Monday, 31 October 2011

News Brief: Preservatives in rice products could seriously damage liver, kidneys

Spot checks by Taipei City’s Department of Health of stewed snacks (滷味; lu-wei), noodle dishes, sliced fruit and other food products  found excessive levels of E. coli, TVBS reported today (Chinese-language article here).

Whether the bacteria found in sliced fruit sold in the HiLife convenience store (萊爾富) Xindong branch (信東店), and stewed duck wings (滷鴨翅) sold in A.mart’s (愛買) Jingmei store (景美店) were due to production and packaging processes or to workers’ sanitary conditions requires further investigation, it said.

In addition, rice flour noodles (米粉 and 粄條 ban-tiao) bought in a traditional market in Sanshui Street (三水街) in Taipei’s Wanhua (萬華) District were found to have illegal addition of benzoic acid (苯甲酸) preservatives. Although they looked like any other similar product, on opening the packet, the noodles gave off was a strong chemical odour, and were found to contain 5.19g of benzoic acid preservative per kilogram, meaning that eating just one bowl of noodles would exceed the maximum daily allowance. 

Contravention of the “Act Governing Food Sanitation” (食品衛生管理法) is punishable by fines of between NT$30,000 and NT$150,000 (ca. US$1-5,000).

Similarly, illegal addition of dehydroacetic acid (DHA; 去水醋酸) preservative was found in two samples of ban-tiao and one sample of gui-a-tiao  noodles (粿仔條). 

Longterm ingestion of preservatives can lead to reduced appetite, growth retardation and even serious damage to liver and kidneys, the DOH said, reminding citizens to carefully inspect external appearance and odour when purchasing foods for immediate consumption.

                                     Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Discussion Topic: Should "environmental vegetarians" eat seafood?

Should I or shouldn't I?
For Buddhists, Yiguandao followers and other vegetarians motivated by a desire not to kill animals, the answer is easy: they view all meat eating as wrong.

For those following a vegetarian diet for health reasons, the issue is perhaps equally straight forward.

But for vegetarians whose primary motivation is environmental, in particular, the contribution to climate-change gas emissions of meat production, it is not. If harvested sustainably, what is the harm in eating fish and other seafood, such as these crabs currently promoted in Yeliu?

Crabs for sale at Yeliu, New Taipei City

                                                             Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Photo: Crab festival in Yeliu

Shortly after dawn, 漁山 168 steams into Yeliu Harbor

Sorting crabs on the quayside, Yeliu

                         Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

News Brief: Online sales of breast milk unsafe, illegal --DOH

Two Taipei City councilors held a press conference yesterday at which they announced the results of checks undertaken on mother’s milk bought online. Hsu Shu-hua (許淑華) and Li Jian-chang (李建昌) said the four packets of milk sent to the Taipei City Hospital (臺北市立聯合醫院) had not complied with the hospital’s own standards, and they called on the city's Department of Health (衛生局) to ban such website trade and called on those dealing in breast milk to withdraw their products from sale, the Liberty Times reported (full Chinese-language article here)

Hsu said that the “health check” certificates posted on the internet auction sites with offers for 200cc bags of mother’s milk from as little as NT$40 to suggest the product is safe were, in fact, worthless. The equipment used, facilities and environment could all create conditions in which germs could breed, she said.

Hsu said she bought four bags of milk from someone online on October 19th, two bags that had been freshly collected that day and two from October 17th that had been frozen. She also froze the milk within 5 minutes of receiving it, and then sent them to the hospital for examination.

Announcing the results yesterday, Hsu and Li said all four bags of milk failed to meet standards as they contained gram-negative bacteria (革蘭氏陰性菌). Taipei’s Department of Health said gram-negative bacteria can ruin baby food, cause septicemia, and even lead to infant death.

Li said that the US Centers for Disease Control had issued a statement saying mother’s milk should be viewed as a form of body fluid. If babies drank milk that was not from their own mother or had not been screened, they could be infected by diseases, medicinal drugs or even narcotics in the milk. 

Department of Health (衛生署) Vice Minister Hsiao Mei-ling (蕭美玲) said that breast milk was of a special nature and was therefore different from general types of food products. The central government was still considering whether it should be regulated under the “Act Governing Food Sanitation” (用食品衛生管理法). For the time being it would be controlled by the Consumer Protection Act” (消保法), which required dealers to remove products from Internet auction sites. Sites should also take down webpages displaying breast milk for sale, otherwise the consumer protection authorities could use these laws to impose fines up to NT$300,000 (ca. US$10,000). 

