Taipei First Fruit and Vegetable Wholesale Market in Taipei’s Wanhua District is the largest fruit and vegetable market in Taiwan. About 1,700 tons of goods are handled there every day, which amounts to roughly one-third of all fruit and vegetable wholesale trade in Taiwan each day.
About 35 tons of unsold produce end up in the refuse collection point inside the market. However, a reporter from Taiwan’s tabloid newspaper Apple Daily found out that every morning people go to the collection centre and pick up discarded produce. The truck drivers of the company in charge of the refuse collection point often turn a blind eye to what’s happening, some of them even help the scavengers.
When the unsold produce is brought to the collection point, people “rummage through the garbage as if they were searching for a treasure, while garbage trucks continue to unload piles of vegetables that ooze black water and give off an awful stench,” writes the reporter. From time to time, the trucks even smash the waste. The collectors do not seem to mind and continue to fill their plastic bags.
But what happens to the fruit and vegetables picked up by these people? Well, it may end up on your plate, because some of the scavengers have turned out to be restaurant owners.
One of them runs a hotpot restaurant called Hanji Xiaohuoguo (韓濟小火鍋). Every morning at around 6 a.m. she collects food waste and rides back to her shop. She, her husband and one of her daughters then clean and cook the vegetables and serve them to their customers, including students.
Reporters alerted the authorities, who went to inspect the shop. The owner admitted to using discarded vegetables. After the city officials had left, however, she denied any wrongdoing when asked by a reporter. The daughter raised her voice and brandishing a cooking knife insisted they were just helping people collect waste.
Her son, who also picks up waste from the market with his mother, owns a small snack shop inside an MTR station. They were fined 60,000 Taiwan dollars by the authorities, but apparently their restaurant was not shut down. Another restaurant, Bamian Linglong (八麵玲瓏) didn’t even have a business licence.
TVBS reports that the reuse of food waste happens in other restaurants and food stalls, too. A woman who collects discarded fruit and vegetables told journalists that “there are many people selling food near Shuanghe Market, they all get their food from here, even the ‘king of pork chop’. All of them know me and order from me once every few days.”
As soon as the news spread, many consumers criticized this malpractice. Some pointed out that at 110 Taiwan dollars per meal, the food was not even cheap. Doctors warned that eating discarded vegetables might cause gastroenteritis.
The authorities vowed to crack down on stores that sell food waste. The Department of Health of Taipei City promised to carry out inspections and install more security cameras. The company responsible for the transportation and disposal of the produce sold at the market, the Taipei Agricultural Products Marketing Co., admitted to having made mistakes, adding that waste disposal had been outsourced to another company.
While Taiwan is widely considered an East Asian food paradise, and rightly so, one should also beware lack of hygiene and avoid restaurants that appear to disregard customers’ safety to make a few dollars’ profit.
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