China’s eating habits … and the food we waste as one billion starve. An essay by Paul Hopkins

The news that live animals are still for sale in Chinese food markets that reopened after the country recently declared victory over coronavirus is causing for concern for many worried about containing the coronavirus.

Cages full of cats and dogs waiting for slaughter and the unsanitary preparation of animals is again reportedly a common sight in Chinese food markets, often called wet-markets, according to in-country correspondents with the Daily Mail.

“The markets have gone back to operating in exactly the same way as they did before coronavirus,” reports the correspondent.

Another correspondent in Guilin, a city in southwest China, photographed a sign advertising bats, snakes, spiders, lizards and scorpions for sale as remedies for common illnesses. Images have also begun to circulate on social media of traditional Chinese foods considered ‘odd’ by Western standards for sale in the newly reopened wet markets.

Parking that fact aside for the moment, the irony is not lost on me of our ‘disgust’ over the matter. For a UN report tells us that one billion people, one in seven of the world’s population, are starving and that we in the First World annually waste a staggering one third of all food purchased, and all this amid an outcry over such odd, granted, perhaps, disgusting and inhumane, culinary habits.

Well, bats to that, I say.

We live, sadly, in a mass consumerist world where convenience food, with all the additives and abattoir leftovers that that implies, is the norm and then we have governments pouring millions into campaigns to fight obesity and unhealthy eating.

The UN food and agriculture report says the US and Western Europe have nearly twice as much food as is required by the nutritional needs of their populations. That up to half the entire food supply is wasted between the fork and the mouth: and, if crops ‘wastefully’ fed to livestock are included, European countries have three times more food than we need, and up to three-quarters of the nutritional value is lost before it reaches our mouths.

And here’s another stat from that report: an estimated 20 to 24% — in the UK up to 40% — of our fruit and vegetables are thrown away before they ever reach the shops — mostly because they do not match Tesco’s and Aldi’s and Dunnes’ ‘excessively strict cosmetic standards’. The report further adds that all the one billion people in the world who are starving could be lifted out of malnourishment on less that a quarter of that wasted food.

In Ireland, 10% of people experience food poverty, according to a study by Safefood, the EU monitoring agency, while in the UK alone four million people — one in 15 — suffer such poverty, yet both jurisdictions waste 25% of all the food they buy.

A damning indictment in a world gone mad.

I mean dog food, are ye barking mad or what…. Here, we think nothing of eating veal or venison, pheasant or partridge, rabbit or rooster — indeed, anything that once was a breathing entity and mom or pop to a couple of kids. Anything but dogs, cats and bats …

I remember as a teenager going to the art-house cinema to see a movie called Mondo Bizarro, about exactly that — bizarre goings-on in a bizarre world — and seeing people dining at a long table somewhere in Morocco or Algiers. To the right of each person sat at the table was a small monkey strapped into a neck brace. Still alive, until their would-be consumer caved in their skulls with a large nutcracker and scooped out their still-warm brains and gobbled the lot down. With ne’er a hiccup.

Obviously, there’s no accounting for people’s taste.

I have never eaten what many Chinese people do, nor have I any desire to do so. But I have consumed my fair share of other animals in my time.

Apart from the obvious seasonal ones on an Irish dinner table — lamb, goose, pheasant, pigeon -— I have also eaten, while travelling, lion, crocodile (excellent), warthog (wonderful), kudu, ostrich and buffalo; and frogs, snails, cicada, dung beetle and honeypot ants; flying ants roasted with salt and lime and mopane worms (a kind of large caterpillar) which are dearer than beef in some places. Oh, and praying mantis. I never saw the little green guy pray so hard as I plucked him from his bush in Zimbabwe once and sent him straight down the hatch. It was for a dare and I have lived with the guilt.

I guess when it comes to food and individual tastes, it’s, as with the French, horses for courses. Despite all the culinary delights I have downed down the years, at the end of the day it’s hard to beat a good old smoked cod and chips — straight out of the bag.

Mad dogs wouldn’t keep me from that little post-pub indulgence.

In the days, before now, when such an indulgence was so taken for granted.

Stay safe….


Paul Hopkins is an Irish journalist of nearly 40 years standing, and currently freelances for, primarily, the Belfast Telegraph, The Sunday Independent, Skerries News in north Dublin and is the OpEd comment writer for the Meath Chronicle

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