In Arabic, this idiom is used to refer to the fact that when your survival, basic, or primitive needs are not met, you can't think of arts, music, your ambitions, or luxury.

e.g. A: "Why is he not planning with us for the vacation? It will be a once in a life time tour around the world!" - "He has a trial next month and could lose half of his savings to his wife, a hungry man can't enjoy the sunset"

In the example, the primitive need for the feeling of safety blocks the way of planning for luxarious vacation.

  • 1
    In the Colorado Rockies, much of which is impoverished, they say it breathtakingly beautiful, but you can't eat the mountains.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 2:08
  • 12
    Why substitute an English idiom? The translated Arabic says it beautifully. Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 5:46
  • 1
    Agreed, no one would be confused about the meaning. Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 6:14
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    In Ramadan (or on Yom Kippur) he can, it seems to me! Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 15:58
  • @SimonCrase - I feared it would sound odd. I'd rather a saying that native speakers are used to.
    – Adam
    Commented Jul 9, 2023 at 21:14

2 Answers 2


The import of this quote shifts the matter from the leisure of letting one's ability for aesthetic appreciation be stimulated, to the leisure to use the faculties of the rational intellect, but it is a quote in the same vein of thinking : for any intellectual activity to be possible, the mind has first to be freed from the worries caused by basic necessities.

No man can be wise on an empty stomach. (George Eliot)


Not sure the idiomatic expression you suggest (a hungry man can't enjoy the sunset) fits your context.

I’d go with

have bigger/other fish to fry, that is:

  • to have something more important to do.


…. He has a trial next month and could lose half of his savings to his wife; he has a bigger fish to fry.

(Cambridge Dictionary )

  • In the same vein, "he has other dragons to slay".
    – Graffito
    Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 21:58

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