Not long ago, several Tainan residents posted a video on the Internet to promote a wine-making workshop. After somebody reported this to the Tainan Finance and Local Tax Bureau, the authorities issued a fine of NT$50,000 to the instructor/institute in accordance with the Tobacco and Alcohol Administration Act (菸酒管理法).
The bureau said in a press release that the decision was based on an interpretation of the law made by the National Treasury Administration, which says that the instructor/institute should apply for permission first if a wine-making workshop is not free of charge, even if only materials and instructor fees are needed.
Under this interpretation of the law, those who are enthusiastic about offering wine-making courses could be fined unreasonably, and a gap could appear in the handing down of traditional culinary skills.
Those who have participated in such wine-making workshops all know that attendees merely need to pay for their instructors and materials. How could the administration assume that such fees are consciously charged to make profit from alcohol sales?
If officials are able to interpret the law arbitrarily, those who teach others how to make sweet fermented rice should also apply for permission from the government beforehand, since the soup-like dish contains alcohol, and whoever offers such instruction without asking for permission should be punished with a heavy fine.
In terms of wine-making workshops, such courses teach a brewing and fermentation technique to make wine out of fruit or a variety of ingredients. Many housewives and older people are familiar with the technique.
Unfortunately, when you offer lessons on this culinary skill inherited from your ancestors to people for personal use only, you face two options if you charge them. First, you will have to spend time and money to apply for a permit from the related government agencies. If you do not, then you will be fined.
Under such circumstances, older Aboriginal people could be punished for teaching younger generations how to make traditional rice wine, or some government agencies could be punished for teaching the public how to pickle plums, because some home-made fruit wine is derived from such cooking techniques.
Will that result in a ban on alcohol, as the private sector is prohibited from learning how to make wine?
People’s memories in their kitchens, their cooking creativity and use of locally produced ingredients are all intangible skills steeped in tradition.
If instructors who try to pass such skills on to others are heavily fined by the authorities, who assume that all instructors are profit-seeking unethical businesspeople just because their products contain alcohol, gourmet dishes will not be handed down to future generations.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to avoid trouble, instructors could lose the stage on which they are able to shine. If this situation continues, it will not only benefit wine companies, but also cut the roots of traditional culinary arts.
Chang Hsun-ching is a freelance writer.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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