COVID-19, Food & Chinese Food – Truth, Fear & Myth

Hello friends! Being a foodie and especially being an admirer of Chinese and Oriental cuisine, the last few months of this year has been extremely suffocating, demotivating and panicking for me. I know I don’t need to explain the reason behind it. So much has been talked about, so much has been written about and so much has been discussed about this in so many blogs and forums that I don’t probably have anything new to write. It’s not only about the amount of content that has already been created but about the various angles that came out through these contents – culinary angle, medical angle, financial angle, industrial angle, hygiene angle, cultural angle and last but not the least political angle! Since last few months I have been utterly confused thinking that in the given ‘anti’ situation how should I expect my contents revolving around the Chinese and Oriental cuisine to be appearing interesting to my readers (if at all I have any)! Then throughout this timeline, my thoughts have taken its own route and ultimately took a new form where I felt the need of sharing something more than just recipes with my readers. It could be my personal thought about something related to food, could be an experience of a food-walk or it just could be some informative piece of content that I came to know from some other sources. Naturally, when I thought about expanding my wings beyond just recipes, the first thing that came in my mind to write about is what you see in the heading of this page. Let us focus on something not very new but really interesting about it.

The Bat Story

The poor ugly fruit bats were the very first suspect early this year for carrying the new Corona virus that is commonly referred as SARS-CoV-2. Probably nobody knows how this story started spreading over media (possibly after a viral video came out where a lady is eating a bowl of Fruit Bat soup!) but people started getting afraid of Chinese cuisine just because Fruit Bat soup is a famous Chinese delicacy. Probably the video was the main contributor for that but the reality is bats are consumed as food not only in China but also in many other regions across the world like west and central Africa, eleven countries in south-eastern Asia (except Singapore) namely Indonesia, Malaysia, North Sulawesi etc., north-western India, Andaman & Nicobar islands, Cook islands, Niue, Guam, Mariana islands, Samoa, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu etc. However, due to one of the common assumptions that COVID-19 pandemic was originated at a meat-market in Wuhan, China has banned all wildlife trades including bat meat in January 2020. Now, the trickiest or funniest part of it is, even if bat meat contains SARS-CoV-2, the primarily accused Fruit Bat soup recipe does not usually instruct to consume the raw meat but cooked meat in a boiling broth and as boiling water is of temperature 100 degree Celsius or more, it is less likely that meat in that broth would be the culprit for spreading the virus because as per some studies the virus does not seem to remain active in that high temperature. But, there is still a thin line of practical uncertainly – Are we sure or can we be sure that all bat recipes across the world are cooked by exposing the meat to that high temperature for that specific duration? The answer is NO. However, if you wish to taste that delicacy then knowing the risks you definitely can do the needful to ensure you only take the bat in but not the virus!

The Food Myth

A million dollar question – Does SARS-CoV-2 spread with food? Well, one doesn’t have to be a doctor to answer this question, all one needs is the common sense. There is no straight forward YES/NO answer to this question. The answer can be YES in certain cases and NO in certain cases. Firstly, there are two types of food – home-made and restaurant-made. For the first one, of course the risk is very low and one might get infected only when he or she touches the food with hand or spoon that has been exposed to the virus and not washed before it contacts the food. For the second one – it’s complicated. One can eat either sitting in the restaurant or getting the food delivered to home. For obvious reasons, dining in a restaurant involves more risk because more people get involved in the whole process from cooking the food to serving it which includes cleaning the utensils, putting the food in the serving plate, garnishing etc.. Home-delivery is comparatively safer because lesser people are involved in the process as the food is coming out of the restaurant directly from the wok into the delivery container. Now, the container might have been exposed to the virus either before or after the food is put into it before it reaches to one’s doorstep. But then comes the tricky part – someone intelligent enough would definitely transfer the food from the container to another personal container and heat that up in microwave oven before consuming it. The question is – Is that enough to kill the virus? As per theoretical studies – YES, high heat in microwave can kill the virus. But the catch here is – nobody knows and nobody can’t really guarantee whether the required temperature is applied through all the food particles’ surfaces for the required amount of time. So, there would always be a very very thin line of risk which might be ignored based on personal judgement of course. This is just one side of the coin. The other side of it is – what is the item that you ordered? If it is something like meat or rice or noodles or soup then the above theory can be applied, even some of those can easily be re-boiled on fire to make it fully safe by avoiding the thin uncertainty of microwave oven. But if one ordered salad or sandwich or burger or something that can’t be microwaved then there remains some amount of risk because those are typically not cooked on fire, those are mostly handmade delicacies. If one ordered ice cream or some other frozen or chilled item like milk-shake the risk remains same or even more because you can’t really heat those up before eating. However, no instance of COVID-19 is recorded yet that is caused by food. All the above risk factors are valid only when the people involved in the whole process are either infected or not taking basic precautions like wearing masks, gloves, washing hands frequently and thoroughly, sanitizing themselves sincerely etc.. If any restaurant is ensuring safety by being very particular about these due diligences then all the above risks are nullified. One can safely go for it depending on the trust-factor that he or she has with that restaurant. There are many restaurants which are honestly, diligently and sincerely ensuring safety and has been able to build enough trust with customers to have them either dining in or ordering for delivery to their doorsteps.