                                                             Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Restaurant Review: Stinky Tofu (Maokong)

The Maokong (貓空) tea-plantation district on Taipei City's southern border above Muzha (木柵) is famous for its teahouses.

Vegetarian food options are limited, despite the many temples, the Yiguandao TienEnGong 天恩宮 in particular. Nevertheless, the MaoLan MeiShi Cheng (貓纜美食城; no English name, lit. "Maokong Cable Car Fine Foods City") about 50m east of Maokong Gondola Station has a six-item vegetarian section (素食類):

tea-oil [flavoured] noodles (茶油麵)
tea-oil [flavoured] rice noodles (茶油米粉)
tea-oil [flavoured] thin noodles (茶油麵線)
vegetarian Angelica sinensis (Chinese-herb) soup (素食當歸湯)
vegetarian crispy stinky tofu (素食脆皮臭豆腐)
boiled leafy greens (燙青菜)

NOMM tried the tofu, which was very good, and only slightly more expensive than back at sea level.

                                                                     Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Feature: RTM "Vegetarian Chicken" is NOT Vegetarian

One standard of vegetarian life in Taiwan is "vegetarian chicken" (素雞; su ji), which is made from tofu skin (豆皮 or 腐皮), tied into bundles and dried. Apparently, someone thought it looks like chicken breast.

Not an NOMM favorite, at least it offers a protein-rich vegetarian option. Not at RT Mart (大潤發), however, where it is served in a non-vegetarian sauce (see photo below).

While the sign is quite clear, and so the hypermarket is doing nothing wrong, perhaps not all foreigners will know that 葷 (hun) means "meat dish". This is especially true since the character contains the semantic element 艹, which normally indicates a botanical meaning.

                                                                     Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Saturday, 29 October 2011

News Brief: School Principals Arraigned for Lunch Kickbacks

More than 10 elementary-school principals from New Taipei City (新北市; formerly Taipei County) are being investigated for allegedly accepting kickbacks from school-lunch providers, the Taipei Times reported today (full article here).

The Banqiao District Prosecutors’ Office said it had arraigned six principals for questioning and had searched nine schools in Banqiao (板橋), Xinzhuang (新莊), Luzhou (蘆洲), Sanxia (三峽) and Shulin (樹林), as well as 10 lunch manufacturers, which supply as much as between 80 and 90 percent of the city's elementary school meals.

Preliminary investigations showed that lunch dealers might have bribed principals to receive better evaluations, enabling them to make bids to provide school lunches, the office said. Some principals were receiving up to NT$300,000 each semester, it added.

A Chinese-language article in the Liberty Times quoted a parent as saying that meals were so cheap at NT$40 that he didn't think they could be healthy for his daughter so he gave her a packed lunch everyday, and how much more true that must be if the principal was also taking a cut.

                                                          Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

News Brief: Legal Rammifications of May's Food Scare

Two items relating to the toxic-food-additive scandal in May this year were reported yesterday:

The first reported the sentencing of members of the family at the centre of the scandal which involved unknowable numbers of people consuming tainted foods and drinks, undermined consumer confidence at home and abroad, and has already led to changes in the food sanitation act (full story Taipei Times here).

Chen Che-hsiung (陳哲雄), owner of Pin Han Perfumery Co in New Taipei City, was sentenced by the Banqiao District Court to 13 years in prison for fraud after using diisononyl phthalate (DINP) in clouding agents.

His wife, Wang Fen (王粉), was sentenced to 10 years, while sons, Chen Wei-cheng (陳威丞) and Chen Wei-chuan (陳威銓), were found not guilty on multiple violations of the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法).

Following legislative amendments, the future maximum fine for violations has been raised from NT$300,000 (ca. US$10,000) to NT$6 million (ca. US$200,000)

The second piece reported that the Consumer’s Foundation (消費者文教基金會) is preparing a class-action suit on behalf of consumers against the companies responsible for May’s food scare (full Taipei Times article here).

Chairperson Joann Su (蘇錦霞) said the foundation, working with the Consumer Protection Commission (消費者保護委員會) under the Executive Yuan, has already settled about 2,000 complaints. Most have yet to reach agreements with dealers, she said.

