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On the third day of Lebaran, or Idul Fitri, I could hardly remember what day it was. It was Tuesday but I felt it was like Sunday.
After three days of Idul Fitri celebrations with my family, I thought about the famous television program Man vs Food, which I recently had the opportunity to watch.
The host is a beefy guy who is billed as one of the world’s biggest carnivores. His food options always center on, well, a variety of beef, or typical Western junk food — gigantic burgers and fries, chilly-dogs with enormous portions of cheese, over-the-top pizzas or 800 grams of pork ribs.
A similar thing happens around numerous family tables during Lebaran, including my own. Close friends and people I hardly know from my Facebook friend list updated their status every 10 seconds with pictures they had taken of the high protein, high calorie foods being served at their dinner tables.
In my family, for example, on the first day of Lebaran we had thick lodeh, a soupy vegetable dish with shrimp and chunky beef, the rich curried chicken soup known as opor ayam, two kinds of rendang, a spicy beef stew, and plenty of sweets.
Our colleagues and family friends sent us a huge box of Canadian red cherries, cheese and lapis legit (sweet layered cake), African gateaux chocolate cake, ice cream and so on.
In the evening, at my uncle’s place, we had a whole giant pan of gulai kambing (curry goat meat) and satay. I was so full I was nauseous afterwards.
And on day two of Lebaran, I decided to fast a little bit, meaning that I only ate dates and drank water until late in the afternoon. By dusk I ate a small portion of the sticky rice cake known as ketupat ketan.
That day, our family held an open house at the function hall at my in-law’s apartment. The menu for the event included Chinese dumplings, siomay, nasi liwet (steamed rice with side dishes), mi kangkung (cabbage noodles), chicken satay, etc. And as expected, guests arrived with lots of additional desserts.
Our refrigerator was so ridiculously full that I was not sure if the freon was working or not. We ordered too much of everything. Even after sharing some of the leftovers with our neighbors, we still had plenty of food. I tried to forget about it and avoid opening my fridge for an indefinite period.
If I were a perfectionist, and an organized type of mom, I am sure I would have packed all the food into small containers and donated them to the poor. With all the food around, my house smelled like a public kitchen back in World War II.
The next day we had to go to Bogor for another Idul Fitri celebration and dinner.
Despite the constant news about food shortages and how the changing climate is creating food scarcities everywhere, there was no trace of such a tragedy during Lebaran. What I saw during the Idul Fitri holidays, instead, was excessive meals for all. Such a sight is not particularly surprising though, as Indonesia, like many other Asian countries, is experiencing healthy economic growth.
Despite the recent ratings on the Gini coefficient, which reveals a worsening distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor, statistics show the number of people in the upper-middle class in Indonesia is rising.
Time magazine recently reported on how Asia would be home to the world’s richest population by 2050. It mentioned India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Mongolia and even Sri Lanka as economies on the rise, not to mention the obvious powerhouses such as Singapore, China, Hong Kong and South Korea. Collectively, the East will rule the 21st century with the exception of Japan, which will face a major slowdown.
The article prompted me to read more about macro-economic predictions for the next four decades and the links to environmental issues facing us today. It got me thinking about what my four-year-old son will be doing then, and whether I will have the opportunity to witness the era.
Without complete data or statistics to make any reliable conclusions, my simple mind can only understand the reality today, including the excessive food in our fridge, and our hope for the future.
If Asia is going to be the new home to the richest, then we need to make sure that the billions of people who live in China, India and Indonesia are ready with their own set of Eastern ethics and Eastern wisdom.
The noble values of keeping our greed in check, as required during fasting in various religions such as Islam, must be incorporated in our future culture. Otherwise, the ups and downs of the economic cycle will repeat the same story of the previous century.
We will rape and torture Mother Earth to fulfill our endless desires of sheer greed and power. We will again abuse ourselves and deny our basic needs for love and compassion in favor of material things.
And if we fail to realize the dangers ahead, we might become rich economically, but we will fall into hatred between one another. If we can gamble on the future now, let’s decide on the best for our children. One small step may be to start by deciding what to order for our next Lebaran meal and what to keep in our refrigerators.
Happy Eid Mubarak to all.
The writer, a graduate of the globalization and law masters program at Maastricht University, the Netherlands, is a full-time mother.