{July 19, 2007}   standards? what standards?

so a few days ago I was thinking about the apparent lack of health or safety standards in china. Then I opened the bottle of juice I’d just bought, and saw black stuff near the rim. gross. upon closer inspection, there were smaller black spots all around – must have been mould. this bottle had two dates stamped on it – january 2008 and april 2007, iirc. creation and expiry dates. it concerns me a little that the stuff lasts that long – and concerns me much more that some similar juice in the store seems to have expired a while ago, and is still being sold, with various discounts and bargains (a couple of days ago it dropped to “buy one get one free”). the dates for that juice are printed on the side of the lid, which is uneven, so they’re quite hard to read. I can’t help wondering if any poor student has gotten sick from it yet.

I’ve seen other things that creep me out, too. of course, I guess I can’t expect leafy green veggies to have *all* the bugs washed off, and a piece of bone or gravel showing up in my tofu dish won’t kill me, but mysterious chemical-y tastes that cause stomach problems for a day aren’t much fun. dealing with the foreign bacteria and 90% of dishes being full of oil is hard enough on our stomachs already.

I’ve found some pretty nasty stuff in canada (like slivers of metal in a pack of bacon) but it seems to be far more rare. canada’s food standards seem to be high enough that I can just not think about it, avoid processed foods and assume I’ll be ok.
over here, I don’t have any idea what sort of standards are enforced, but I doubt they’re much good. the air and water quality makes it quite apparent that the government doesn’t even pretend to care for the health of its people. oh yeah, and there was that toothpaste issue too.

I feel like I’m being slowly poisoned here by everything I eat, drink and breathe… what makes it even worse is the lack of choice. I don’t really see anything resembling “health foods” around here. trying to read ingredients is tiring and frustrating, and I’m not even sure how far I should trust the labels. soft drinks and candy bars aren’t very popular here, which is nice, but the yummy fruit drinks are very syrupy, and the dried fruit is incredibly sugary too. sometimes I buy vitamin water just so I can get a flavoured drink that’s not overpoweringly sweet. supposedly my friend found a loaf of brown bread once, but when I went to haoyouduo they just had the usual white stuff – all bread products are sickly sweet too. we haven’t even found any real peanut butter (ie, peanuts and maybe salt, nothing else) – I’m thinking of trying to just make some, since peanuts themselves are quite popular.

as for breakfast, it’s basically fried oily things or rice soup. and if you don’t get up early enough in the morning, the cafeteria’s closed and there’s just jidan bing from across the street (or some other type of bing that’s less greasy, but I don’t know what it’s called).
I’ve been thinking of buying a bag of oatmeal and some packages of milk for breakfast, but seeing milk in unrefrigerated plastic bags still creeps me out too much. plus, the milk tastes different here, and I don’t like it much. having been reminded of the nasty stuff that gets into american milk put me off dairy products for a little while, too.

one nice thing is the fruit stands everywhere. watermelon, bananas, and other fruit are easy to get, although you don’t always get to choose them yourself (one time I just threw out the banana I’d bought because it didn’t look worth eating). all the grapes have seeds, and are much more tasty than what I’m used to. they still have that certain something that I became mildly allergic to a few years ago, though. must be either pollen or pesticides – washing seems to help sometimes.

of course, we’ve been warned against that too, with stories of people injecting water into watermelons to make them heavier (water that’s not safe for us to drink). raw vegetables are very rare – salads are only served in fancy foreigner restaurants like pizza hut, and I wouldn’t trust them anyways. for now I’m trying to eat fruits that can be peeled, which usually means bananas, but the ones I like best have always been ones that can’t be peeled. I think my body is definitely upset about this – last week I had an irresistible urge to eat some cooked tomatoes, despite the fact that I’ve always hated cooked tomatoes. I guess I needed whatever nutrients they had so badly that they actually tasted good.

mostly I try not to think about where food comes from, since I tend to get overly paranoid and not want to eat anything for a while, but here I feel like I need to pay some attention, and at least try to avoid the most troublesome things… assuming I’ve even got reliable knowledge on that. food is the main reason I’m feeling homesick – I miss the variety, the freshness, the lack of worries…
oh well. maybe I’m better off not knowing, seeing as I also don’t know how to do anything about it. the air’s probably more likely to shorten my life anyways.

jwickers says:

Reminds me one of my friend once bought yoghurt or some fruit flavored milk. The thing he spat out was green ..
rule 1: don’t eat or drink what you can’t see

Also i remember having heard quite a lot of stories about this on chinese TV: “fake” products sold in small shops, “out of date” products reprinted and sold, a restaurant put dangerous chemicals to make whatever soup more “red”, a factory producing yellow (thus could be sold at higher price) dofu in which the manager wasn’t very talkative on what made the color, …

So yes you probably don’t want to know were that fish comes from.