With the cost of legal proceedings estimated at about NT$6 million (ca. US$200,000), funding would come in part from fund-raising, Su said, but that the foundation would also solicit support from the Executive Yuan’s reserve funds.

Su called on the government to amend third-party insurance regulations and approve legislation for a Consumers’ Protection Foundation Fund to protect consumers’ rights. Existing insurance provision has not helped consumers affected by the plasticizer incident, Su said.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

News Brief: Recommend Your Favorite (Rice) Restaurants (to NOMM but more so to the COA)

The "First Annual Taiwan Hundred Best Rice Restaurants Competition”(第一屆台灣百大米餐廳大賽; NOMM translation) was launched October 18th by the Council of Agriculture (農業委員會) under the Executive Yuan (Chinese-language details here).

Noting that rice is Taiwan's main cereal crop, and acknowledging the ubiquitous nature and convenience of the Internet, the COA will stage this web-based event to "promote the special outstanding features of Taiwan-produced rice, and to combine energy saving and reduction of carbon emissions with contemporary consumer trends".

Starting at noon on November 30th, all citizens are invited to participate, recommend and vote online, to find the best rice ingredients and finest rice dishes in the nation's 368 townships and urban districts.


                                                       Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

News Brief: China exports toxic chrysanthemum flowers to Taiwan (and Australians send tainted beef)

Tests on imported flowers used to flavour teas showed 15 kinds of agrichemicals, the Liberty Times reported today (full Chinese-language article here)

The Department of Health (衛生署) yesterday published information about a variety of food products failing to meet Taiwan’s standards. 

A 160kg consignment of chrysanthemum flowers imported from China was destroyed after testing positive for 15 kinds of substandard agrichemicals. Among these, levels for the cancer-causing organic chlorine-containing endosulfan (安殺番) exceeded allowed limits by 5200 percent. Doctors reminded the public that before preparing chrysanthemum tea (菊花茶) should firstly use hot water to wash them several times.

A 24,000kg shipment of frozen beef products from Australia was also blocked after tests showed trace levels of salbutamol (沙丁胺醇), a chemical used to make meat leaner, the first time it has been found in meat products imported into Taiwan. Wu Tsung-hsi (吳宗熹), section chief at the DOH Bureau Of Food And Drug Analysis Department (食品藥物管理局) said that salbutamol was prohibited in the US, Canada and Australia. Although in North America the use of the less toxic ractopamine (萊克多巴胺) is permitted, even that is not allowed to show up in Australian tests, Wu said. The Australian representative in Taiwan had been informed, and tests on future imports of Australian beef products would be raised from 5 percent to 20 percent.

Taiwan only produces a small fraction of the chrysanthemum flowers popular with tea and herbal infusion drinkers. Around 30 tons of Hangzhou chrystanthemums (杭菊) are grown on 42 hectares in Miaoli and Taitung counties. According to the Council of Agriculture (農委會), all imported dried chrysanthemums come from PRC, last year was around 157 tons of dried chrysanthemums were imported last year, all from the PRC. So far in the first 9 months of this year, the figure is around 80 tons. Most are sold to Chinese pharmacies, dried good stores and tea houses, primarily for use in teas and herbal drinks. Since five or six flowers (less than 10g) are used to make a 300cc drink, the council estimates that to drink all 80 tons would indicate more than 8 million cups of chrysanthemum tea have been brewed this year.

The COA also explained that since chrysanthemum flowers are particularly prone to pests, it is customary to spray them with pesticides. It further claimed that not only are China’s regulations about pesticide use not as stringent as Taiwan’s, but also China’s farmers are less observant of rules that do exist. 

Wu said this was the second such incident involving PRC chrysanthemum flowers this year. The last, in May, was due to bleaching agents (漂白劑). It was the third incident of substandard foods from China this month, he said; the other two concerned kiwi fruit (奇異果) and frozen mandarin fish (桂花魚; aka Chinese perch).

                                                                  Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

News Brief: Excessive Preservatives in Breakast Congee

Pickles served as part of breakfast rice porridge (清粥) can contain up to 4 times permitted levels of preservative (防腐劑), Kaohsiumg’s Department of Health discovered during a survey of local eateries during September, TVBS reported today (Chinese-language article here).

