Sunday, February 9, 2020

A global fallacy: Blaming on China's eating culture for the new coronavirus

In the midst of the spread of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), Asians, no matter in what region (in Asia or in predominantly non-Asian communities), are now being stereotyped as bat-eaters, even when not all Asian communities have the habit of eating bats. It has spiked a global anger toward Asians for the spread of the virus which stem from health concerns and have resulted in xenophobic and prejudicial tendencies coming from non-Asian (by region or ethnicity) communities.

As for  among the Asian non-bat eating communities, such as the community that I myself belong to, we've not been exempted from committing this prejudice. We too tend to blame on their eating culture and put our ethnocentric standards on what they should and shouldn't eat. This indicates a similar line of logic that all non-bat eating communities have which is 'The Chinese from China tend to eat whatever they like, so that's why they're  prone to being exposed to such an outbreak.' This line of logic is problematic because 1) it does not address the real cause of the outbreak (false cause fallacy)  and 2) it reinforces harmful stereotypes even among the Chinese (and Asians in general) outside of China who do not eat bats.

The direct cause of the outbreak is due to human activities whereby humans and other animals are going further into bat's territories which encourages contact between us and the bats which results in the virus transmissions. This is largely due to urbanization and modern agricultural practices [1]. Other than that, the evolution of the coronavirus also plays a significant role [2] which means that already available vaccines for previous forms of coronaviruses (SARS and MERS) will not work on this new one. China's poor food safety standards is also a factor [3] whereby food scandals often happens, unlicensed markets that sell wildlife, and undertrained basic hygiene techniques among the workers [4]. 

If we still insist on blaming the Chinese culture's eating habits for the spread of the virus, let's think about it, based on our own ethnocentric standard of eating practices, the chickens that we rear and eat are also prone to zoonotic (animal to human infection) diseases such as the H5N1 bird flu but we don't hear a serious outbreak about it because a vaccine for it is already available, but it is also due to the fact that human to human infection of the disease is less likely to happen [5]. Here is another issue to think about. The Indonesians in Northern Sulawesi have bats as one of their local delicacies [6] but we don't hear a coronavirus outbreak coming from their region. By attempting an educated guess, the bats in that region are most likely to be of a different species (the Sulawesi harpy fruit bat) and would have not yet been carrying the virus. So, does blaming a particular culture's eating practices is enough to conclude the direct cause of the new coronavirus? The situation in Northern Sulawesi already falsifies that.

In conclusion, the problem is not the eating culture, but poor food safety standards, no vaccine is yet available, evolution of coronavirus, and human activities which encourages bats and other animals to come in contact with each other.


[1]  Cui, J., Li, F., & Shi, Z.-L. (2018). Origin and evolution of pathogenic coronaviruses. Nature Reviews Microbiology. doi:10.1038/s41579-018-0118-9

[2] Xu, X., Chen, P., Wang, J., Feng, J., Zhou, H., Li, X., Zhong, W., and Hao, P. (2020). Evolution of the novel coronavirus from the ongoing Wuhanoutbreak and modeling of its spike protein for risk of human transmission. Sci China Life Sci 63,





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