Food Fears

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Eating is a constant adventure in China these days, and I’m not talking about the ever-growing variety of cuisines you can find in the major cities. I’m referring to the ever-growing number of foods that can make you sick. In Hong Kong it’s a weekly refrain that some product or another has been found to be potentially bad for you. Recently it was revealed by the Center for Food Safety that frozen cod sold in a local grocery store was actually oilfish. It turns out that oilfish contains “indigestible wax ester.” Perhaps you’re thinking, “Mmmmm, indigestible wax ester!” But before you run out and buy some, you should know that it could make you sick. I won’t go into the unpleasant details, but it’s safe to say that oilfish lives up to its name.

In many cases the culprit is fish, fruit or vegetable brought in from the mainland. This week Greenpeace launched a protest against the Center for Food Safety, accusing it of being insufficiently stringent in its testing process and demanding clear standards. The environmental group said its examination of fruit imports from the mainland revealed more cases of pesticide contamination than the government’s tests did. The Center hasn’t issued a response.

It’s hard to say if this problem is the result of declining food production values or rising testing standards. But whatever the case, it’s difficult to feel comfortable about what one is eating. I might start the diet that one of my former editors maintained during the SARS outbreak. He stuck to chicken McNuggets.