When you have to quality control quality control

In a country where, unless specified, “meat” on a menu is synonymous with the meat of a pig, the recent tainted pork scandal — in which pigs were found to be fed clenbuterol, an illegal additive that promotes leaner meat and is harmful to humans when consumed — shouldn’t be something to just take lightly and file away (as I admittedly did with news of fake high-end wines and viagra… just because I consume neither). According to China Daily, thousands of tons of pork products were recalled two weeks ago, and as of last Saturday, 16 government officials have been charged and 41 are still under investigation for “breach of duty”, namely betraying what little is left of consumers’ trust while collecting cash for a third or fourth BMW.

While the paper cites a few cases of people making more careful choices when buying — or abstaining entirely from — pork, I don’t know how deeply this news has struck in the minds of people around me. Three of my colleagues ordered charsiu and shizitou for lunch today. When news of scrap-leather milk came floating along, Sean and I (well, mostly Sean since I was already minimizing dairy consumption for other reasons) kept drinking milk, hoping for the best. The media’s been publicizing scandal after scandal without stopping for breath; we’ve become so used to hearing about toxic this and tainted that that we — young people especially, I think — are no longer flabbergasted by these attacks on our well-being, and even make jokes about how “this meal will probably take a few years off my life, but oh well. It’s cheap. And/or delicious.” Half-hearted laughter.

And no wonder a lot of people have adopted this attitude, because if we avoided every item on the never-ending list of food scandals, we’d be left with nothing to eat except unaffordable imported goods (and even then, who knows…). But when you really stop and think about it, this shit is outrageous! We shouldn’t have to feel uneasy (or feel like we should feel uneasy) all the time about what we’re putting in our mouths.

When it’s gotten to the point where the procedures employed by people trusted with quality control require quality control, and those people in turn have to be kept in check by some other group, there’s no telling where it ends. When the one institution we would like (to be able) to trust fails so thoroughly and publicly, there is nowhere else to turn.

I can only imagine in my wildest nightmares the number and variety of scandals that are just under the surface, waiting to erupt. I’m willing to bet the gorgeous strawberries we’ve been eating all winter weren’t as flawless as they looked.

But what am I gonna do about it?

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