International relations and spicy winglets—they're like two peas in a lard-laden pod. When the State Department wonks of tomorrow and their shadowy CIA contacts attempt to alter the tides of nations to suit their needs, it won't be John Kerry that they turn to, but the Colonel. You know, the one from Kentucky.
Why? Because one disgruntled Malaysian took to Facebook after noting a disconcerting dipping sauce label at his favorite multinational eatery, Texas Chicken Malaysia. And the rest is history.
So, what the hell kind of Frankenstaurant is Texas Chicken Malaysia, you ask yourself?
On June 1, Texas Chicken Malaysia received an inquiry from a concerned customer:
"Dear TCM … Please do explain your dipping sauce brand at Malaysia franchises … Most of ur customer is a Muslim … AND Muslim didn't not eat food from church brands — feeling worried," the man wrote on Texas Chicken Malaysia's Facebook page (sic throughout).
Why was he so troubled? After all, Church's Chicken obviously went to some lengths to take the "church" out of its name in its Malaysian outposts.
Corporations like Church's Chicken know very well that brand name usage abroad can be particularly tricky for international companies. Witness Barf, the Iranian dishwashing detergent, and Pocari Sweat, the Japanese sports drink. Each of these probably needs some serious name plastic surgery before the noncorporeal ghost of Billy Mays gets brought on board for an infomercial.
The problem for Church's in Malaysia, though, was an offending dipping sauce. It was served alongside the chicken consumed by one Mista Bob Faishah, who uncovered the brand name "Church's," apparently under the label with the name "Texas Chicken," which he deftly removed.
Mista Bob, a self-proclaimed Muslim, was concerned that by consuming something labeled "church's" he was committing an act that was haram, or in violation of a Muslim prohibition against consuming food that wasn't made according to Koranic standards.
Here's the thing: culture clash and brand marketing aside, Mister Bob's grievance isn't even a question of halal preparation. In fact, plenty of local commenters were all too happy to give him a virtual beat-down for it. For example, one commenter named Al Kok wrote:
"Mista Bob, you said you just wanted to enquire about church brand on the sauce. Why must you say that muslims don't eat church brand? Next time just speak for yourself. For your info besides Church's Chicken, there is Church brand shoes, singer name Charlotte church, City name Christchurch. The word church is not haram or tak halal. Don't be so ignorant and naive. To educate you there is a brand for pens called cross, singer name christopher cross and cross city in florida. Actor name Christian Bale. You want people to respect your religion, you must first respect other people's religion also. Remember, Malaysia is a multi racial country with different religions."
Rock on, Al Kok. We like your tolerant approach and applaud your apt use of Google alerts to fuel your virtual vigilantism.
Texas Church Malaysia quickly did its part to quell fears, too; not only is their brand not affiliated with a religion, their founder's last name just happened to be Church. On Facebook, they wrote back to Mista Bob:
"Please be informed that the brand Texas Chicken was founded in San Antonio, Texas USA by our founder by the name of George W. Church Sr — Church being his surname and the name of the brand Church's Chicken. Hence the word 'church' here is not used in a religious context nor does it have any affiliation with a church or gereja."
They also reassured customers that their food complies with halal standards.
This incident seems to be indicative of a larger, more important issue: as we've previously reported, there is currently no global standard on halal slaughter and preparation, outside of the rules prescribed by religious law. That's quite the conundrum for health inspectors worldwide, considering the global halal market will be a $1.6 trillion industry by 2018.
In fact, Malaysian halal standards expert Darhim Dali Hashim reported to Arabian Business that, despite frequent aims to create a single global standard, "[there] may be a stage where there will be three standards based on the [various] trading blocs."
According to the local press, "Growing religious conservatism in Malaysia has given rise to more such incidents, with regular 'halal' scares taking place before—more often than not—turning out to be hoaxes."
Recent such incidents have run the gamut from alleged pig DNA in chocolates to complaints over a picture of the Hindu temple at the iconic Batu Caves being too close to a "halal" logo.
Yes, pig DNA in chocolate. It turned out to be unfounded, but that didn't stop the shitstorm of backlash faced by British chocolatier Cadbury after trace amounts of pork DNA were initially said to have been found in two Cadbury chocolate products.
Moving to the realm of non-food related, cross-cultural scandals in Malaysia, how about the recent case of the nude selfies taken by a group of hikers? That one set off an international relations brouhaha and was even blamed for the recent Mt. Kinabalu earthquake that killed 18 people and left hundreds stranded.
Meanwhile, Mista Bob has since apologized:
"Deepest from my heart that i want to ask apologized for my post before (1 june) . . . .I hope with my apologized here can stop all the negtve things goes more bigger.. That what can i say i only just want to inquiry regarding that brands only.. But for ur info i still enjoy my meal with my favorite winglets from TCM.! Once again.. I'm apologized for my post before that i had removed because i don't want that all people read n negtve thingking of my inquiries."
It's a tale as old as time: a picturesque Texan—er, Malaysian—chicken joint doles out tolerance with a side of spicy winglets and a kiddie pool of free-market ranch dressing to wash it down for good measure.
Maybe fast food can make the world a better place, after all.