Rat: It's What's for Dinner?

China's latest food scare involves the unpopular rodents masquerading, with the help of other ingredients, as lamb.
chinaratmeat.jpgA traditional dish prepared with rat meat in Yangshuo, China. (Wikimedia Commons)

Rat meat + gelatin + red food coloring + nitrates = lamb. Have you tried it yet?

"This is what a 'complete' sheep looks like," reads a caption under the photoshopped image of a sheep with Jerry from Tom and Jerry as its head. The image was posted by @无锡微生活, an account that focuses on reporting news related to the city of Wuxi in Jiangsu province, on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, "Now, you know why your stomach hurts."

The post refers to yet another major case of food safety scandal in China. 63 people were arrested for selling fox, mink, rat, and other meat doused in various chemicals as lamb in Shanghai and Jiangsu province for about $1.6 million. None of the meat products used as ingredients had undergone inspection. According to police reports, those arrested have been selling counterfeit lamb products since 2009.

Chinese Web users reacted in disgust and outrage at the news, especially aghast at the suggestion that fake lamb meat has made its way into some of China's most popular restaurants like the hot pot chain Little Fat Sheep.

"This is absolutely nauseating!" wrote many users, attaching images of vomiting emoticons to their comments. "Just imagine -- you think you're eating some lamb skewers, but what you are actually eating is some furry rats. How will I dare eat lamb again?" lamented user @ 无锡24小时.

Sadly, this incident is not an anomaly but part of a larger trend of food safety crimes in China. A widely circulated image on Weibo lists 10 food hazard scandals that have surfaced in the past few years. Fake beef, fake lamb, toxic chicken feet, diseased ducks -- almost all types of commonly consumed meat made the list.

"The dead pigs made people taste pork soup [in their tap water] . The emergence of H7N9 virus made us shrink back into our own homes. The head of the twelve Chinese zodiac have now finally risen, too ... Give us a reason to eat without worry," challenged @ 无锡微生活 in the image mentioned above. The tweet has since been deleted.

"I'll just have to not eat meat as much as possible. I guess I'll lose weight," commented user @ 永远的_五月曙光 with a weak attempt at humor.

In the midst of such laments, however, some Internet users have sprung to acts of self-preservation.

"Popular science: how to differentiate between genuine and fake lamb!" reads another post by @无锡微生活. In it, the user compares photos of real and fake lamb and explains what differences to look for.

"Real lamb has very clear red and white lines. Fake lamb has no obvious lines."

"In fake lamb, the red and white parts are separate. In real lamb, the red and white parts merge together."

"After defrosting, the white and red parts of fake lamb come apart very easily at a slight touch. With real lamb, however, the red and white parts stick together."

The post ends with photos of two pieces of cooked meat and the question: "These two pieces of 'lamb'--which is genuine? Which is fake?"

Tea Leaf Nation has not confirmed the effectiveness of these methods.

chinaratmeat.jpgAs various cases of food hazards continue to plague the country, Chinese people seem to have learned one thing: you must protect yourself. When you cannot trust that the meat, vegetables, oil, and water you are consuming are safe, you have only yourself to trust.

The lesson of the fake-lamb incident: be street-smart.

As one user summarized: "Don't eat meat outside. If you need to eat meat, cook it at home. Plant your own vegetables. Raise your own pork. Do it all yourself -- it's the only way you can eat without worrying.

This post also appears at Tea Leaf Nation, an Atlantic partner site.

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