Five food problems that people in the US, Europe and China could work on together


There is no doubt that food is a big issue and something that has exploded in the public consciousness in the Global West. Cities now have food strategies aimed at improving access to healthy food and there are moral panics, and maybe real panics, over the production of obesogenic environments that contribute to rises in diabetes, bowl cancer and heart disease and are largely considered to be caused by a food system that is supermarketized. Then there are the food scares and food scandals from BSE to Horse meat that plague Europe. At the same time, discussions regarding China’s food problems regularly pop up in the news; be they the problem of zoonotic diseases that threaten to turn into global pandemics, anxiety over how China will feed itself, distress over how China is taking over American food producers (e.g., Smithfield) to satisfy its own meat desire just as China’s products are invading American supermarket shelves, or assertions about the lack of integrity of Chinese food producers. What strikes me is that instead of constructing an Orientalist discourse around food issues of the west and the rest, West and East might come together to learn from each other and seek solutions. Here are just five food related problems that I think would benefit from just such a joined up approach.

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Escaping poverty through low end globalisation?

Guangzhou logistics

This photograph is taken in Guangzhou (the city once known as Canton) at a wholesale clothing market. Most of the people in the market are not from Guangzhou. The market traders are a mix of people from China and from a number of different nations in Africa. The customers are primarily Africans.  It is an international place, drawing all toward a common goal:  to escape poverty through the international circulation of cell phones and clothing.    Continue reading

Integrity, Honesty and Orientalist Food Discourse

“Yes, getting people to eat healthy vegetables and fruits and other products from wet markets is important; but the sanitation side is complex and you face all the horrors of these markets coming from China.  … But so much about these wet markets depends on what is grown and how and where.  In Europe and the US where the movement toward markets is huge but with high sanitation controls and with farmers with some honesty, it is simple.”

I was recently having an email discussion with an American food scholar, who has written quite a bit on the nutrition transition.  He was offering advice and sending helpful information and was broadly sympathetic to my argument about the importance of maintaining the wet markets.  However, as you can see from the quote above, there are some real stumbling blocks of the discursive kind that bear further discussion and consideration.  I was troubled by these words for a couple of reasons particularly. Continue reading

Water, water, everywhere….?

I tend to take water for granted. Lots of people do and it is particularly easy to do so in a place where it is humid and rains a lot.  But this complacency is not a good thing. Water matters hugely. It connects us in ways we might not even imagine.  It is a real problem when there isn’t enough.  It is a real problem when the water we do have can’t help us to meet our needs.  According to Water.Org more than 780 Million (780,000,000) people worldwide, do not have access to clean water.

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Spicy Eggplant and some questions of lack.

Hong Kong claims a cosmopolitan food culture. Indeed, many Hong Konger‘s claim that not only can you try a new food culture in Hong Kong, but you can get a better version. It is a point of pride. What is surprising to me, then, is the fact that while you can easily access other cuisines and often in artfully decorated jars or in ready made portions in the refrigerated section of the upmarket stores, it is difficult to find Chinese food that is similarly packaged. This is not because food gifting is not a big deal here, giving food baskets is huge at certain times of the year. Maybe this lack has something to do with Continue reading

Entering Shenzhen

Lo Wo MTR, at the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China

Lo Wo MTR station at the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, China

This is the platform at Lo Wu, which is the end of the East Rail Line of Hong Kong’s MTR. Once you pay your fare you enter the border crossing to China. The first thing you must do to proceed with your journey is go through the HK SAR passport control. As an ID card holder of Hong Kong, I am able to progress through an automated gate at this point and enter the bridge that marks the space between Hong Kong and Mainland China. On the other side, I queue in the foreigner line to show my passport in order to complete the crossing.  Hundreds of thousands of people cross this border every day. It is a fascinating place. Continue reading