In a similar report by the Broadcasting Corporation of China (中廣; here), the Department of Health said that longterm consumption of foods containing preservatives such as benzoic acid (苯甲酸) could cause minor conditions such as abdominal pains and diarrhea, but also more serious effects such as damage to the liver, kidney and nervous system.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

News Brief: “Coffee Clause” passes first legislative hurdle

The first review of the so-called Coffee Clause (咖啡條款) amendment to the Fair Trade Act (公平交易法) was passed yesterday by the Economics Committee (經濟委員會) of the Legislative Yuan (立法院; Taiwan’s legislature) the United Daily News (聯合報) reported today (full Chinese-language article here).

If the amendment passes its third reading, which could happen as early as December, this will raise the maximum penalty for collusion in price fixing from NT$25 million (ca. US$800,000) to as much as 10 percent of annual sales of the product concerned.

Estimates of sales by the “big four” convenience stores chains—which have been accused of colluding to raise prices of milk-containing coffees—suggest that around 100 million cups are sold each year. At an average cost of NT$40 (US$1.30) per cup, this would indicate annual sales of around NT$4 billion (US$130 million) and therefore potential fines of NT$400 million (US$13 million).

The Fair Trade Commission under the Executive Yuan (行政院公平會) is due to make its report into price fixing on coffee by convenience stores by November 6.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Sunday, 23 October 2011

News Brief: former VP Lu urges vegetarianism, cooks meal

Former ROC vice president Lu Hsiu-lien (呂秀蓮) cooked a vegetarian dish and called on people to “eat less meat, drive less and waste less” while attending an environmental event at the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Taipei, the Central News Agency (中央通訊) reported today (full Chinese-language article here).

These were the best responses to the growing problems of global warming caused by emissions of climate-change gases, she said.

Formosa Television provided more details (full Chinese-language article here) about the dish Lu offered, while saying that since she frequently cooked at home she was not nervous about doing it in public. Having sautéd bitter gourd (苦瓜) and king oyster mushrooms (杏包菇), she sprinkled a little sesame oil, and then simmered the dish to develop the flavors. 

Lu said she had been a vegetarian for the last four months. 

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Restaurant Review: Dumplings and Pot-Stickers (Taipei)

In the shadow of Taipei 101—the ultimate icon of the modern capital—is Wuxing Street (吳興街). With its daytime vegetable market, grain stores and general victualers, not to mention its thriving nighttime snack stalls, this ancient thoroughfare—now slightly off the main east-west and north-south routes—represents a throwback to former times as well as being an epicurean hunting ground.
        Among the area’s innumerable food outlets, there are at least half a dozen vegetarian establishments. These range from a stall selling “red-bean cakes (紅豆餅; which despite the name, also specializes in “custard cakes” 奶油餅 and “radish cakes” 蔡脯餅), and a shop offering meatless stuffed buns (包子), to a family-run eatery selling noodles and soups, and a typical buffet restaurant providing a wide range of cooked vegetables, tofus and fake meats sold by weight.
Despite the TV, Kelaiyuan is fairly quiet.
        This week’s review, however, is of a popular vegetarian restaurant in Zhuangjing Road (莊敬路), one block north of Wuxing Street. The Kelaiyuan Su Fang (客來源素坊; literally “Customer Source Vegetarian Shop” but no English sign) at No. 268 has a variety of soups and noodles. Most customers also order a least one portion (a maximum of 6 portions is the house rule) of pot-stickers (鍋貼) and dumplings (水餃), however, the house specialty. These snacks, originating in northern China, are usually filled with pork and either cabbage (高麗菜) or Chinese leeks (韭菜). Local diners who have converted to vegetarianism often mourn the absence of these items from their diets and, to be honest, some of the meatless variety found in the city can be pretty bland.
        Not so Kelaiyuan’s version, which are crisp where they should be crisp and chewy where they should be chewy (pot-stickers are first fried on the bottom and then steamed on the top). Proprietor Chang Wen-yi (張文議) says he sells about 600-700 every day, at NT$50 for a portion of 8.
Kelaiyuan pot-stickers: chewy and  crispy
        Dumplings are 10 for NT$50, and dumplings in miso, hongshao (soy sauce), spicy, curried or Thai sour-and-spicy soup (湯餃) cost NT$75 per bowl. Soups of the same flavors are NT$45, and corresponding noodle dishes cost NT$60. Side dishes are too numerous to list but include tofus, dried beancurd, seaweed and various boiled leafy greens which, at NT$25 per portion, are among the cheapest in town.
        Kelaiyuan has two other establishments in Taipei—one on Bade Road, the other on Nanchang Road—which have almost identical menus. Chang started his branch in Muzha six years ago before moving to the current Xinyi District location three years later. Like most of Taipei’s vegetarian restaurant owners he is a member of the Yiguandao (一貫道) religion but, also like most, does not proselytize his faith.
        He is evidently sensitive to environmental and health concerns too, as he has already replaced the melamine-resin bowls with metal ones for the hottest dishes, well in advance of the government’s year-end deadline, and ahead of most of his Wuxing Street neighbors too.

