So Subway has gone pork-free as they await halal certification for their 132 outlets. So what?

It’s an enormous deal to some people, it seems.

My young colleague Noah Tan first alerted me to what he felt were the ridiculous reactions to Subway’s decision to chop pork from their menu.

“I think going to Subway for processed pork is missing the whole point of Subway,” he said, explaining that the sandwich chain is known for its healthy sandwiches.

If any among my friends should be upset by the Subway decision, it should be Noah. He doesn’t eat seafood, so his protein options would be limited to beef, chicken, mutton and…oh dear, I don’t even know if he eats fish.

Another colleague, Cheryl Leong, felt put off by those thinking that just because they patronised Subway, they had a right to decide whether or not the sandwich franchise could go pork-free. And it was as if only what they liked mattered.

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“Nobody I know lives for Subway sandwiches,” exclaimed the kindest person I’ve ever met. “Now, suddenly, Subway is life.”

Some among those who commented on the announcement of the decision on Subway’s Facebook page outrightly condemned the decision to go pork-free. The more measured among them asked if it was possible to have halal and non-halal food options. There were also those who asked whether Subway could have opted to have a few outlets, instead of having all 132 outlets, go pork-free.

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Subway’s response:

“In order for Subway Singapore to become Halal certified, all 132 restaurants in the market must serve a Halal menu, substituting all pork options with chicken or beef options.

“We respect the diverse preferences of our guests and we made this decision to extend the Subway experience to all customers. We hope you will continue to enjoy our other available options.”

It was suffixed by a friendly little smiley at the end.

The outcry was, in a sense, an eye-opener for me.

Truth be told, apart from the bacon strips that I would occasionally have with an egg mayonnaise sandwich, I had no idea what other pork options Subway offered before they went pork-free on March 21.

Noah told me there was salami, and added that it was processed pork and not exactly healthy. Cheryl explained it was in the Italian BMT but reminded me she didn’t eat pork, not for religious reasons but because she didn’t fancy it. It was another colleague, Marilyn Peh, who put it in perspective when she said: “It’s not as if bak kut teh became pork-free.”

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I am not going to ask whether Subway’s move to go halal was intended as a decision to be more inclusive or one that was driven by the hope of making more profit. But the fact is, Muslim diners, especially those who adhere to a strictly halal diet, would – once Subway acquired the halal licence – be able to step into any of the franchise’s 132 Singapore outlets and enjoy a meal there without being judged.

And for the more pious among the Muslims in Singapore, it would be unconscionable to step into Subway until that label was safely in place.

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So, is giving up pork such a bad thing?

Perhaps, on account of the fact I’m not the most discriminating person when it comes to eating (several of my friends have looked at what I eat and called it swill), I may not be the right person to answer that question.

My meal choices – other than swill – are completely dictated by the culinary whims of my 12-year-old son. But my son Alex will always have at least one more place to eat than a Muslim boy his age, because he is cool with pork.

And when Noah, Cheryl, Marilyn and I head out to lunch along with another colleague, Maisurah Hamid, she would have more halal options within walking distance of our office, if Subway became halal.

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“This is great because we actually have very few places that have halal food, even here in the heart of the city. Sometimes, I find myself having to ‘ta pao’ food from home because I have already gone to all the places that are available,” said Maisurah.

I asked my Internet friends what they thought of Subway going pork-free to see if I would get a strident response. It turned out remarkably lukewarm.

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“Do I have to apologise for this?” asked Syafiqah ’Adha Sallehin, a prominent young local musician-composer. Absolutely not, I replied.

Actress and funny woman Patricia Mok said on my Facebook timeline: “I don’t eat beef and I don’t like chicken, because usually the meat is hard. So I always have honey baked ham with tuna. Now, no need to eat, liao.

“Never mind, la. I can make my own ham sandwich with my sandwich maker,” she added. It was by no means a move on her part to boycott the sandwich chain.

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However, it came to my attention that there was a group in Singapore, with about 1,200 members, whose raison d’être is to boycott halal eateries here. I’m not going to hyperlink their webpage and I’m not even going to name them because they don’t deserve any sort of publicity. Just know that they demanded the boycott of Subway citing reasons I will not repeat.

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It was Fir Dauz Nasir who made the group known to me. The boss of Noods and Meats Smokehouse, a halal eatery in a food centre in Yishun Ring Road, said: “Why so much hatred? This is 2018. It really makes me angry to see something like this in Singapore.”

Understandably so, because Fir Dauz, who was formerly marketing manager at Singapore Halal Culinary Federation, creates food for Muslims, who cannot eat pork.

“I’m creating cuisine for Muslims to enjoy and there are people who create this group to boycott halal food?” He lamented. He gets it that some people may love their pork. “But there is no need to be so extreme, to boycott Subway or any eatery that serves halal food,” he added.

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Indeed. Alex and I would be welcome in any Muslim eatery in Singapore. Or any non-halal one. And it really isn’t a massive deal that pork has been removed from the menu of his favourite sandwich outlet.

So unless you are able to eat pork only and nothing else, you will always have at least one more option than the halal-adhering Muslim guy who makes up 15 per cent of Singapore’s resident population.

On that account, please, let them have a place at that Subway table.

Top Image: The Pride