Restaurants & Cuisines

The COVID-19 pandemic has given probably a never-before hard time to the culinary industry. But during the initial period, the major setback was for the Chinese restaurants. This is probably because the most of the people go by a blunt line of thought instead of thinking one level deeper. As the virus has been assumed to be originated from China or to be more specific from Chinese food or meat-market, the blunt inference has been ‘Let’s avoid eating Chinese food’ which is undoubtedly a misinterpretation. Around late Q1 this year, a statistics published by a small-business software company reveals that in New York, the revenue of the Chinese restaurants went down to 20%, in Washington state the sales went down to 8%. This is just an example. The picture has been similar across the world. The lockdown caused by the pandemic had hit hard the restaurant business across the world. The number of restaurant dinners across the world had started reducing by start of March 2020 and by end of March 2020 a steep fall to approximately -100% was observed. The same state continued until May 2020 and a slow gradual improvement has been recorded which is around -39% in November 2020. There has been many job losses due to the lockdown caused by the pandemic. Some of the residents of the China town in Kolkata who used to work in Chinese restaurants have reportedly lost their jobs as people of Kolkata had almost turned their face from the most celebrated culinary destination ‘China Town’ since the outbreak of COVID-19 early this year. However, the crisis is not only limited to Chinese cuisine. Slowly with time people realised that it had nothing to do with ‘Chinese Food’ in particular and the lockdown stopped them dining in any restaurant even the non-Chinese ones. The above statistics is not limited to Chinese restaurants. Across the world many restaurants and outlets are shut down due to COVID-19 and respective lockdown causing huge number of job losses. Now, the tricky part is – generally, the food that is prepared without fire or heat are supposedly probable to have more exposure; examples are sandwich, salad etc.. But there is risk only if the person who is preparing the food is infected or unknowingly got in touch with someone infected or if the place where the food is being prepared is not regularly cleaned and sanitized. We should fearlessly trust the reality – The restaurants which are diligently and sincerely maintaining the required hygiene and sanitization standards are absolutely safe to consume food from.

The Hope & The Fight

The hard reality is – The SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus. It’s behaviour, mutation style and many other biological aspects are not yet known to the researchers and doctors. When any unknown thing starts some amount of initial misconceptions are inevitable. In fact, misconceptions are results of analysis attempts. This is not the first time that human is facing a new virus causing pandemic. So, human would keep attempting to analyse and understand the virus to stop this nightmare. It’s only a matter of time. But until that sunrise, we need to fight together. The fight includes realizing the truth that we can’t survive without food and we would inevitably cook as long as we need the food. And when it comes to cooking, it will always be an art which we can’t deny. The culinary art and industry would definitely turn around and overcome this bad time but to save this art and industry all the people involved should join hands and fight together to maintain a very high standard of hygiene and sanitization best practices. and develop healthy and scientific social awareness about the same.

References

  1. Bat as food – Wikipedia
  2. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food industry – Wikipedia
  3. Bat Soup Recipe
  4. Do our fruit bats carry the virus behind COVID-19?
  5. Can High Temperatures Kill the New Coronavirus?
  6. Coronavirus able to survive near boiling point of water, study shows
  7. Coronavirus can survive 60 degrees Celsius for an hour, boiling temp kills it: Study
  8. Truth vs. Fiction: Will Microwaving Your Takeout Protect You From Coronavirus?
  9. Can the coronavirus be eliminated by microwaving? What happens to the virus when it is frozen?
  10. Impacts Of Covid-19 On The Food Industry
  11. Food industry feeling the impact of COVID-19
  12. COVID-19 financial crunch claims an Indian restauranteur couple in US
  13. DATA: CHINESE RESTAURANTS HIT HARD BY CORONAVIRUS FEARS
  14. Year-over-year daily change in seated restaurant diners due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic worldwide from February 24 to November 7, 2020
  15. Pandemic, not border clash, troubles Chinatown residents in Kolkata

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