Goodness gracious, who knows what’s in that candy bar. Stay away from that hamburger, and don’t even think about those Doritos.
It’s all going to make you fat, give you diabetes, rickets and high blood pressure, you know.
And yet, in Shanghai, Chinese shoppers might actually consider Cheetos and Ding-Dongs and pork rinds as health food.
When Yuri Valazza started a small imported food shop in Shanghai eight years ago, his target consumers weren’t Chinese.
“At that time it was almost 90 percent foreigners,” recalls Valazza, sitting at a small table in shop in the city’s former French Concession neighborhood.
Not anymore, thanks to a rising consumer class and a string of scandals that damaged the reputation of China’s domestic food supply, nearly half of the business here at Valazza’s shop comes from local Chinese.
I mean, if the ingredients list on a package of Wal-Mart’s Great Value Chocolate Chunk Chewy Granola Bars includes honest-to-goodness stuff like soy lecithin, sodium bicarbonate, modified extract of chocolate, and artificial flavor enhancer #5, U.S. consumers have a reasonable expectation that sure enough, that’s what they’re getting. That’s what the tireless heroes at the USDA are there for.
Consumers in China would seem to agree. Some are also happy to trust the USDA as the ultimate authority in food quality:
And that’s good news for American companies like Organic Valley, which started exporting milk to China three years ago. CEO George Siemon says his consumers in China aren’t just looking for the organic seal.
“You also have the USDA seal of quality control,” says Siemon, “So it really is a double premium that we’re able to offer people.”
In the U.S., we get all atwitter and point accusingly to the USDA when a billion tainted eggs (give or take a few million) hit the market. Europeans erupt in indignation over a little horsemeat in their burgers. In China, they should be so lucky, they’ve got crops irrigated with factory runoff:
Farmers in several areas of China’s Henan Province have been forced to irrigate their fields with industrial wastewater, because groundwater sources have dried up or been polluted by industry, according to state media.
The crops harvested from the polluted fields are all sold, because none of the farmers dare to eat their own produce, according to locals.
A report by Chinese state-run media Dahe described the wastewater discharged by Dongfeng Papermaking Co. in Dakuai Township, Fengquan District of Xinxiang City, as “gray and sticky.” A 200-meter-long open trench takes the water directly into nearby farmlands for irrigation without prior treatment, and a thick layer of pulp has settled on the surface of fields, it said.
The mighty Roman Empire was poisoned by lead in the aqueducts (it wasn’t). The Americans all got fat and couldn’t get out of their recliners (Wall-E isn’t really a documentary), and the nascent Chinese Empire gets cut off at the knees by intense environmental pollution.
At a 30,000 foot level, we could say that a good diet leads to a healthy and productive life. Bad diets alone don’t sink nations, it’s just one variable in an economy’s health. The Spanish and the Greek have a swell Mediterranean diet, all mono-unsaturated olive oil and fish from a sparkling blue sea and all that, but their economy’s for crap.
So what’s the bottom line, the obligatory PF angle? For me, not personally rushing to invest in Chinese food companies. How about you, readers?