Some thoughts about China – part 1

I love Chinese food. So much. When I was growing up, from the age of about 8, going to our local Chinese for the Chef’s Special meal was my birthday treat every year. My Grandma usually used to come with us, and I think she never really could believe, as someone who lived through rationing, quite how much food there was. Crispy duck is my absolute favourite.

But it’s pretty hard to tell whether any of the meat at one’s local Chinese is remotely ethical – I’m pretty sure it’s not – and I can’t even bear to do any research on duck farming, as I know the findings will be grim. So as part of our attempts to eat less meat in general, and more ethically sourced when we do, we decided on Friday night to give vegetarian Chinese takeaway a go.

We had vegetable spring rolls, mushroom rice and vegetable chow mein – all good. And tofu satay – oh dear. Spoungy, soggy tofu, sauce a bit too spicy for me, sad and slightly slimy vegetables. Also we had prawn crackers – I thought they were vegetarian, like prawn cocktail crisps, but a bit of retrospective research showed me that they do in fact contain prawns. So that was a bit of a vegetarian fail.

Overall, it felt like a worthwhile experiment, and there are plenty of other veggie options on the menu to try next time, but I wouldn’t be repeating the tofu experience.

I also encouraged (forced, actually) my long-suffering husband to take some tubs with us that we’ve saved from previous takeaways. I’ve seen people posting on plastic-free groups about taking their own tubs to takeaways and it seems like a great idea – except that I’m too socially awkward to have this conversation myself, so I delegated it to my heroic husband.

The man at the takeaway was initially reluctant to use our own tubs, until he realised they’d originally come from his shop, even though one had “Mum’s mince” written on it in faded Sharpie. Obviously they use the specific sizing of the small and large tubs to measure portion sizes, so he didn’t want to fill up a random Tupperware with chow mein, which is completely fair enough. Once that was cleared up, he was happy with it. But then gave us the spring rolls in a polystyrene carton and the whole lot in a plastic bag. Next time we will take a tub for the rolls and our own bag, but it’s baby steps…

I would have found the whole interaction totally excruciating (although I can probably manage it next time now that the precedent has been set), but my husband chirpily made a little joke to another lady waiting for her food, that he was “saving the world, one takeaway tub at a time”.

And here’s the brilliant bit – she replied (direct quote, credit to random lady on Shooters Hill Road):

“I salute you, really I do. It’s people like you who are going to save the world for my grandchildren”.

So lovely and such a deserved reward for braving the awkward conversation. It gave me some food for thought (see what I did there?) – maybe next time she will bring her own tubs, tell her family about the funny man in the takeaway and give other people the same idea. And maybe the takeaway owner might start to offer a discount if you bring your own tubs back (saves him buying new ones?), or he might think more about packaging and start using compostable or cardboard cartons instead? And the virtuous cycle continues.

But then I saw something else which made me feel a bit deflated:

“Of course I’d like to save the planet from global warming/pollution etc etc & admire extinction rebellion & those protesting, and everyday people who live their lives fully sustainable & carbon neutral etc etc – but even if the whole UK, or even Europe – became BETTER than carbon neutral, vegan & fully sustainable isn’t that a drop in the ocean when you factor in the carbon output & pollution from huge countries like China/Russia/USA/India etc? Of course we individually should do what’s right regardless – I’ve got no problem with that – but isn’t it a bit of a waste of time when there’s some huge bohemoths pumping out gazillions of shiz into the atmosphere elsewhere?”

Anon Facebook post

This post was followed by some really good discussion, including the impact of the military, the impact of “our” (“developed countries” demand on these countries’ goods, the move towards renewable energy in some countries vs. the return towards greater dependency on fossil fuel in others, and the interesting differences when you compare a country’s total emissions and the emissions per capita for its residents.

Anyway, it got me thinking a lot more – which is why this is Part 1 of the post and I will write more about this in a couple of days once I’ve done some more reading on the issues raised. For sure, we’re not going to actually save the world one takeaway tub at a time, so maybe we should just relax and enjoy it, stop worrying, eat the cheese and the unethically-reared meat and chuck the packet in the river? Of course we’re not going to do that – I do believe that every little helps, or at least stops it getting worse. But is there any way we can influence government policies, especially in other countries? Is it too late? It’s complicated, for sure.

What do you think?

More soon.

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