Opening hours: 11:00~14:30, 17:00~20:00; Monday ~ Saturday
No. of seats: 30
NOMM fake meat/processed food index: 3/10
Typical meal price: NT$75~125 per person
Address: 268 Zhuangjing Road, Xinyi District, Taipei City
Tel: (02) 2758 5138

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Thursday, 20 October 2011

News Breif: Milk companies fined

The Executive Yuan's Fair Trade Commission (行政院公平交易委員會) imposed fines totalling NT$30 million (ca. US$1 million) on the nation's three largest milk sellers for colluding over the increase in the prices of their products, Taiwan's 'independent' news agency CNA reported yesterday (see Chinese-language article here).

FTC Vice Chairwoman Shi Hui-fen (施惠芬) said that whereas the purchase price for a liter of domestically produced milk had been raised NT$1.9, the price of a one-liter container of milk from Wei Chuan (
味全) rose from NT$77 to NT$83, from Uni-President (統一) rose from NT$76 to NT$82, and that of Kuang Chuan (光泉) rose from NT$76 to NT$82, in other words, an across-the-board rise of NT$6. In addition, Wei Chuan raised the price of its 2-liter bottle of milk by NT$12, while Uni-President and Kuang Chuan added NT$11 to their bottles. 

Shi said the three companies offered different explanations for their increases, with Wei Chuan saying it was reflecting the cost of raw materials (
原料價格), and Kuang Chuan saying it was due to a rise in the cost of paper pulp (紙漿價格), and Uni-President blaming the NT$2-rise in milk prices (生乳收購調升近2元).

In deciding the levels of the fines, Shi said that the FTC took into consideration the market share and operating model
of each company. Wei Chuan, which has almost 40% of the market, was fined around NT$12 million, Uni-President, with almost 30%, was fined NT$10 million, and Kuang Chuan, with between 10 and 20%, being fined NT$8 million.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Monday, 17 October 2011

News Brief: Melamine in plastic plates far higher than proposed standards

Following the announcement from the Department of Health (衛生署) earlier this month that Taiwan would enact a limit on the levels of melamine that will be permitted to dissolve from melamine-resin containers and utensils (see Taipei Times article here), the Kaohsiung Medical University (高雄醫學大學) has announced research findings showing that levels from products currently in use far exceed those proposed standards.

Published in today’s China Times (中國時報; full article here), the KMU tested five companies’ products made by polymerization of melamine and formaldehyde (美耐皿). Adding liquids at 60-70 for 15-30 minutes, it found that dissolved melamine increased with higher temperatures and longer time periods, and could reach as high as 19.03 ppm. This is 7.6 times higher than the DOH maximum permitted level of 2.5 ppm, and could, it claimed, increase the risks of kidney stones or ureterolithiasis (formation of stones in the ureter). 

These plates, bowls and utensils are commonly used at Taiwan's restaurants, even the hot pot stores that serve boiling broth.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

News Brief: Taiwanese Waste More Food Than Europeans/Americans

Taiwan wastes enough food each year to feed [its] low-income families for 20 years 

Enough food was wasted in Taiwan last year to feed the nation’s low-income families for 20 years, reported today’s China Times (中國時報; full Chinese-language article here)

Citing figures from the Environmental Protection Administration (環保署), the Taiwan Fund for Children and Families (台灣兒童暨家庭扶助基金會) said that last year Taiwanese people wasted more than 2.75 million tons of food. Representing an average of 121 kilograms for each adult and child, this is about 10 percent higher than corresponding statistics for people in European and North American countries.

