Greetings from Taiwan! The main reason for my visit is to see my family, but a major fringe benefit is the food. (For previous posts/photos, see here.) So you can imagine my dismay when, upon arriving in Taipei last week, my brother-in-law asked, “Have you heard about all of the food problems?” I responded that I hadn’t, and he told me first about several Taiwanese companies selling olive oil diluted largely with cottonseed oil. To make the oil look green, they also added copper chlorophyllin, a controlled coloring agent. The other major story came out last week, when Business Weekly performed an independent test of Taiwanese milk and reported that an alarming amount of drug, hormonal, and chemical residues were found in a majority of Taiwanese milk. (However, there have also been subsequent charges of defamation/exaggeration against Business Weekly.) I was shocked, mostly because while I’ve come to expect food quality issues from Chinese products (e.g., here and here), I’ve always had higher expectations from Taiwanese food.
Although I was surprised about the olive oil and milk, I also didn’t think too much about it since I don’t consume a lot of either while in Taipei. However, it struck a little closer to home yesterday, as my mom told me about a bunch of other recent scares: tapioca flour (used to make all sorts of food, including boba pearls for bubble tea), contaminated flour and starch, and peanuts have all been questionably or unsafely processed. For the first time in my life, I’m worried more about consuming safe ingredients as opposed to gastrointestinal bacteria or parasites. It got me thinking about food assurance, a.k.a., do I really know what I’m eating? Not only is processed food less healthy for you, but it’s becoming more mysterious (and therefore dangerous) where and how it was processed. My brother-in-law made a good point in our conversation the other night when he said that food in Taiwan is too inexpensive, and forces/incentivizes companies to cut corners where they can. On the other hand, the olive oil scandal was rooted in taking advantage of consumers in a different way, by selling fake products at a high price point to convince people of the quality of their products. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but I feel like this is just a harbinger of things to come — not just in Taiwan, but globally. As we keep expecting to pay less (or the same) for diminishing food supplies that require more energy to produce and export, the more we will see incidents like these.