Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mind Your Couscous

I was walking through the aisles in the grocery store the other day when a particular product made me do a double take. I had to backtrack so I could see if what I thought I saw was what I actually saw. And unfortunately it was. It was a box of Canadian label President’s Choice "Memories of Marrakesh" couscous with a picture of the face of a niqab clad woman! And not one, but two.

Once again the veil has been utilized, in a completely irrelevant circumstance, to represent the Muslim world. Although this product was purposely associated with Morocco, couscous is a grain which is commonly associated with the Middle Eastern region, therefore tying this image in with the entire region. Once again. Never mind that the majority of women in the region do not wear the niqab. Never mind that 1000 other images could have been used to represent Morocco. And never mind that this picture, unlike those of many of their other products, was inauthentic. On their "Memories of India" masala chai, they use a picture of the Taj Mahal. Very Indian. On their "Memories of San Fransisco" they display the famous trolley. Very San Fran. After all, when one "remembers" Morocco one "remembers" the barely existent niqabi woman, and not the omnipresent mesmerizing architecture, mosques, or traditional markets.

President's Choice exploits and uses orientalist thinking to sell their product. With the kohl laden eyes of the niqabi woman one becomes aware of her femininity; her sexuality. In line with orientalist thought, she is the oppressed and sexualized woman, luring you to try some couscous; eager and ready to serve you as her submissive nature would dictate. The memories of this exotic creature should make one nostalgic enough to buy this product.

Now President’s Choice has for a long time been appropriating various cultures to sell their food products. With names such as “Memories of Punjab,” “Memories of Bangkok” “Memories of Greece” etc. they try to tap into and exploit the nostalgia one would undergo with having experienced the culture. A low and insulting but unfortunately common move in North American markets. However, using a woman's body for this product becomes further insulting and sinks lower. The offensive implications of such images were irrelevant in face of the bottom line.

The pictures on their products vary, though the majority do not involve actual people, though they appear to be related to the region. Therefore, of the many pictures which could represent Morocco, I can't help but get irritated and suspicious about their choice when their trend has been otherwise.