Based on an annual requirement of 547 kilograms of food per person, this wastage is sufficient to feed the 260,000 citizens of Taiwan in low-income households for the next 20 years. 

EPA Bureau of Environmental Inspection Inspector General Chen Shyan-heng (陳咸亨) claimed the difference with Europe and the US was due to lifestyle differences, with Taiwanese preferring to prepare fresh foodstuffs in their own homes compared with the Western practice of processing foods at the point of production (國人喜歡湯湯水水,食材又要求生鮮,菜葉和蔬果等很多食材買回去後再自行處理,歐美國家則是在產地就直接處理。).

The EPA said it had taken measures in recent years to cut back on waste, such as encouraging people to wrap and take home leftover food when eating in restaurants, and at home only to prepare as much food as they are likely to consume. (外食如果吃不完,盡量打包回家;在家就養成吃多少煮多少的習慣).

[NOMM: It would be nice to see the EPA being a little less complacent and a little more pro-active] 

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Friday, 14 October 2011

News Brief: Reducing Taiwan's Carbon Footprint -- Eat Less Meat

The Environmental Protection Administration that Taiwan ranks 17th worldwide in terms of per capita carbon footprint, reported today's Taipei Times (full article here). The figure of 19.6 kilograms/day puts Taiwanese above Japan, South Korea and China, and is almost four times the level recommended by the United Nations.

Suggested ways of reducing this figure included taking public transport and riding bicycles, reducing the use of air conditioning, washing clothes by hand rather than using machines, taking showers rather than baths, walking up stairs rather than taking elevators, and watching less television and playing fewer video games.

But the biggest saving possible is by cutting the eating of meat and animal products, the article explains. With 5.7 kilograms (29 percent) of Taiwanese people’s daily footprint attributable to their average consumption of 432.5g of meat, this far outweighs the 3.4kg due to air conditioning and 1.7kg due to car travel.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Thursday, 13 October 2011

News Brief: Starbucks "explains" why soymilk coffee also goes up in price

Following consumer complaints that the recent NT$10 price hike on coffee at Starbucks due to rising milk costs had also included soymilk coffee, the head of Starbucks marketing, Mr. Zhong (仲), said "What we provide is a more intimate service, allowing customers to pick and choose their own ingredients in accordance with their own requirements. As a consequence, in the holistic planning and consideration, we apply a holistic approach to formulate our conceptual basis." [or some such B.S.] (我們提供的是一種比較貼心的服務,讓顧客可以根據他自己本身的需要,來調整他所使用的原料。所以在整體的計算跟考量,我們是用整體的概念來做整個構思的基礎。) see full article here

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Feature: Don't buy fruit in Carrefour

Consumers buying tomatoes (and other fruit and vegetables) from Carrefour (and other supermarkets) risk a high probability of being ripped off. It seems that the plastic packaging stores use hides a multiple of sins.

It is both unnecessary and forces customers to buy more fruit than they might otherwise need, meaning its use is difficult to reconcile with any company’s claim to environmental “greenness”. Moreover, with one transparent side and one opaque, it affords consumers a less-than-50-percent view of the contents, allowing unscrupulous vendors the means to sell fruit that is partially damaged or rotten.

Yesterday, NOMM bought two 500g packets of 5 tomatoes from Carrefour on Taipei’s Chongqing N. Road, which, to judge from the visible evidence, were ripe and in excellent condition (see photo above). Upon opening the packets at the customer service desk in front of a staff member, however, it transpired that 2 of one packet and 3 of the other were showing early signs of rotting (photo below).

After a few minutes of form filling (time consuming and further unnecessary waste), Carrefour retuned the NT$90 (US$3) purchase price. NOMM asked for explanation from a manager or other spokesperson.

The following is an edited translation of the interview held with Ms. Gao Gui-qiu (高桂秋).

