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Moresby Meanders Observations From an Ongoing Journey

Counterfeit Foods are Choking China's Food Culture

CHINA | Thursday, 19 March 2015 | Views [1366] | Comments [3]

A distinct chemical burn appears in my throat, I start to choke on my sushi roll. I look down at my bowl of soy sauce where a sheen of chemical slick has developed on the liquid surface. What the hell is this stuff? I ask as I examine the fresh tube of ‘wasabi’ the waiter had handed me just a minute before. I screw off the cap and sniff the contents; paint thinner? Hairspray? The fumes make me gag and splutter. Definitely not wasabi… The restaurant owner avoids eye contact as I make sure that everyone in the restaurant hears about my shock and anger at being served a counterfeit and dangerous ‘food’ product. Without question she accepts my fractional payment of the bill for the untainted portion of the meal and I storm out into the night.


Today the genuine nature and freshness of the produce people consume here in China is a central issue. Most of the world has heard of the scandals like poisonous baby milk powder, fake eggs, chemically recycled cooking oil, just to name a few. But perhaps most astonishingly, due to the frequency with which these incidents are occurring, they are now becoming normalised, so much so that some of the not so immediately life threatening products are beginning to be accepted as commonplace. When looking at the enormous number of mouths to feed; around 20 percent of the world’s population, and with only 8 percent of the world’s arable land to produce what they need, it is not surprising that some of the less scrupulous food producers and vendors are resorting to handing off less than legitimate products.


Over a bowl of mi xian (rice noodles) I discuss my concerns with a younger Chinese friend. Hungrily eating she begins to explain in an off-hand manner, that her noodles were probably  not “real”. “Not real?” I enquired. “Yes, everyone knows that sometimes the ingredients are not real and not healthy, but they eat them anyway. Lots of things in China are not real.”


The realisation that you are living in a country where you always have to be careful about what you eat, and not just for your figure, but your life, is enough to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but to be fair the overwhelming majority of produce here is good quality, genuine and fresh as it gets and the consumers, highly discerning. Stepping out on to the street from my xiao qu (gated community), each morning sellers of fruit, veg, meats and grain line the street, the produce fresh and direct from their own rural small holdings. Fresh here in China holds a whole other meaning than it does on the shelves of western supermarkets. The produce, for the good part, is harvested the day previous or even early in the morning and sold on the day, leaves, roots and dirt still intact. Vendors display the quality and freshness of their product by various means, such as leaving the stem and leaves of fruit attached, with the level of hydration and waxiness of the leaves adding value and credence to the sellers claims that their product is genuine and as fresh as it gets.


A trip tone of the larger fresh food markets in Kunming offers one of widest range of fruit and veg, fresh (as in, still living) seafood and poultry, killed and prepared to order, as well as a range of ‘weird’ and wonderful things the average western eye would be unable to identify. Here with thousands of shoppers daily, the vendors up the ante to push their product. One man pokes at a mass of crabs in order to rile them up and encourage them to show their energy, strength and vitality. Another man has released dozens of bees in and around the vat of a sweet sugar based drink, exhibiting the irresistible sweetness of the beverage. A woman plucks live hornet lave from their hives and drops them, still wiggling into Styrofoam takeaway containers as punters queue to catch a taste.


China has one of the most fascinating and beautiful cultures surrounding it’s cuisine and the eating rituals, and it is a shame to see it being threatened. Thankfully the reaction from most Chinese has been to demand safer and fresher foods both verbally and through the way that they choose to shop. The government too seems to be working to quash the rise in hazardous food sales, treating all those convicted of unscrupulous activities to heavy handed sentences.


While the problems here may seem far off for most who read this, some important realisations about the future of food are implicit; with a rapidly growing population, global warming, and the decline in bee populations, food safety, production, and availability will soon be a concern for us all, and not just another story from the other side of the world. 


Tags: china, counterfeit, cuisine, culture, food, kunming



One of the ugliest food scams in China is apparently using cat or rat meat, soaking it in sheep urine, and selling it as mutton!

  Chris Apr 13, 2015 8:45 PM


G'day Chris, there certainly are a lot of horror stories about food in China, some I think you need to take with a pinch of salt. I think generally the food in China is fantastic, but folks should be careful and steer away from places that seem a little shady.

  moresbbb Apr 13, 2015 11:16 PM


Ha, 13.something on the readability test. Point taken Emri, my sentences can be a little convoluted. It is definitely something I need to work on. Also nice to have some input from someone other than my wife. She can be very forgiving. Thanks for the tip mate :)

  moresbbb Apr 13, 2015 11:21 PM



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