Ignorance is bliss. I never actually agreed with that. I’m more of a “dead cat” person—as in the expression about curiosity—I don’t have anything against cats. And, to make sure I don’t accidentally eat cat meat, I am thinking about becoming a vegetarian for the rest of my time in China (until I stumble into that glorious burger place in Shanghai I keep hearing about). I’ve already eaten sheep spine, pig feet, duck blood, and tried—most likely—rat on a stick. Three out of four of those times I had no idea what it was until after I ate it.
Lillian, my coordinator, just laughed at my horrified face as she explained why duck blood wasn’t liquid or red (something about how it’s processed). I noticed she didn’t have the mysterious tofu-like blood dish on her cafeteria plate. The Chinese teachers I work with know about the meat, and seem to know to avoid it.
As I munched on sugar cane handed to me in a teachers’ office this afternoon, Lucky, a Chinese English teacher, asked me why produce in America is so big. Of course, we ended up talking about China’s food crisis, including gutter oil, mysterious street food, and our own cafeteria.
The teachers don’t know how safe our school’s cafeteria food is, but pointed out how cheap it is. Lillian suggested that because all the teachers and administrators eat there, the food should be okay. But I’m not really convinced.
Jiangyin has nothing like the devastating and infamous pollution of Beijing, but the sick purplish-brown obscuring the sky at night is unnerving and the heaps of trash lining the streets along the bus route is making me think twice on buying local produce.
China’s hazardous waste problems aren’t new. China is the leading country in CO2 emissions, food crisis issues are consistently spotlighted by the media, and factory safety regulations are often ignored, leading to fatal accidents such as the poultry plant fire, taking more than 80 lives this past June. New York Times journalist, Edward Wong, reported on a study showing “outdoor air pollution contributed to 1.2 million premature deaths in China in 2010,” and also attributed escalating cancer rates and poor children’s health to China’s heavy pollution.
Living with the very real probability that the food you’re eating may not be safe (or, even what you think you’re eating), as Wong put it, blurs that “fine line between paranoia and precaution.”