NOMM:         Why does Carrefour cheat its customers?
Gao:                We don’t cheat our customers.
NOMM:          But you turn your tomatoes over so that only the good part shows and the rotten part is hidden. Isn’t that ‘cheating your customers’?
Gao:                 We don’t do that. It’s done by the supplier. We don’t package the product ourselves.
NOMM:          Is this the first time this has happened, that someone has complained about fruit rotten on the side concealed from view?
Gao:                 No.
NOMM:          Is it just the second or third time?
Gao:                 No.
NOMM:          And is it fair to say that most customers don’t open the packaging here in the store, but wait until they get home, by which time it would be wasteful of time and gasoline to come back and complain?
Gao:                 Possibly.
NOMM:          So Carrefour knowingly sells produce that it can confidently predict will include some damaged and rotten items, but that customers are not in a position to identify? Isn’t that ‘cheating your customers’?
Gao:         When we receive a batch from the suppliers, we open one or two samples to make sure the shipment is ok.      
NOMM:          Well, here we have a sample of 2 packets, both of which are substandard.

(At this point, Ms. Gao disappeared, then reappeared with two more packets of tomatoes, which to judge from the condensation had come out of a cold store. She opened them at the customer service counter and examined the underside of the fruit. One was of acceptable quality; 3 of the other were showing signs of rot.)

NOMM:          So Carrefour knowingly sells produce that it can confidently predict will include some damaged and rotten items, but that customers are not in a position to identify? Isn’t that ‘cheating your customers’?
Gao:                 We don’t do that. It’s done by the supplier. We don’t package the product ourselves. When we receive a batch from the suppliers, we open one or two samples to make sure the shipment is ok
NOMM:          But why use packaging at all? It is unnecessary, it makes it easy for you, or the supplier, to cheat the customer into buying inedible food, and it also means that customers cannot buy exactly the quantity they require, examining each one for quality.
GAO:               I understand your concerns and will make a report.
NOMM:          Why doesn’t Carrefour care what customers feel?
GAO:               We do care.
NOMM:          Why don’t you care that customers will get angry when they arrive home and discover their expensive fruit is inedible? Maybe you should care more, since disappointed and angry customers might decide not to buy fruit here anymore, they may even decide not to buy anything from a store that knowingly cheats them.
GAO:               I understand your concerns and will make a report.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Recipe: The BEST soymilk coffee (unless you know better) II

Following Shad's comment (here), NOMM bought some Oat Soya Milk (燕麥豆奶; NT$39, or less in supermarkets) manufactured by IMei (義美).

As she said, its lower soybean flavour does allow the coffee flavour through more intact.

Vegan and made from ingredients imported from Australia, it is available in both regular and sugar-free (無糖) versions.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Sunday, 9 October 2011

News Brief: Govt agencies censured over food scare

The Taipei Times reported yesterday that three government agencies were censured by the Control Yuan for poor supervision of the use of plasticizers, which it said caused a food scare earlier this year and led to at least NT$11.4 billion (US$370 million) in losses for the food industry.
The Executive Yuan (“Cabinet”), Department of Health, and Environmental Protection Administration were reprimanded and told to investigate specific officials accused of dereliction of duty.
The Control Yuan, the nation’s watchdog, also suggested that Food and Drug Administration inspector Yang Ming-yu (楊明玉) be rewarded for discovering the banned plasticizer di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) in bottled beverages and dairy products.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Review: Hot Pot resaturant, Taipei

With this week's topic in mind, NOMM went in search of a cup of soymilk-creamed coffee. A quick Internet search brought up two possibilities: Starbucks and Loving Hut.

Starbucks, which like 7-Eleven is owned by Taiwan's largest food manufacturer and retailer Uni-President Enterprises Corp (統一企業), deserves credit for offering a soymilk option at all branches. This is possibly the WORST CUP OF COFFEE IN THE WORLD, however, since the coffee's flavour is almost completely hidden by a nasty, sweet taste that is presumably the soymilk. Moreover, at NT$105 for a small cup is not cheap (though again, Starbucks deserves credit for its NT$10 discount to customers using their own cups).

Regular soymilk users say that Uni-President's brand is among the worst available, and since Starbucks uses the sweetened version, staff are incapable of complying with a request for a sugar-free drink.

Loving Hut, which has 28 restaurants in Taiwan out of 135 worldwide, offers a vegan cappuccino. Each branch has its own menu; NOMM visited the Guangfu store, which sells hot pots and stews, with sides of pancakes, skewers and kimchi, cakes for desserts and various beverages.

