China Doesn’t Sugarcoat Meat-Eating & Neither Should You

Eating fresh meat comes at a price. Can’t bear to look? Then maybe you shouldn’t be eating it.

The meat-eating industry is not pretty. We all know the horrors that go on in slaughter houses but few of us go out of our way to stop it. I’m not here to shame anyone. I happen to be a regular meat eater and a cheese addict which causes even more cruel animal deaths. Living in China has desensitized me by showing me dead animals in various stages of production and I can’t commend them enough for being so open about it.

Have you ever seen one of those videos where a child finds out that the pork on their plate used to be a cute pink pig? Chinese kids grow up knowing exactly where their meat comes from which lets them make an informed decision about eating it. There may not be too many vegetarians in China but at least no one is kept in the dark about what they are eating and how it is killed.

As I mentioned before, I have become quite desensitized and no longer look away from the gruesome scenes in the market. I have always known how the meat I eat suffers and it would be hypocritical of me to look the other way and then eat it anyway. Before you judge me, it’s not easy to change your entire diet overnight.

Seeing squealing pigs squeezed into tight spaces for transport (which is hidden in the USA and Europe but is done openly in China) has impacted me. My husband and I no longer eat pork when we can avoid it and we plan on gradually changing our diets to eliminate first beef, then chicken and finally all other meats. But it takes time.

We are also aware that simply not eating meat is not enough to make the world a better place for animals. The milk industry is just as bloody, if not worse, the medicine we take is animal-tested and all means of transportation continue to destroy our environment. It is virtually impossible to live without harming the world around us and I have so much respect for anyone who tries to do less damage to it.

Anyway, back to China… When you walk into a market you will see meat in all shapes and forms. Entire skinned animals, cut off heads, bloody hooves, duck heads, chicken feet and pig testicles are put on display for everyone to see. Sometimes you will even see live animals that can be killed for you on request. There is no fresher meat! But it comes at a price.

A few weeks ago, Isaac and I were returning home after a day of e-bike riding and exploring the neighborhood. We ran into a large crowd of people standing right by the entrance to our apartment community. We had to investigate and we were so shocked by what we saw. Hanging upside down was a headless ram that was being skinned… and children as young as two were watching!

This reminded me of Christmas in Prague where children cheer as burly men with large machetes behead carp publicly. I would always look away but this time I didn’t. The ram was already dead and the preparation process was strangely mesmerizing. Once the hooves were chopped off, the skin was stripped off effortlessly all in one piece. The men from Xinjiang (the largest autonomous region in China) placed the skin fur down on the ground and used it as a mat for the ram’s organs.

The ram was hung on two hooks by it’s feet so that it could be chopped in half with an ax. Expertly, they first cut the ball sack in half and continued hacking down until they could remove the stomach and intestines. The liver, lungs, heart and who knows what else followed. All of these were neatly laid out on the ram’s own skin. The beauty of it all? Every single organ, piece of bone, drop of blood and inch of skin was going to be used. In China, no part of the animal goes to waste.

By the time we left, the ram was no longer recognizable and was chopped into four large pieces. After spending an hour in a nearby cafe, we returned to find a long line of hungry people drawn to the delicious smell of smoked skewers of meat. We joined the line and paid 30 RMB ($4) for a generous amount of the freshest meat we’ve ever tasted.

After watching the ceremonious preparation (although we were glad we missed the actual slaughter and bleeding) we felt like eating part if it was a way of honoring the dead animal – which is not something I ever thought I’d feel or think. The ethics of the meat eating industry are definitely complex and debatable. Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences in the comment section below.

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Chinese Paparazzi & Language Barriers

Caucasians stand out in China. The locals will take photos of you and try to communicate!

Living in China is an exciting experience for both foreigners and locals alike. In smaller towns like Huaqiao, where foreigners are scarce, the locals like to stare and even take photos of anyone who doesn’t look Asian. In three weeks of living in China I have been photographed on the street, in the grocery store and in a taxi.

The taxi driver took several selfies with me in the background and I was almost tempted to pose for him. It takes a while to get used to all the attention and it’s important not to get offended.

The locals are just curious and they don’t do in an offensive way. They also have no problem with you take photos of them Or walking around armed with a video-recording GoPro.

Locals here tend to be inquisitive and will often try to communicate with foreigners. They like to say hello but few can hold even a simple conversation in English – those bold enough will use a translator app to learn more about you.

Taxi drivers may even add you on WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, that has a built-in translator in its messenger.

Not knowing the language has been a lot more difficult than expected. The Chinese have their own unique hand gestures for numbers up to ten, consider pointing to be rude and get confused by typical Western gestures. It was a huge wake up call to discover that what I always considered to be “universal” body language is far from it.

Luckily, the locals don’t make the same assumptions as we do – they understand that foreigners are not accustomed to their ways and they don’t get offended when you don’t accept money with both hands or if you point at the menu you want to order. Some assume that you don’t speak Chinese as soon as they see you. McDonald’s has a special picture menu that they will pull out to ease communication.

There are also cases when vendors won’t stop explaining things in Chinese while you look at them wide-eyed and shake your head. Even then, they usually just laugh. Learning basic Chinese words is a great idea, but keep in mind that they may not understand you if you have even the slightest accent.

So before you visit China, it’s a good idea to prepare a cheat sheet including any addresses (in Chinese) that you may need, photos of food that you want to try and get an icon T-shirt to communicate with anyone anywhere! The photo below is from Bored Panda.