Eating our way to Social Cohesion


Many of us are overzealous in thinking that national unity promises a pledge of peace and harmony while living in a society. However, we tend to neglect the most important stepping stone in accomplishing national unity: social cohesion. Dr Aiedah Abdul Khalek, Lecturer at the School of Arts and Social Sciences sheds some light.

The notion of social cohesion is defined by way of a continuing process of rising a society of shared values, challenges, and bonded relationship which is grounded on trust and reciprocity. This concept dwells on a steadfast relationship, willingness to participate among the members of the society, and a sense of belonging to a group. The question that may arise is how do we then manage our ethnic, religious, language and cultural differences in creating a cohesive society?

A cohesive society is constructed based on three fundamental pillars – the absence of social exclusion among the members of the society; interaction and connection that binds them; and shared values, even though they may come from diverse language, religious, and ethnic backgrounds.

At the micro level, eating which is a basic human necessity, is a common standpoint to observe the level of social cohesion within a community. Some religions and belief systems have their own dietary guidelines. Do these dietary practices separate or unite us?

Muslims are only allowed to consume halal food. The concept of halal in the social cohesion context could be viewed from two different stances – positive or negative. In certain instances, differences in dietary practices can either bind or break us. For instance, if the members of the society take these differences positively and with respect, the dining experience could be a platform for achieving social cohesion.

When dining together, many of us feel respected and appreciated if others take into consideration our dietary requirement. This applies to the various types of dietary requirements such as vegans, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus and Buddhists practitioners. It is crucial then in a multi-cultural society, to respect the differences.

On the other hand, a cohesive and well united society will remain as a flitting dream if people take their differences, as a barrier to blend with others. To elucidate, one would feel offended if his or her dietary requirement is not considered or respected, or even worse, gets joked about by others.

Valuing each other’s differences can be observed not only by being considerate of what one cannot eat, but also acknowledging what one can eat. Halal can indeed be a platform for social cohesion, where members of the society can build their relationship by dining together, and respecting each other’s dietary requirements.

A cohesive society is not about sharing the same beliefs, practices and principles. It is however about being able to appreciate, embrace and respect the differences and diversity which makes up the world we live in.

Having a meal together regardless of race and religious beliefs has always been a stimulating topic, discussed during the Ethnic Relations class, a Malaysian General Studies subject offered at Monash University Malaysia. This is in line with Monash’s dedication in upholding cultural diversity and maintaining an inclusive academic environment, free from racism and discrimination.

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