Chinese Food for Thought

By Tooker Gomberg and Angela Bischoff, Guangzhou, China.

Food markets in China can be a vegetarian’s nightmare.

Travelling by bicycle in China you are not alone. With a population of 1.2 billion, everybody seems to be riding. Often a single bike will have a couple and a child perched atop it. Towering piles of cardboard for recycling, huge bunches of cooking wood, and all manner of goods move around by pedal power.

While riding in Guangxi province in southern China, we noticed the absence of the cyclists’ bane – chasing dogs. Here dogs are rarely pets – they are more likely to be dinner.

They’re not the only animals that end up in human stomachs. It was heart wrenching to roam through the Qing Ping Market in Guangzhou (Canton). It was packed with live animals awaiting slaughter: some for sustenance, others for alleged medicinal power. Sixty year old turtles would be boiled for their shells and stomachs. Dishevelled cats, cuddly rabbits, various birds, snakes, and beetles awaited their fate. Guangzhou people have a reputation of “daring to eat anything”.

It was a vegetarian’s nightmare. Deer penises supposedly increase male sexual stamina. Sliced antlers rejuvenate blood. Frog fat beautifies women’s’ skin. Dried centipedes increase longevity, snake wine helps arthritis, and a special bee cures cancer.

What really turned our stomachs was to see tiger’s paws, rhinoceros horns on sale as “traditional medicines”. This is highly illegal, and perhaps our presence encouraged the police to show up. For an instant the vendors packed up their wares, which included bear gall bladders. As soon as the cops backs were turned, the goods were back on display,

In the Chinese calendar this is the Year of the Tiger. With this glorious animal on the verge of extinction, now might be a good time to heed the wisdom of animal rights organizations like Hong Kong’s Earth Care. They are promoting the use of herbal alternatives to replace animal parts derivatives in Traditional Chinese Medicine. And they maintain that herbal medicines are cheaper and more effective than those derived from animals.

Albert Einstein once said: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” With a global human population approaching 6 billion and species extinction growing exponentially, more than ever we might ponder how to improve our rapport with the animal world.