The soup of the hot pot (NT$199) was tasty enough--NOMM chose Southeast Asian pumpkin and coconut from the half-dozen available--and free top-ups were taken. The other ingredients included too many processed and fake-meat items, however, and more than half of the vegetables was simply cabbage.
The pancake (NT$50) flavoured with Chinese toon (Toona sinensis; 香椿), which is becoming increasingly popular both on and off the local vegetarian scene, was good. Another positive point for Western vegetarians is that Loving Hut offers garlic and onions, unlike most Buddhist and Yiguandao restaurants in Taiwan.
On the other hand, however, whereas most of the nation's vegetarian establishments play quiet music or chanting as the soundtrack to one's meal, LH restaurants have large flat-screen TVs continuously broadcasting programming from the Supreme Master Television station, which seems largely to be the ideology of the exotic bleach-blond Supreme Master Ching Hai. Her message of "save the planet - go vegan" is the ethos behind the brand.

The soymilk cappuccino (NT$70) was also more than adequate. A staff member explained that the more authentic flavour was due to the imported US creamer being a "bean milk" (豆奶) using mixed ingredients rather than a pure soybean milk. Although not officially for sale, she offered some to NOMM for NT$80 per 930ml bottle.
Many of the menu items are also available to take away for cooking at home, as are cups of coffee. This is good news for tired shoppers in Taipei's Zhongxiao E. Road district, since purchasing only a coffee for inside consumption is not possible due to LH's NT$120-minimum purchase for restaurant patrons.

Address: No.30, Lane 280, Guangfu S. Rd., Da-an District, Taipei City
Tel: (02) 2777 2711

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

Friday, 7 October 2011

Feature: Milk and coffee price hikes make soy option worth another glance

When switching from dairy creamers, many would-be vegans find that soymilk tends to dominate the sought-after pleasant taste of coffee, often citing it as one of the common hurdles encountered in trying to change lifestyles for ethical or health reasons.
Explanation of product price change: Due to a rise in the price of fresh milk, the price of drinks containing milk are being changed with immediate effect (Americano and Iced Coffee remain unchanged. ... City Cafe

        Perhaps this week’s 10-15 percent hikes to the prices of take-away coffee imposed by at least three of Taiwan’s largest convenience-store chains (and following a similar price rise at Starbucks) will encourage vegetarians and other consumers (as well as more coffee vendors to join Starbucks) to give the environmentally friendlier soymilk another chance. The price increase comes on top of last month’s rise of NT$1.9/litre set by the Council of Agriculture (COA) for milk bought from local farmers, which has raised retail prices to around NT$70/litre in supermarkets and almost NT$90/litre in convenience stores. This compares to prices of NT$20 to NT$40/litre for soymilk.
        While those whose vegetarianism is inspired by desire not to kill animals can maintain that drinking milk does not harm the producing cow (even though the male 50 percent of her necessary offspring as well as many of the females enter the food chain), this argument is not available to environmentally concerned vegetarians. A cow emits climate-changing methane with each exhalation whether it is being fed to make steak or to make milk.
(On the other hand, of course, imported soybeans, which essentially means all soybeans sold in Taiwan other than the immature, green “hairy bean” 毛豆 snack, are not without their own carbon footprint. In addition to the emissions associated with shipping them—mostly from the Americas—there is the nastier issue of destruction of forests to make way for soybean plantations if consumers do not buy “Amazon-friendly” soy products [1].)
        Not surprisingly, Taiwan’s coffee drinkers (who consume around 5 million cups per day according to the London-based International Coffee Organization) are peeved by the news, with some talking about boycotting take-away coffee until prices are lowered. Similarly, the Consumer Foundation has suggested the convenience stores are operating a cartel, since three of the largest, 7-Eleven, Hi-Life and Family Mart, imposed hikes of the same magnitude on the same day. It has demanded the government’s Fair Trade Commission undertake an investigation, and even threatened to take the FTC to the Control Yuan if it fails to act. The COA under the Executive Yuan said it suspected coffee vendors were taking advantage of milk farmers.
        Perhaps the soft-power solution amidst these hard-sounding responses is, therefore, to give the soymilk (or other non-dairy creamer) option a chance, or better still, to drink coffee black and sugar-free. 
It is possibly with this in mind, and to soften the blow of its price increases, that 7-Eleven is also offering a "buy-1-get-a-second-cup-half-price" on Americano coffee this week.

                                                                                                                      Text and photos © Jiyue Publications 2011

[1] More problems relating to soybean consumption will be discussed in a future column.