Alice Waters Bombs in Beijing

Alice Waters visited Beijing, cooking a (locally-sourced organic dinner at the embassy recently. (I wasn’t there.) But the coverage, in the current Beijinger magazine, about the not-that-enthusiastic reception she received, is interesting. You’d think the time would be ripe, with so much of China’s food poisoned.

But as Susan Sheng of The Beijinger, reports:

“[Waters] has made no suggestions about how the Edible Schoolyard could be adapted for China.

‘The children are learning English, math. They’re measuring out garden beds, and counting seeds. They’re learning,’ said Waters when I spoke to her at the US-China Forum last month.

Measuring out garden beds? The average Chinese parent might be concerned whether their child will fall behind children in other schools. A Chinese elementary educator may wonder how to find long-term, justifiable curriculum content in the dirt. At the very least, China’s elementary mathematics curriculum is far beyond that of any ordinary American school’s.* To teach a Chinese 10-year-old how to double a recipe is perhaps a little redundant.”

[*at least 2 grades ahead, binational families estimate]

Sheng says Waters’ visit helped spur one Edible Schoolyard–at an international school (Chinese kids aren’t supposed to attend them, though many, I guess dual-passport holders, do). It also drew attention to Beijing’s 25 organic-produce suppliers — who knew? Some even deliver. But the premium over regular food is about 200% more expensive.

Both kids were sick the last 10 days, gastro-intestinally, one with a bacterial and the other a parasitic infection (infectious doc said giardia, from Beijing, not traveling, based on the incubation period). They’ve been on killer meds and probiotics. Meanwhile, I ponder what, if anything, is safe to eat. The past week saw 2 new/old food scandals:

–A very popular brand of milk announced its dairy had sold milk poisoned with deadly aflatoxin. China shut down 40% of its dairies (40%!) after the malamine scandal, but still can’t fix them.

–Poison cooking oil was also back. Toxic oil made its way to a Master Kong’s Instant Noodles factory. Master Kong’s is (was) our go-to “safe” food when out & about, when everything looked dirty. The toxicity wasn’t specified; the oil was only reported “to harm human reproductive cells.” WTF?

A sweet, young Chinese professor who toured us around Chengdu was resigned about food, laughing sadly over dinner (when we wouldn’t eat the freshwater fish — there are no safe freshwater fish in China, says the embassy physician). Her generation (20somethings) don’t believe the benefits outweigh the costs of China’s development. “It’s not worth it,” she said at one point.

Hence it’s a nostalgic generation, which you don’t expect in the young. My student Zhou Tingting wrote a lovely recollection of making tofu with her aunt, as a child in Chongquing, today a city of 32 million people. It was picked up by my favorite U.S. food blog, Amy Halloran’s Home Economics. “In those days,” Tingting wrote, “there were only rivers, green mountains and bamboo forests there, and fields, some along the bank and others halfway up the mountain.”

One comment on “Alice Waters Bombs in Beijing

  1. Eve Heyn says:

    So there will be no edible gardens or Park Slope Food Coops springing up in Beijing? Interesting that Waters got such a cool reception. I was recently in Berkeley, where she’s still revered, and a friend who goes to the middle school with Waters’ hallmark garden gave me a tour; it was the size of a farm!

    The boys’ and your spiritual experience in Tibet was incredibly moving.

    And I’m sure they held their own in ping pong!

    I hope they get well fast!



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