*Pizzas, Pigs, and the Presidency: Happy Lucky Three-some in Guyana

It is my last night in Guyana, and I am struck by the fact that Guyana is surely the only country I have been to where I have yet to see a pizza restaurant. Pizzas, Chinese, and Indian food have become the global food of our times, and I wonder why pizzas have not found their way into Guyanese society. A friend remarked that somewhere in Georgetown is Guyana’s only pizza shop, but he described its pizza as rotten. One bad pizza joint cannot tell the whole story. The absence of pizza is all the more surprising considering that the New York area has become a mini-Guyana, with, I am told, something like 200,000 Indo-Guyanese or more settled in that area. Some entrepreneur could surely have taken the New York-style thin crust pizza back to Guyana?

Every country in the world has its version of Chinese food. The generic Chinese restaurant has a sound, I should say thriving, home in Guyana. With names such as Happy Lucky, Fat Boy, Silver Dragon, New Moon, Jade Inn, China Moon, Happy Garden, and Golden Dragon, one should perhaps expect little better than slightly greasy noodles or sweet and sour pork. Chinese restaurants remain one of the principal employers of the Chinese. A new albeit small class of upscale Chinese restaurants, something akin to the Hong-Kong style Chinese restaurants that dominate the landscape of Monterey Park and the San Gabriel Valley in the Los Angeles area, has arrived on the scene in Georgetown. The signature piece is the never-more aptly named “The New Thriving Restaurant”, a glassy palace or Shangri-la or sorts for the elite of Guyana. Not far from the modest residence of Guyana’s President, this huge restaurant on Main Street was described to me as having replaced its namesake that was burnt down some years ago. At its opening, its Chinese proprietors staged a cultural show highlighting Guyana’s multiculturalism before an audience comprised of senior members in the government. What was I was not told, but read in the Kaiteur News yesterday, is that the President, Bharat Jagdeo, and the Agriculture Minister feasted on a pork buffet yesterday, apparently in a demonstration of the fact that diners should not be deterred by the swine flu pandemic from consuming pork.

If Guyana’s pork is good for its president, it ought to be good for everyone else as well. Some might be inclined to remark that this encroachment on the dignity of the office of the president is a sign of debased politics, and politicians are now not much more than glorified salesmen. American presidents make a pitch for their weapons and cars, and Guyanese presidents do so for pigs and sugar. Nevertheless, in this story there is more than meets the eye: indeed, the story is a pointer to the democratization of politics in our times. Monarchs and despots have been noted throughout history for having the food that was prepared for them tasted by their servants. Some of the Mughal emperors had official tasters, and Louis XIV, ever fearful of being poisoned by one of the many intriguers who populated his court, had all his dishes tasted by someone else before he would consent to consume them. The tables, it appear, have been reversed. Who would have thought that a President would now consent to become a guinea pig, a high-order salesman for the pork industry?