Add to this you Chinese friends that tell you not to buy water in unbranded shops because you know, what do you think happen to the bottles you can see taken off every public trash … but i think they can get you a scary story about almost everything.

“maybe I’m better off not knowing, seeing as I also don’t know how to do anything”

Oops sorry :D But your surely must have read about some Bank report on pollution recently.
So i guess there are standards, but certainly not up to match to Western countries yet, and very most probably not (widely) respected.

Anyway, i don’t get food poisoning more than that so i do not pay much attention… sometimes it is even surprising, last time i got a mix of seafood bought in the street, the shells were washed in a bucket that i clearly did not see before eating them .. and yet it was good and without sequel.

lamarguerite says:

What you wrote is such an incredible example of what we all, as human beings are doing to our planet, with China leading the pack. We are basically destroying what should nurture us. Over the last few months, I started documenting all the personal acts, small and big, that make me a part of the global climate crisis. At the root is the a lack of consciousness, and also a failure to feel our personal connection to the greater whole. What I find encouraging is the forces at work within the universe, to correct this most unfortunate trend. Starting with your blog. Imagine how many people are reading it, and forwarding it to their friends. You have started a movement that cannot be halted. Thank you,

marguerite manteau-rao
green blogger
“My Inconvenient Truth: The Daily Sins of a Green Girl Wannabe”

Taupter says:

Chani, your description gave me the creeps.
Here in Brazil we have lots of substandard quality products (ill-flavoured, oversweetened), but their _safety_ is really good (if you close your eyes to Aspartame, Cyclamate, Acesulfame potassium and sodium benzoate), veggies are abundant and clean of larvae (an you can choose them). The air quality is ok-to-great in most cities (excluded São Paulo, Cubatão, Volta Redonda and other industrial cities). Now we brazilians nedd only to address violence and government corruption. :)
Talking about food, Mark 7:15 is _wrong_. Unless you have a really good reason to be enduring what you’re enduring and taking the risks you told us about, ponder if it is worthwhile. ;)

begenius says:

Yeah We are All Seeing That everyday :(

Henry S. says:

The whole food thing may be scary, and we blame it on chemicals and capitalism. But I’ll bet that most food is safer now than “natural food” was 100 years ago. Most food problems arise from bacterial and viral infections, not from preservatives, pieces of plastic, or dirt in our food. I think the real problem is that we believe that food can *ever* be completely safe. Perhaps we need to learn and apply safety techniques ourselves, instead of assuming that “the system” will take care of it. (I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do our best to regulate “the system”, just that it’ll never be 100% perfect)

Chani says:

henry: I think that depends a lot on what food you tend to eat. it’s certainly possible to get very safe food in first-world countries now, but it’s also possible to get some really nasty stuff that just kills you in more subtle ways than unsafe “natural” food. for instance, russia banned american chicken in 2002 because they didn’t think it was fit for human consumption.
I try not to research this stuff, because I know that it would probably make me throw up if I actually knew more about the horrific things they do to animals and animal products… it’s really not good for us. when I get back to canada I’ll probably be more careful about what I buy there, too. I’m glad that at least in canada people can still choose to eat safe foods.

Andreas Lundin says:

As someone who is currently working in India, I recognize your problems. I’ve had lots of food related problems, and finding healthy food is very difficult. You really start to appreciate the government bodies that regulate the food industry when you live in a country that doesn’t seem to have any such institutions.

Here they add sugar to everything and claims it is healthy and full of energy…

But It’ll probably get better once you find your way around more. I’ve discovered decent resturants and grocery stores and after a while you learn what to stay away from.

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