No smog without bacon?

Smoked bacon

The ‘War on Pollution’ in China seems to have taken on an intriguing new angle – to become a war on bacon. Yes, you heard that right. Bacon. At least in China’s southwestern Sichuan Province.

While the world looks at constructions, industrial activity and automobile emissions as the main culprits in China’s pollution woes, Rao Bing, deputy head of the Dazhou Environment Protection Bureau, has put pork on the stand. He claimed last week that  the long-held practice of smoking bacon by local residents is what has provoked the metropolis’s noxious haze. Eating preserved pork and sausages is an age-old tradition in Sichuan, and bacon is smoked in almost every family in the period leading up to the Chinese Lunar New Year (February 19 this year). Coincidentally, the city of Dazhou has been consistently seeing high particulate pollution levels since the beginning of the new year.

In response to the official’s accusations, the city of Dazhou is taking a hard line on this traditional practice, and local chengguan, or public civil servants have “started to raid and forcibly demolish meat-smoking sites”.

smoking baconLocals smoking bacon in Baoxing county, Sichuan province

While smoking meat does contribute to air pollution, critics of the city’s move to quash bacon production say that meat-smoking procedures only account for an insignificantly small amount of it. The Bayu Public Welfare Development Centre, a non-governmental environmental protection organization had volunteers conduct a three-day survey at a dozen bacon-smoking sites to prove that, and concluded that “the impact of the smoking process is confined within a 50-metre radius” (Chongqing Evening News)

Rao Bing’s claim has been the butt of much ridicule among China’s netizens, inviting comments such as “Dazhou’s air smells like smoked bacon” and the now much-quoted “smoking bacon has a long history, but smog does not” (a Sina Weibo user)

This isn’t the first time that officials or the media have used a smog and mirrors tactic with regard to real issues surrounding pollution : in October, 2014, environmental watchdogs in Beijing and the adjacent Henan Province blamed the terrible smog on farmers burning straw, an agricultural practice with a history longer than the smog. In 2013, during a heavily-polluted period, Chinese state media listed five “surprising benefits” of smog, including winners such as “it unifies the Chinese people” and “it makes China more equal”. During the same period, the Global Times, a nationalist newspaper claimed that the smog, while damaging to human health, was advantageous in military strategy, as it could thwart missile attacks and impede hostile reconnaissance.

‘Before and After’ NASA images of Beijing, 2013. Or “where did Beijing go?”NASA - Beijing 2013

However creative a spin may be put on pollution and its causes or effects every now and then, the problem remains. And it is real. Just last week, Beijing saw ‘beyond-index’ levels of pollution yet again.  Our only effective weapons are knowledge of the problem, awareness of how best to deal with it and protecting our indoor environments as best we can.

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