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Painting "Goose Paws" in China Will Get You Thrown in Jail

A man is on trial in China for painting goose feet and abalone to make them look more appetizing, because it's illegal to serve food with inedible ingredients. Add that to the long, weird, and terrifying list of food scandals to hit the country...
August 26, 2014, 5:15pm
Photo via Flickr user James Jordan

Food standards in China have a bad reputation abroad. Some might say that's undeserved, and any individual incident shouldn't be taken as representative of how a country—especially as one as vast as China—regards safety and sustainability in its food culture. Hell, the West has plenty of problems with food safety itself.

But China's rap sheet, especially recently, is a little too long and too terrifying to ignore.

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Just this week, Chinese police seized over 30,000 tons of chicken feet tainted with hydrogen peroxide, which is used to disinfect them at processing plants. At least they were relatively young chicken feet, though. In 2013, police in Guangxi discovered that smugglers had been selling chicken feet that dated back to 1967, when Chairman Mao was in power.

Of course, there are the weirdo one-offs, too. There's the entrepreneur who spiked throat-burning moonshine with Viagra. There was also that time a woman purchased a kilo of normal-looking pork from a Shanghai market, only to discover later that it glowed bright blue.

You can't make this shit up.

Now, a cook is on trial in China's Zhejiang province for painting his food to make it more visually appealing. Xinhua reports that the man, who is known as Chen, worked at a hotel in Hangzhou serving, among other things, abalone and "goose paws" (which we can comfortably assume are goose feet).

The problem was that Chen seemingly had a poor grasp of the eat-with-your-eyes concept, and customers routinely complained that his goose paws looked like hell. When the head chef told Chen to step up his game, he decided to use inedible pigment on his paws and sea snails.

Using inedible pigments in food is banned in China, however, and rightly so. But legislation can only go so far when there's a lack of oversight. There was a widespread scandal in 2008, when more than over 6,200 infants fell ill after drinking powdered milk formula that had been contaminated with melamine, AKA the stuff your IKEA shelving is made from. Of course, there was also the recent dust-up with McDonald's, when it came to light that one of its Chinese suppliers was shipping expired meat to the country's restaurants.

The list goes on and on. There's the infamous use of "gutter oil"—recycled fats pulled from sewers, slaughterhouses, and restaurants—that experts estimate makes up to a tenth of China's cooking oil. There's the 20,000 kilos of "beef" that was actually pork, which was treated with paraffin wax and industrial chemicals in order to make it look like it came from cows.

The population isn't exactly thrilled with these developments, either. According to the International Business Times, even the state-run news channel CCTV asked its audience online, "Are there any Chinese foods left that are safe?"

And if that's what the people in power are asking, you know things are fucked.