of creative advertising and killer deals.

The first fast food restaurant in Pakistan to have capitalised on this trend in Ramazan was Pizza Hut. They introduced all-you-can-eat deals and catchy names to attract pizza lovers in the late 90s. In recent years though, it seems this trend has caught on and become more popular amongst multinationals and consumers. Many multinationals have now started playing on words to associate their products to Ramazan; McDonalds calls its Ramazan deal ‘Dine Divine’.

Burger King, the latest entrant in Pakistan’s fast food market, have called their Ramazan deal the ‘Royal Ramazan’ and Johnny Rockets sells it as the ‘Dates to Desserts’ Ramazan deal.

Along with catchy names, these food chains have to work on their pricing as well. McDonalds, for example, launched its first Ramazan deal at Rs285 in 1998 and cannot raise its price to a much higher amount otherwise its customers will stop visiting the food outlet. Johnny Rockets and Fatburger, both of which launched expensive deals in the beginning, have had to re-think their pricing strategy to make up for the lost sales during this month.

While all these food chains are busy finding the answer to the ‘perfect Ramazan meal deal’, we, the consumers, are playing right into their hands. Do we forget about our health or monthly expenses during this month? Or do we all earn an atrocious amount of money and have somehow justified such kind of reckless expense on fast food?

In a recent research, it was revealed that children who eat two to three burgers a week are at a high risk of asthma and wheezing. Also, eating fast food is one of the major causes of obesity and other weight-related issues. Parents in Pakistan, though, have conveniently chosen to ignore these facts and are happily feeding their kids all sorts of junk.

Yes, the influx of multinational food chains is a great sign for the country’s economy but we have to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, they are here to sell their products and will take advantage of all the different changes in our eating patterns to benefit their business. Considering the profits go to the company’s country of origin, where does Pakistan come in all this? In my view, their expansion should be controlled to give breathing space to local food outlets that are currently struggling to compete with them due to limited budget. This will lead to a greater boost to our economy.

Besides that, the food at local chains is still considerably fresh and contains fewer preservatives than the foods provided at many of these multinational food chains. Besides that, but compared to foreign food chains, local food outlets are much lighter on the pocket too. One of the things I believe this month teaches us is moderation, and spending excessively on anything, even food, is negating the basic premise of this holy month to begin with.

Parents today have the added responsibility of educating their children about this capitalist culture that is steadily engulfing the country. It is important for them to realise that, as time goes by, everything including healthcare, education and other important utilities will become harder to afford. Charity begins at home so do your parents a favour and eat at home!

Khurram Zia Khan

Khurram Zia Khan

The writer is the media manager of Asiatic Public Relations and tweets @KhurramZiaKhan (twitter.com/KhurramZiaKhan)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.