Sunday, 26 January 2020

Hard to Swallow

Picture from this article.


I very rarely have a major political waffle on here, but I'm about to.

This one's about the Chinese coronavirus. I recently unfriended someone after the sheer vitriol on their feed about it.

There's been some articles circulating that the market it came from was selling a lot of different animal products in unhygienic circumstances. Part of the story was about cooking certain animals alive, including bats, which is where the virus might have spread from. And, yes, this does bother me. Animal cruelty is something I'm very much against.

However...

The issue I had was the sheer level of hate speech towards 'them', meaning the Chinese population in general, and suggesting they deserved this virus because of what they eat. Whereas I don't agree with the preparation methods, it was incredibly divisive language and a few things that ran throught my mind were...

  1. Ebola is also thought to originate from bat or gorilla meat. However, when the Ebola outbreak hit Sierra Leone and DRC, it was largely referred to as bushmeat and I didn't see many people saying 'disgusting Africans, they deserve it.' There was definitely a more sympathetic tone.
  2. People who frequent markets to eat local food often don't have a Sainsbury's next door and, if they do, probably couldn't afford it. Local markets are a source of cheap daily sustenance for most of the world's population.
  3. Most of the world's population who buy from local markets haven't had a high level of education. Food hygiene and virus transmission probably aren't on their radar. If someone does something because they don't know it's a bad idea, is the correct response: well, you deserve it?
  4. Generalisation is the death of reason. To say that 'all' of 'them' (the entire Chinese population) do something or eat the same food is strange. It's also an observation that people do something, not a constructive solution. 
  5. Diet is often something hugely culturally ingrained. Every culture eats something that another culture finds disgusting. I have a hard time eating zingalo in Rwanda, which is a delicacy made from cow intestine. Aborigines eat live witchetty grubs. Bushmeat is a staple part of millions of people's diet and has been for generations. Saying 'eww, that's disgusting,' isn't really helpful when trying to change mindsets. If it took centuries to evolve, a few irate westerners screaming racial insults online isn't going to have an impact, it just shows that some people's mindsets are as disgusting as they find other people's food to be.

You don't agree with something, fine. But what do you hope to achieve by shouting slurs and outrage? You need a conversation.

Conversations are changing dietary habits in many economically developed countries with an awareness of plant-based diets and eating less meat. But it happens slowly. It happens through education on how mass farming affects the environment, on health implications, and when demand for alternative foods makes them convenient to source and brings the market price down to a level that more people can afford. As for food hygiene, it's taken centuries for western countries to introduce health safety standards. We used to put chalk in bread and hang meat up outside butchers' shops like markets still do in many countries. It didn't happen overnight. Animal rights certainly didn't, it's still a completely new concept in many countries.

The idea that people eating traditional food for a price they can afford deserve to die because of that is very strange thinking, and more than a little disturbing. It shows an extreme lack of compassion. They may think it's justified because 'these people' don't always show compassion in the way they prepare food, but it neglects any reflection on socio-economic circumstances, access to clean water and cold chains, or education.

Anyway, just my thoughts on the matter.

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