So there I was once more, eyeing the smorgasbord of mouth-watering delicacies in the “fresh” food section of my local convenience store on a brief break from the Neihu Towers newsroom. My gaze lingered on a package of cold noodles.
A delightful staple of Taiwanese cuisine? I can’t go wrong, right?
Wrong. Last week, the Consumers’ Foundation released the shocking — indeed, unappetizing — results of its survey of store-bought cold noodles.
After testing liangmian (涼麵) from convenience stores, hypermarkets and street stalls, the foundation said only 15 percent of samples were safe. The rest were nasty concoctions of things like hydrogen peroxide, boric acid and E. coli.
Ah, the Consumers’ Foundation — here to steer you clear of danger. Here’s a helping of this nonprofit’s studies in recent years:
The chopsticks you get with your biandang (便當) may be toxic; the coffee filters you use each morning are likely carcinogenic; your toilet cleaner probably contains hydrochloric acid (and one day you’ll spill it all over your hands); your hairdryer may be corroding your hearing and your bath towel coating your skin in formaldehyde; your favorite Dihua Street snacks could make you vomit; and you can pretty much bet that your daily dose of chicken essence contains more sodium than stated on the bottle.
If you compiled a list of everything the Consumers’ Foundation has warned you off, you wouldn’t be able to leave your house, let alone eat, but at least you’d die a very safe, non-bacteria-induced death by fasting.
This determined foundation leaves no stone unturned, no product untested. There’s an 88 percent chance the condoms you bought at that erotica store were not certified for safety and a 90 percent chance your spam messages are just ads for pornography. Yes, even your junk e-mail is substandard.
The Consumers’ Foundation has even tested the plastic balls in those ball pools for kids at places like IKEA. The results? They are veritable cesspools of pathogens out to hospitalize your unsuspecting little tykes.
Now, stateside skeptics may say this is all just fear-mongering a la Fox News, but I say: Life is terror. Under dictatorship there’s government terror. Then you trade it in for a free society and civic groups terrorize you with the knowledge that your dumplings may contain pesticide.
After all, in a free society, you have a right to know — and even if you don’t want to, someone’s going to tell you.
Hence, the Consumers’ Foundation has got your back — and if it weren’t for these guys, no one would. Honestly, who else takes the time to count tissues in a dozen packs to make sure your package of 150 tissues from Carrefour doesn’t actually contain 143?
And who else reminds you to wash your hands after touching money because the bills in your wallet may carry Staphylococcus aureus? Thank Matsu someone puts the energy and resources into studies on pivotal public health issues like these. The Consumers’ Foundation is Taiwanese society’s very own hypochondriac Mom.
And Mom’s worried about your weight, too. Last year, the foundation carried out tests proving that bubble tea is — brace yourselves — high on calories. Imagine that. It’s packed with so much cream and sugar that it’s a miracle there’s any room for tea. Drink it every day for 20 days and you’ll gain 1kg, the group concluded (I have taken the warning to heart and limit myself to 19 days plus one day’s rest).
Starting to feel stressed? Then relax, maybe at a nice hot spring resort — but make sure you don’t read the foundation’s report on what’s in the water.
What I love best about these tests, though, is the statistics. A grand total of 20 samples were used in the liangmian study. And apparently it doesn’t take much to talk in terms of percentages: 17 subpar samples sounds much better as “85 percent.”
In a study of tableware for tots, 41 percent (of a whole 17 samples) were not labeled correctly on the packaging. And in tests of salted pumpkin seeds, 71.4 percent (of 21 samples) contained sulfite.
Surely I’m not the only one who finds this figure footwork a little dodgy. That’s why I’ve long lobbied for a warning label in this very newspaper: “Caution: may contain Consumers’ Foundation statistics.”
But let’s not pick on the foundation too much, because this seems to be common practice. In a study of biandang, the Bureau of Food Safety said 43 percent had too many calories. Sample size: 16.
These are statistics for the slothful. There are 16 biandang vendors within spitting distance of my window.
The main problem with these surveys is that they’re getting oppressively boring and uninspired. I’m starting to grow numb to the terror of what my food might do to me. So I’ve got a few recommendations for the Consumers’ Foundation:
How about a survey of its own surveys? Something like this: “Out of 14 randomly selected product studies, 73.4 percent did not include enough samples to meet the requirements of a junior high school math project. Another 11.6 percent were subpar due to silliness.”
Or how about a survey of carcinogen levels in legislators who frequently dine on Chinese hairy crabs in Macau? Better yet, tell us what percentage of our lawmakers contain excessive amounts of bullshit, so that we’ll know which ones are safe to flush down the toilet.
This last one would be a great survey because the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) could chime in — yet again — to remind us not to clog our plumbing and pollute our rivers.
The EPA loves speaking up on these matters because it’s an expert on all things toilet. In fact, after its recent forays into toilet affairs, I couldn’t write this week’s installment without a nod in its direction. So if you’ll pardon the digression, let’s turn our attention to an exciting new national toilet campaign.
That’s right, in case you missed it this week, the agency that should be fighting tooth and nail to cut our carbon emissions has been tasked with inspecting public toilets, starting with (surprise, surprise) tourist traps.
It seems that someone is worried about what certain new arrivals from you-know-where will think of our humble facilities. Someone who’s never visited China, obviously.
So the agency that is theoretically charged with noble endeavors like reducing heavy metals in our rivers and a million other pressing problems will soon police toilets across the country. It will grade them based on ventilation, lighting, cleanliness, wheelchair access and whether or not they have those little stick figures indicating “men’s” and “women’s” on the doors.
I’m trying to figure out what all this has to do with the Environmental Protection Administration. Is the Department of Health too proud to scrub toilets?
The EPA is about to burn NT$30 million (US$988,000) of its budget fixing up public restrooms and another NT$220 million on general improvements at popular tourist spots. This takes the sham that is the government’s “environmental efforts” to a whole new level.
I suspect the Cabinet needed more cash for its tourism agenda, so it slapped an “environmental project” label on part of its plans and — voila! — access to the EPA budget. Ka-ching.
EPA Minister Stephen Shen (沈世宏) seems content to play along, judging from the Central News Agency report on Tuesday’s campaign launch. Shen cited the wisdom of Singaporean Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong: “If you want to get an idea of the level a country is at, you need to check only two things: the standard of its music and the cleanliness of its public toilets.”
Well, I ask, has Singapore had any folk songs plagiarized by Enigma? No? I don’t think Singapore should be talking.
I guess the glorious restroom campaign will at least give the EPA an outlet for its peerless toilet expertise. The agency expressed concern last week that not all shoppers can tell the difference between thin, flushable toilet papers on the market and thick, unflushable options — such as my personal choice, the United Daily News.
But a bit of common sense should suffice. If the articles are hard for you to digest, chances are your plumbing can’t handle it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go toilet-paper the EPA office. I could use a little midnight exercise.
And as for the package of cold noodles at the convenience store, well, I bought it and went home — a little happier, and perhaps a little heavier on assorted carcinogens and pathogens — but lived to tell the tale.
Got something to tell Johnny? Go on, get it off your chest. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, but be sure to put “Dear Johnny” in the subject line or he’ll mark your bouquets and brickbats as spam.
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