In the past six months, students in our Beijing food safety challenge have been studying the root of food safety and discussing ways to improve standards. Above all, they have been stressing to the youth of their schools, the easiest targets of vendors of unsafe food, prudence in selecting food from a cart. Below, written by student liaison and leader of the challenge in Beijing, Sarah Wang, is a recap of a recent summit the students put together to allow students to engage in conversation on the topic.
Time: July 19th -July 23rd
Place: Nanluoguxiang No.23, Dongcheng District, Beijing.
Summary Sentence: Students discussed varies topics on food poisonings, feasible solutions, and ways to engage government on the topic.
Day 1 & 2
● Food trucks (in most cases they are food tricycles) are located everywhere in Beijing. There are at least 2 food tricycles located near each public transportation center, such as bus stops, taxi pick up locations, subway stations, train stations, etc. Those roadside markets are extremely popular. During rush hours, the average waiting times to be served in those tricycles is more than 10 minutes. Additionally, one of the most popular places to visit at night is a chain of roadside markets made up of over 100 shops. In general, those cheap and tasty food tricycles are very popular for all ages.
● Then [students] researched government laws regarding roadside markets, and came to the conclusion that those laws are not being executed properly, and the public is not helping the matter. For example, the food safety law clearly says that barbecuing in a non-concealed place is prohibited. However, barbecue shops are the most popular food stands. Of even more grave importance, most food tricycles do not even have a permit to operate. The police are very harsh on the vendors at first, but they eventually develop tolerance toward those merchants. Also, even though the law encourages the public to report illegal food trucks, seldom does one get reported.
● In order to create the distinctive taste and lower their costs, merchants choose to use cheap ingredients that are devastating for human bodies. There are numerous exposures of the filthy materials and the disgusting environment where those materials are being transformed into different dishes. For instance, some disguised cardboard as meat in traditional Chinese steamed buns. Tragedies like this happen all the time and we believe that the general public is very well informed.
● Then we discovered our biggest concern. If the general public knows about the serious ramifications of consuming food at roadside markets, why do so many people still do it anyways? If the merchants know how unsafe their food is, why do they betray their integrity and honesty for money?
Day 3 & 4
Secondary research- Interviews
● We interviewed some consumers at those markets and found out that the primary reasons for their consumption are: the food is delicious, convenient and cheap. Normally, a breakfast sandwich at a restaurant costs 10-20 RMB. However, roadside merchants sell them for 2-3 RMB. While asked about the health concerns, they said eating from the food tricycle once in a while won’t be as damaging as it says on the internet.
● On the other side, we tried to speak to some merchants. It’s a much harder job since most just ignore us. Eventually we spoke to an elderly man from a roadside noodle shop. We asked him if he has a health certificate and operation permit issued by the government. His confidently replied he does, but the permits are nowhere to be found. We also asked him if he cleans his cooker every day. He nodded, but filthy oil residue covered the entire pot. From this we can tell that roadside merchants are operating against the law and doing harm to people’s body without caring.
● After doing primary and secondary research, we realized that whatever the government and the public are doing is clearly not working and a different approach is needed.
● Because the vastness of this problem, we decided to focus on the roadside merchants near schools.
The different schools working on the challenge are now working on various solutions to the problem, such as new awareness programs for younger students.