Food is more than mere sustenance; it should be a celebration and a chance for get-together. Food should bring joy, delightful conversations with dining-mates and satiation. Sometimes, however, food brings out more important issues – poverty, governmental corruption, Jamie Oliver’s rather unhygienic habits and, wait for this, freedom of speech.

You may think I have completely lost my mind, what has food got to do with freedom of speech, you ask? The truth is that food is an intimately subjective thing, descriptively flimsy and almost always perceived different by different people; think Marmite. Ask every Nigella wannabe and you’ll find out that there are as many taste preferences as there are plastic cups outside Eastside Bar on Saturdays. Many, if you are unaware of the post-Friday carnage. Exactly because food perception is varied and personal, everyone should be given an opportunity to express his or her views objectively, on whatever platform one is comfortable with. Given how we are living in an age with constant bombardment from partially factual advertisements (apparently everything lowers risk of heart diseases now) and near-impossible claims, the voice of the common-man can be rather obscured. Peer reviews on printed media, blogs, online review aggregators and social networking sites are extremely valuable sources of information before making decisions, definitely more trustworthy than a billboard ad. What happens, though, when a factual review of a restaurant lands you a lawsuit?

What happened was, Shivya, the blogger behind ‘The Shooting Star’ had a rather unpleasant experience in a restaurant. Shivya was having lunch at an Indian restaurant when a waiting staff stumbled and spilled curry and curds all over her back. Naturally, thanks to Murphy’s blessing, Shivya had to be wearing a black jacket. It is common knowledge that white fluids on black jacket is not exactly the prettiest thing on earth. Thus, Shivya spoke to the head staff who appeared to have asked her to foot her bill, and when confronted about the spillage, the head staff argued that “it happens sometimes with food”. Great, first the jacket, and now, an unreasonable staff. The manager of the restaurant in question called Shivya a short while later and explained that the waiter was hurt. The manager also said that Shivya would be compensated. Fair enough? Nay; the compensation would come from the waiter’s salary.

Clearly, this story has much dramatic potential and might make an excellent short film, but that aside, the restaurant had made a number of fundamentally annoying mistakes. First, Indian curry and curds should not be on anything but cooking pans, serving bowls and in the gut, customers’ jackets are no exceptions. Next, the restaurant should have shown at least a respectful amount of concern for the customer after the spilling. Also, docking the waiter’s pay is just pure unkind. I’m aware that there are other restaurants with similar practices when the waiting staff make mistakes, but it is just darn right mean.

What followed was an e-mail from the restaurant to Shivya requesting for her contact details so as to send her a legal notice

The story doesn’t end here. Shivya, our blogger here, was naturally unhappy with the response from the restaurant’s management and, consistent with the anger-dealing mechanism of most bloggers, decided to post her experience online. Shivya posted a rather angsty review on a Singapore-based peer review aggregate site, Hungry Go Where, and about a month later, received an e-mail from the moderator asking for her details to verify her review as the restaurant had refuted her review. What followed was an e-mail from the restaurant to Shivya requesting for her contact details so as to send her a legal notice. Apparently, the restaurant believed Shivya had written the review as a means to defame them.

There are little details on what exactly happened after, but however it develops, it is a horrible sign of corporations bullying the everyday man. (Shivya did not want to make a statement to Felix on the matter in light of the legal proceedings she is currently involved in). Being sued for an article detailing factual events is most unacceptable. Online citizen food journalism is what keeps our wallets safe from the charming little lies that restaurants often use to lure in big bucks. Restaurants should deal with complains admirably and not attempt to silent the speaker. If restaurants eliminate food bloggers by scaring them with legal notices, where would we get our daily doses of food porn? However, it must also be said that all bloggers, no matter what they lead you to believe, are at least slightly narcissistic. Whether the blogger in question enjoyed her little curry-induced fame is beyond any conjecture.

My advice? Get yourself a waterproof plastic poncho and bring it every time you dine at an Indian restaurant. Tell everyone you enjoyed Halloween too much to retire the ghoul costume.