Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Watch What You Eat

My friend's pantry that's stocked with many prized edible possessions
Channel News Asia is reporting almost 15,000 dead pigs have been pulled out of the Huangpu River, and the increasing numbers makes one shiver at the thought of the river filled with bobbing porcine carcasses.

The news was shocking enough to prompt my mother to remind me not to eat any kind of pork during my trip to Shanghai, though I did eat a few xiaolongbao. Nevertheless, one can imagine pork sales in Shanghai have probably plummeted and will be flat for the next few months for fear of the dead pork reaching the food chain.

The ironic thing is that just before the pig story broke, my friend living in Shanghai asked me to buy her some Hong Kong-produced char siu sauce from Lee Kum Kee; the sauce manufacturer has factories in other parts of China, making it more cost effective. However, she does not trust what goes into the sauce so I dutifully complied.

But then she now can't make her own char siu because of the pig carcasses in the news.

These kinds of food scares make people like my friend borderline paranoid of what she and her young family eats everyday.

Her husband works for an American company and periodically flies back to the United States for meetings. And when he goes there, he brings back empty suitcases that he then fills up with all kinds of food.

Luckily for him places like Walmart are open 24 hours so he pops into this big box store late at night and gets all the shopping done -- thanks to my friend's meticulous list -- in about 45 minutes to an hour.

And what does he bring back? Salsa sauce (and the chips hand carried), Cheetos, chocolate salt caramels, Shake N Bake mix, pretzels, maple syrup, pancake mix, microwave popcorn, Ketchup, cans of corn nibblets, and cake mixes. Some are bought in the US just because of the price, others is because she is wary of food products made in China.

They even have a stash of cooking oil, probably spurred by the spate of stories on recycled oil. When he purchases all this food, he carefully calculates the weight of his suitcases so that he won't be penalized at the check-in counter.

When I saw their pantry filled with all these goods, they joked that it looked like they were prepared for a war. But in all seriousness, when they keep hearing about food quality in the news, it makes them wonder what will be the next thing they cannot eat in China.

On the one hand I can understand their fears, particularly with young children, but on the other one cannot worry too much about the food when they are taking as many precautions as possible and have the financial means to afford more expensive groceries if necessary.

She said that when they first arrived four years ago, they bought several kinds of say a particular vegetable or fruit and would try them all out to see if the more expensive one was better and this was not necessarily the case.

And gradually the family's diet has changed, becoming more plant-based than meat, and when I asked if they were eating organic vegetables, my friend replied this niche industry was not regulated and so claims that a product was organic was not proven. She reported some friends cut out eating seafood altogether, but her family eats it periodically, albeit sparingly.

When I was in Beijing, there were concerns, but perhaps because I was living in the capital, food supplies were possibly better regulated. I had no qualms eating in a state-run canteen because their ingredients were scrutinized by the government. At home, I mostly bought from grocery stores and wet markets, but perhaps then, only a few years ago, there weren't as many problems with food, unless it was unusually cheap noodles or buns.

Perhaps things are different when you have a family, or food scares are becoming more common now in China; it's hard to say. But one can't get too paranoid about what they're eating in China because then they'll just starve because they're too scared to eat anything...

No comments:

Post a Comment