Why We are NOT what We Eat: Coronavirus in China

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As a learner of Mandarin Chinese, it has been quite a meditative process to understand Chinese culture. This is not to sing praises of China’s atrocities on Tibet, but a good slice of the country’s eating habit helps us test how what we eat is a matter of privilege. Let’s not ignore that there are people who are still in the oblivion about the food they can eat or cannot afford it.

Quoting LiveScience, “Despite emerging in humans only recently, the virus has already infected about 6,000 people and caused 132 deaths in China, while spreading to 15 other countries, according to the World Health Organization.” According to the NewYork Post, authorities at LAX, San Francisco International Airport and John F. Kennedy International have reportedly quarantined a passenger for displaying such symptoms. Will you still argue that “coronavirus” is only a Chinese offence?

It is not the time to admonish or dismiss China on account of the deadly coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan. Well, it is a truth that many educated Chinese nationals also acknowledge animals to be the potential source of this virus and that consumption of such meat has resulted in this contamination to the level of an international crisis.

It is the time to acknowledge that we are not what we eat; we are what our stories are. People should stop accusing Chinese people for eating rodents. Sidenote: I can take a jibe at this situation given the perception of many educated Chinese people who hate to see us eating with our hands. Step forward: It won’t solve the problem at hand.

We all have to acknowledge that the food that we eat or seem to know to be suitable for consumption is a matter of privilege. If we wag our tails of privilege, it will undermine the human values that bind us, the rust on our compassion. Stop saying that the Chinese are responsible for the coronavirus epidemic. No one willingly signs up for anything life-threatening. 

In India, in the North East, people eat dog meat. As a little child, I knew that my Santali friend and her family eat snakes and bats. It was not easy for me to digest, but I had a context that evened me out. We, at home, used coal ash to brush our teeth, and the ritha fruit to wash our hair while our neighbours ate gastropods sourced from our village ponds. After all, there is no conclusive finding that supports your libellous remarks on the rodent eaters of China.

Contemporary Society: Concept of Tribal Society edited by George Pfeffer & Deepak Kumar Behera

China is a rising economy now, but it continues to have its fair share of hardships that rural Chinese from the North go through. Let’s not judge people by what they eat. I say this as a foodie, by being a food-loving Bangali. Don’t wage your food racism against the Chinese or those who eat from the wet markets. Remember, Indians do eat all the animals on the coronavirus suspect list.

It is time to stop judging people for their food habits. A fat percentage of this population is not even aware of the “good food chain.” Being cynical about the Chinese at this hour of coronavirus attack is not at all acceptable, not only for “privileged” Indians but for the “privileged” around the world. How can you comment on a poor person’s access to good food?

I conclude by saying that “we are not what we eat.” Eating can be a significant part of our survival system, but not the defining element. You may have a weak stomach or scaly skin for the food you eat, but your food habits do not enslave your intellectual faculty. Please note that the great Charlie Chaplin ate his shoes (and you don’t know which animal was the leather sourced from) during the great depression of the US.

And if you are still unable to contain your food racism, stop devouring those delicious pork ribs or as simple as the daily chicken.