March 21, 2011

Food in Taiwan, or rather, Tainan…

Being here for so many years, I have learned to change my ‘diet’ (so-to-speak) to Taiwan eats. I don’t have a lot of pictures of Taiwan foods, so you’ll just have to bear with me as I describe some of the foods here.

Over the course of 10 years, I have tried several types of foods available here. My friends may not believe it, because of my aversion to certain things, but I have.

Living in Canada and in particular, growing up in central Canada, namely Ontario, we didn’t really have a lot of seafood available to us. Most of the diet my family ate, consisted of potatoes and some sort of, how shall I say … land meat – beef, pork, or chicken. Rarely can I honestly remember eating seafood. Oh sure, we did at times have smelt, or cod, or perch, or ‘flipper’, but they were few and far between.

I suppose if we had grown up on the east or west coasts of Canada, our diets would have had some sort of seafood, but we didn’t.

Coming to an island nation, where there is very little land available to raise ‘land meat’, and so much of the local diet consists of seafood, was not so much a surprise to me, but more of a concern. I had ‘learned’ to enjoy things like clams and lobster in Canada, even though my family never really ate it. However, here in Taiwan, lobster is not a big item of seafood. It is available, but not as common as one would think.

Clams, fish, octopus, squid… these are the seafoods that a lot of people eat on a regular basis. When I look back at living in Canada, especially in central Canada, seafood tended to be a bit expensive. That is perhaps part of the reason we didn’t have a lot of seafood in our home. With six children, mom and dad, buying an expensive food item like lobster or clams, just were not in the budget.

Here in Taiwan, seafood, even lobster, is relatively inexpensive by Canadian standards. Octopus balls, barbecued squid, and all the varieties of fish you can imagine, are not only easy to find, but cheap.

Not far from Tainan city, actually, about a 1/2 hour scooter ride, is a place called Sing-da Port. This is a major fish market in the Tainan area. It is actually in Kao-hsiung county, but close enough for a quick trip on a Saturday morning – if you don’t mind driving along the Tainan Strait. I enjoy this trip a lot, but there really isn’t a lot I will purchase in this market. My major thrill, is seeing the different kinds of seafoods that are available.

I think part of my NOT wanting to purchase anything, is not so much that I don’t want to try to eat seafood. My problem is seeing these creatures – shrimp, lobster, clams, fish, etc. – all alive and living in the various vats and containers, just waiting for their fate. Obviously, people generally don’t think of these creatures as anything more than food.

When I see a blue lobster (yes, BLUE) walking around in the pool of water, and knowing in my gut that at some point, someone is going to purchase this creature and boil it up for dinner, makes me sad. Seeing all the shrimp piled on top of each other, fighting for their lives, and again, knowing that at some point, someone is going to take them home and plop them on the barby or boil them and eat them, repulses me.

Again, going back to life in Canada, had I grown up on the coasts, perhaps my outlook on these creatures would have been different.

I suppose I should think the same way about ‘land meat’. We as humans, raise animals such as cow, chickens, and pigs, for the sole purpose of food.

There have been a couple of times over these years, that I almost gave up eating chicken. The first time occurred when I first came to Taiwan.

I was staying in a hotel in Taichung when I arrived in Taiwan in 2002. During the early evening, I decided to leave the hotel room, and walk around a bit to ‘get a feel’ for this country. Around the corner from the hotel, there was a ‘stall’. An older couple seemed to operate this stall.

I noticed that there were many cages with chickens, not just in the cages, but more or less ‘stuffed’ in these cages. A cage that I would figure would be comfortable for maybe one or two, may have contained six or seven of these poor animals. As I was looking (probably with a look of disgust or awe), someone had apparently wanted a chicken.

The old woman took out a chicken by the neck from one of the cages, and immediately dunked the whole creature into a vat of boiling water. She held it there for a few minutes, then pulled it out. At that point, she started to literally pull out its feathers. The head of the chicken was at an angle on her hand, but she didn’t so much as flinch an eyelid as she continued to pluck each and every feather from this poor beast.

The second time I nearly had a close call with the ‘execution’ of a chicken, was a couple of years ago in Tainan. I was looking for dumpling pastry, and had been told of a market to go to. While I walked up and down the aisles, I ended up at the end of the market.

Reminiscent of my Taichung experience, there was an elderly couple running a stand at the back. It was not very bright at this end, but I could see that again, there were cages of chickens. Just as I got there, I saw the man take out a chicken. Remembering my first experience, I immediately made a bee-line away from this area. A few seconds later, all I heard was the sound of a knife hitting wood. I knew, without looking, what had happened.

I’m neither stupid nor naive. I know where pork and beef come from. I do enjoy KFC once in a while, as much as I enjoy a great steak on the barbecue. However, I don’t need to actually SEE the creature being killed to know that I’m eating a cow or a pig or a chicken.

As I’ve gotten older, I suppose my sense of life and living has changed. I’ve also noticed that my ‘diet’ has changed somewhat. I tend to eat a lot more veggies here in Taiwan than I have ever done in my past. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a great piece of steak, or deep-fried chicken, but I just can’t bring myself to enjoy some kind of meat that I know, was probably alive and living its life only a few minutes before I ordered it.

Granted, beef, pork, and chicken (for example) were living creatures, but I didn’t have a say in its demise. It was already ‘butchered’ before I ordered it at the restaurant.

I realize that creatures such as shrimp or fish are a lot more prolific than other creatures, and for the most part, we as humans consider them lesser lifeforms than ourselves, but let me say, I am glad that I didn’t grow up on a farm or the coasts, where I could have been exposed to the thoughts of treating other life, no matter what they are, as mere food items.

Is it truly enough for me to give up eating these ‘land meats’? Not likely. It is part of my diet. Will my not eating a hamburger or a roast of pork or KFC make a difference? Not likely. No matter what the vegetarians in our cultures may say, seafood and ‘land meats’ will still be a part of our diets. Unless you can convince a WHOLE culture or country to do away with the practice of eating these creatures, it will never cease. One person does not a difference make.

That’s it, that’s all… for now!


1 Comment

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One response to “March 21, 2011

  1. Eric Wu

    Nice to see you again…Teacher Bill. I’m Eric Wu, one who got a nickname like wuddi. I just wanna inform you of my first tumblr(a little bit like wordpress) For the starter, I think it’ll take couples of time to use this staff. Wait for my news~:D

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