Culture, Human Interest, Humor

“Organic” … Chinese Style

by Myra Brien – The Calculated Adventurist

Coming back from vacation means traveling to the store to stock up on essentials that have languished in the fridge while I was gone or replacing items I hadn’t the forethought to chuck before leaving. We came home to a fridge full of old yogurt, which I didn’t try – that kind of lesson doesn’t need repeating, and a package of decaying mushrooms. Can mushrooms grow from mushrooms? That question will be answered at a later time…

I was mainly on the hunt for a new dish-rack, since our old one was destroyed when the 2 ton ceiling tiles fell on it. Why China puts floor tiles on the ceiling we’ll never know, but we certainly know what happens as a result. I wish I could have heard the sound that was made when it all came crashing down. Our neighbors must have thought a war started on the second floor, or something. “Oh, China”, I sigh.

So, while I was at the store I thought I may as well get some veggies too. The issue about whether to buy organic versus “regular” should be no problem right? Of course we don’t want pesticide saturated veggies!  Exploding watermelons should give a clue as to how treated produce is in China.  But it’s not so much pesticides I worry about as much as whether or not something is organic or really organic – meaning it was fertilized with what I saw men taking out of the sewer the other day when they were repairing a burst pipe…

For Westerners in China, when it comes to price, there really is no difference unless you’re buying a lot. It’s like deciding whether to spend 30 cents or a dollar. Every bit counts though when saving for Starbucks on a Chinese income … but all fruits and veggies are relatively cheap, even imported ones; except avocados, which should have their own price index like gold  (they cost just as much).  Anyway, getting back on track, it’s not a price issue.

First, it depends on how I feel that day. Do I have time to stand in the produce line to get everything weighed and priced?  Or should I just go to the organic section where it’s already packaged and ready to go but where I don’t get as much bang for my renmingbi  (official currency of the People’s Republic of China)?  Do I really want to stick my hands in the bin full of mostly dirt to dig for the veggies myself after I’ve already had to dig the tongs out of the raw chicken bin in the meat section of the store?

Then, I think about how the veggies feel. Yes they have feelings! Tell me how you’d feel if you were pawed at and squeezed all day. The attention might be nice but at the end of the day you’d look pretty bruised and bedraggled.  Hardly a way to put on your best face for potential buyers … So, if I’m at the store near the end of the day when only the used veggies are left, I go for the organics still perched perkily in their saran and styro containers (packaging issues aside for now).  I have learned that buying sad fruit and veggies out of pity only makes the buyer a loser in the end. It seems that sad fruits and veggies who are on their last breath when purchased whither and decay rapidly once the money is in the cashier’s hand, so that once you return home your bananas that were mostly yellow just an hour ago are now a completely blackened dead. Come to think of it, maybe the Beijing air has something to do with rapid decay as well.

Lastly, I think about what seems more natural.  In China you can never be sure.  For instance, after I found the dish-rack I headed to the veggie section of the supermarket and began to pick out yams, potatoes and carrots. These are among the cheapest veggies and I had time, so I was not in the organic section. The yams were big, but they’re supposed to be big and fat, right? The potatoes were a healthy size too. The carrots,  however,  looked like they were on steroids. They were the biggest carrots I’d ever seen – logs of carrots, one bigger around than my wrist and as long as my forearm … First my brain said, “Whoa! That’s awesome!”.  Then it said, “That’s just not right”.  My hand, being slower than my brain, was still going through the carrot bin as I was saying this to myself when I got a massive static shock. They were angry steroidal carrots!  Carrots shouldn’t be that big and angry unless China has a monopoly on a giant carrot variety that conducts electricity … Needless to say,  I jumped what seemed sky high, looked around to see if anyone noticed, which no one seemed to, and then I rebuked the giant carrots before marching over to the organic section to buy carrots of a better attitude.

So there’s my highly scientific system for buying fruits and veggies. Nine times out of ten I buy organic if I buy them at a supermarket.  The fruit and veggie market near our house is Organic-organic, so they get an extra long special soak in the sink when I clean them.

See Myra’s personal blog: The Interactive Expat

About The Calculated Adventurist

My name is Myra and I lived in Beijing, China for two years. I consider moving to China one of the best decisions my husband and I ever made. I get many questions about our China experience and thought it would be fun to start a blog so everyone can have an idea about what it's really like to live there.


One thought on ““Organic” … Chinese Style

  1. Myra, what a great and informative article spiced with humor. I’m always curious to know those everyday lessons learned by those like yourself who venture to foreign countries to actually live there. I hope you continue with your saga on the life experiences as an immigrant to China.

    Posted by Doug Chaney | July 18, 2011, 3:21 pm

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