If you’ve opened any news source in the last 6 months, you’ve probably heard the term “wet market” thrown around as the source of Covid-19.
Close your eyes and imagine what you think one looks like.
I’m willing to bet the mental picture you painted is located in China, and it involves rows of strange animals both dead and alive including snakes, exotic birds, and dogs all haphazardly stacked up. Things are dirty and people are barbarically hacking away at live animals and shadily sell them off. Some locals might even be noshing down on bats like chicken wings, or licking their fingers after a little helping of grilled porcupine The whole scene looks archaic, unsanitary, and uncouth.
Now let me paint you a different picture.
Narrow streets are lined with thousands of food items with bright colors, loud noises, and locals bustling about. Men and women who have been selling the same goods for decades are yelling with bartering customers, your nose is accosted with unusual scents matted into the humid air ranging from aromatic grilled meats to stinky tofu, and your brain can hardly keep up with your eyes scanning over weird fruits like durian and mangosteen, bins of all sorts of fish, and raw meat casually hanging up. You catch the breeze of motor scooters whizzing down the narrow, crowded streets, and there’s an overwhelming feeling of life and vibrancy.
Now let’s look at some actual pictures:
A “wet market” refers to a market selling perishable meats, fruits, and veggies where water is often sloshed about (always wear closed toe shoes my friends). They provide fresh, affordable food and are essential hubs of commerce in many cultures across the world.
Wet markets are an exciting way to experience a new culture, and during my travels I went to hundreds of them throughout Japan, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, and South Korea. I saw weird fish I didn’t know existed, every single part of a pig, chicken, and cow you could imagine, plenty of bugs, and fruit that looked more like a weapon than an edible item. I even ate some of the odder things I saw, including starfish and scorpion.
You know what I didn’t see? Any sort of exotic wildlife.. hell.. I didn’t even see any dog (although my colleagues did). But how?! According to the mainstream media, these markets are teeming with such animals!!!!
As it turns out, many media outlets made the error of confusing a “wet market” with a “wildlife market” in pinpointing the origins of this coronavirus.
This mistake has created unwarranted calls to shut down wet markets that are crucial to the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people across the world, and it has also contributed to unwarranted racist sentiments.
Well, what are wildlife markets?
Wildlife markets are where you find the exotic animals such at bats, porcupines, snakes etc. that are usually used for medicinal purposes. While some wet markets have wildlife market sections (such as the one in Wuhan), it’s not the standard. (“What You need to Know About Wildlife Markets and Covid-19” busts some myths, and click HERE for some great knowledge on the wildlife trade in China. )
A tangent on wet markets….
With that being said, I by no means would call many of these wet markets hygienic . To be honest, I was initially shocked by the slabs of raw meat resting a mere 3 feet away from fresh vegetables, and I certainly never saw anyone scrubbing their hands with warm water and soap while singing Happy Birthday.
My American upbringing and cultural values label the bins of live fish and buckets of raw meat out in the open as “bad,” but why? Wet markets have been staples of certain societies for decades, and if food born illnesses were a massive issue, locals would simply stop buying the meat. The men and women running the stalls have probably been doing the same thing every single day for their entire lives, and selling a contaminated product isn’t a good business model.
Besides, what often causes a food born illnesses is not the good itself, but rather how it is cooked. Even a fancy organic, free-ranged chicken that listened to Bach every day from Whole Foods can get you sick if it’s undercooked.
It’s important to remember that culture and society shape was food is “normal”, and different should never be confused with “wrong”.
News flash, American “markets” aren’t so great either.
Most shrink wrapped and frozen meat in American grocery stores comes from inhumanely raised animals that were probably slaughtered and packaged weeks ago. Not to mention almost all commercial meat is pumped full of hormones and chemicals that I suspect will have major long-term health implications. Five chickens on the streets of Vietnam in a woven contraction that looks like an upside down basket seems to be better than 20,000 crammed into a commercial factory farm in the United States if you ask me…
Yet, people get up and arms about the alleged condition of wet markets.
In the US, we are able to disconnect from the chicken, cow, or pig because it looks nothing like the cute animal it came from and we don’t have to see the process. At these markets, there’s no doubt you are eating an animal that was alive not long ago, and an out of sight out of mind approach isn’t feasible. Foreigners often see the overt display as repulsive and gross, but, hate to break it to you, that’s what your chicken nugget and burger once looked like.
Alright alright I know food poisoning is completely different than a freak virus that is shutting down the entire world caused by diseases mutated from animals at markets.
But it’s wildlife markets, not wet markets, that are to blame.
Wet markets certainly should have more sanitary guidelines, but it isn’t right for cultures on the other side of the world to demand that these markets should be shut down when the source of the opinion is flat out wrong and the image painted by the media is dramatized. Not to mention, this false portrayal of markets has undoubtedly led to racist thoughts and opinions.
Change is happening in China.
China IS making strides towards preventing future epidemics such as Covid-19, and there is a current ban on wildlife markets with talk of it becoming permanent law. Individual states are cracking down even harder. In Wuhan, there is a 5 year ban in place and Zhuhai has issued an extended ban on eating dog and cat meat (please note that less than 20% of the population eats dog, and the majority thinks it should be outlawed, don’t let your mind slip into racist and stereotypical thoughts).
I found it particularly interesting that the government is even implementing buy back programs to wildlife farmers to encourage them to switch to agricultural goods with deals like $88 per porcupine, $84 per civet cat (read about poop coffee HERE), and $17/kg for king cobra snake. The government will in turn put the animals in zoos, give them to research facilities, or release them into the wild if possible.
China’s wildlife trade is valued at $73 billion dollars, but only $18 billion of that is for consumption. The other $55 billion revolves around the fur trade, but let’s save further discussion of the fur trading biz for another time.
The false perception of the wet markets is a classic example of how we can’t believe everything we are told.
Every day we are bombarded with information that leads to rage, racist-thoughts, and ignorance. The media knows what people tune into, and they play our emotions like a fiddle.
It’s up to each individual to become properly informed, and it’s no longer acceptable to sit in ignorance and accept everything we hear as the truth.
The power to be informed is up to you. Choose your path wisely.