Oh dear! There I was, just about to settle down to write a really exciting Blog either on why University candidates are opting out of going to Uni, or a small note on "Big Data" - the consultant's latest buzz word that is sweeping through a Boardroom somewhere near you when, hard on the heels of my last Blog about food - and China's aspirations to ensure its future food supplies from other parts of the world - along comes a tale (tail perhaps?) of skullduggery in the mainland's kitchens.
In case you missed it, recent news reports from China have highlighted the seizure of a gang that has been selling rat, fox and mink meat in the Eastern part of China - passing it off as lamb and mutton. Now I have never knowingly eaten a "joint of rat", but I don't care how much gunk and preservative you put on it surely a rodent would have a different taste and texture from what you were expecting? I would have imagined rat to be sort of stringy, even if it was thinly sliced - and surely the purchasers or users of the raw item must have ... well, smelt a rat when they saw the meat?
China, of course, has had a run of scandals in the last few years over food items that have been tainted. The most notorious being tainted milk. This has led to such concern in China that demand for powdered milk from places like Hong Kong and, I am told, even London has led to a restriction on the amount of powdered milk that can be bought by mainlanders in those cities to take back to China. And then there were the thousands of dead pigs floating downstream into Shanghai a month or two ago, having been dumped in the river. And there are other examples ... all of which make the United Kingdom's "horsemeat for beef" scandal look rather tame by comparison.
For the genuine storekeeper, restaurateur or whatever, don't you think they would know that a rat is a small rodent that feeds from old food and smelly bins, and carries fleas (amongst other things!)? Sheep, or more specifically lambs on the other hand, are soft and cuddly fluffy animals that mostly eat grass! If you can easily get the two mixed up then I would guess you are in the wrong business.
That said there was always the rumour being circulated amongst Westerners that Chinese people would eat anything that had its back to the sun. This neatly prohibited cannibalism because most of us walk upright. But judging by some of the things I have eaten over the years, that would not be considered totally normal to Western tastes, I think that the saying may be pretty accurate!
All of which leads me to attach a drawing courtesy of a good friend wth a gift for cartoons, and with apologies for "amending" what has become a well known saying emanating from China,
But the serious message is clearly this. In a country where the vast majority of people eat to live rather than live to eat, playing around with people's food is not clever, given the potential consequences. And when it happens too often, with different food items, and the public begins to question what the Government is doing about it to provide safeguards, and the social networks start buzzing, there is a serious risk of unrest. Weibo, the micro blogging service in China has something like 500 million registered users of which around 10% are active on a daily basis. If 50 million people start complaining, you get some idea of the impact a site like this can have, for good and bad! Really the ball is now very firmly in the Leaderhip's court, and I hope that demonstrable progress can be made to improve this situation.
I have for a long time said that I am much more concerned at the impact of social unrest in China than I am about things like the economy. And if people are afraid to eat what is put in front of them for fear it is tainted, they will get angry. And guess what comes next .....
So, maybe some ratatouille with the rat of lamb?