Friday, May 04, 2007

Chinese "Food"

I've been paying close attention to the growing controversy over Chinese food exports and production, and this piece on Consumerist was more than a little revolting and frightening. It also reminded me of a few things.

When I traveled to China for a couple of months in 1996, food was one of the more interesting adventures. Not just in terms of knowing what or how to order, but knowing what in fact you were being served. This wasn't as much a problem with the private cook my mother shared with a few other professors in Nanjing or with the the bigger, more reputable restaurants in large cities. Rather, the problem came up more often at "tourist" restaurants where you were herded into a large space and fed a "traditional" chinese meal of egg roll, sweet and sour pork, green vegetable (usually either bok choy or choy sum), and duck.

A few times in such restaurants, particularly when we were traveling down the Yangtze, I made the mistake of asking what we were being served because the meat was clearly nothing I had tasted before. In every case, however, the answer was the same: Pork. Apparently, pork is the universal choice for feeding westerners who, as a rule, do not speak the language. Even if it's not pork. There were no pigs to be seen anywhere in these towns, and these are not places that bring food in.

Anyway, they were treating our tourist groups like rubes the same way their agribusiness has been treating us like rubes by intentionally filling food ingredients with dangerous additives. What is truly frightening is that companies in China produce an increasing amount of our food ingredients, including shrimp, crawfish, rice, and much more. If neither we nor they are really policing the safety of production, how far will this reach?

For lots of reasons, I see a correlation with the number of incidences of toys made in China coming up with warnings for lead poisoning hazards; a quick search of the CPSC site for "china lead" turns up 1,451 recalls.

Is it possible that our drive for ever-cheaper and more abundant is catching up with us—with dangerous results?