Chinese food

You are what you eat, and whether you know it or not, you are eating a lot of food (and other stuff) that’s made in China, or so says John Pomfret.

If the [milk] scandal illustrates anything, it’s that China’s product safety system is woefully ill-equipped. And that’s pretty sobering news from a country which is the second biggest supplier of goods to the United States.

A big chunk of that is food. From 1996-2006, U.S. imports of Chinese food, agricultural, and seafood products increased 346 percent to 1.833 milion tons. China is the third leading supplier of food (after Mexico and Canada) to the U.S., and the second biggest supplier of fish. Drugs and vitamins, too.

That vitamin C you’re popping each morning? Chances are the ascorbic acid was Made in China. In the past several years, the number of FDA-registered drug manufacturers in China has nearly tripled. They went from 440 in 2004 to almost 1,300 in 2007….

The Bush administration made the obligatory noise about cracking down on Chinese goods. But the reality was that, according to a series of agreements signed between the Bush administration and the Chinese government in Beijing in December of last year, no significant new American resources are going to be devoted to dealing with the problem. The onus is on the Chinese to clean up their act.

Just as we we’re told we should trust Paulson to take care of a trillion-dollar loan, so too should we leave it to China, on blind faith, to make sure all that food they’re sending us is safe. And for a long time, that’s what we did. Now, I am sure my friends in California and Arizona are going to think twice before they buy those frozen tilapia filets at Trader Joe’s. Which is tragic for China. But that’s what happens when greedy businessmen decide to cut some corners and make some extra yuan, even if cutting those corners leads to the death of infants. Other businesses, even the law-abiding ones, will suffer. Once again, the carelessness and selfishness of a few will lead to hardship for many. (Hard to tell whether I’m talking about the sub-prime debacle or Chinese food exports.)

And now, I’m going to check where those vitamins in my cabinet are made. (Just out of curiosity. After all, I live here and just about everything I eat is made in China.)

The Discussion: 38 Comments

IT’s very frustrating that usually the regional local government officials are the some of the most corrupted and they collaborated in hiding the truth with some of the local factory manufacturers. Now a few big fishes are caught, but when the top officials would really crack down on the existing enormous corruption in lower regional levels-which is crippling the modernization of China at every step of the way.

September 25, 2008 @ 12:40 am | Comment

Cathy it’s frustrating but it makes perfect sense considering China’s hardwired system of corruption, the lifeblood of that peculiar organism known as the Chinese Communist Party which is, in fact, some indefinable hybrid of rampant capitalism and 1950s authoritarianism, sometimes appearing almost liberal and at other times taking near-totalitarian form. The big question is whether the “top officials” actually CAN crack down on those below them. Pomfret in another excellent article some months ago says that indeed they can, and that the myth that their hands are tied because they have no influence in far-away regions is..well, a myth.

Anyway, the tragedy is still that all China suffers. And all you need are powerful regulatory agencies staffed with the most qualified people and wholly dedicated to the well being of the public and not themselves and their cronies. Why, just look at how our system works in America. Heh. Bush has made it soooo hard for me to criticize the CCP. Not impossible, but much more challenging, since we are supposed to be the ones leading by example.

September 25, 2008 @ 12:57 am | Comment

“…we we’re told we should trust Paulson to take care of a trillion-dollar loan, so too should we leave it to China, on blind faith, to make sure all that food they’re sending us is safe. ”

No one knows what they are doing, and because of the corruption, the band plays on. The Truth is dead, and we’re gazing into the abyss. Look at all these awards that Lehman Brothers won:

Lehman Brothers Recognized in International Financing Review’s “Awards 2006”

17 Dec 2006
Lehman Brothers has been honored with several awards from International Financing Review (IFR) in the publication’s “Awards 2006.” Following are excerpts from IFR’s December 2006 edition:

Credit Derivatives House of the Year
“For its extension of synthetic trading to new asset classes and market-leading service in the form of idea generation and liquidity provision, Lehman Brothers is IFR’s Credit Derivatives House of the Year.”

“Lehman Brothers received high marks from hedge funds and other active users of credit derivatives for its service in all index and single name default swap markets globally. ‘They are good with ideas, trading, pricing and anything you need as a client,’ said one hedge fund manager… it was in product innovation that Lehman Brothers outperformed its peers.”

Securitization House of the Year
“As the securitisation universe continues to expand, so do the demands on lead managers. A top ABS bank has to show competence across asset classes, an ability to generate its own product, supply liquidity and a talent to rethink the product. Lehman Brothers has done all that, and as a model that other houses are chasing to copy, not least in the non-conforming sector, is the IFR Securitisation House of the Year.”

“From advisory through to principal finance, Lehman Brothers’ roster of deals demonstrates a real ability to meet client objectives through to final execution. But the breadth and innovation of its deals only tells a part of the story. Its global business platform also draws on its syndication, distribution, trading and research expertise.”

Lehman Brothers Associated with Five Additional IFR Deal-Related Awards
European Structured Equity Issue of the Year: Salzgitter/Vallourec
Joint bookrunner (€1.4 billion structured equity issue)

North American Securitization of the Year: Hertz Vehicle Licensing
Sole structuring advisor and joint bookrunner ($5.8 billion financing)

Subordinated Financial Bond of the Year: Lloyds TSB Group
Joint bookrunner ($1.0 billion perpetual non-call 10)

U.S. Equity Issue of the Year: New York Stock Exchange
Joint bookrunner ($1.77 billion secondary offering)

U.S. Structured Equity Issue of the Year: Amgen
Joint bookrunner ($5.0 billion two-tranche convertible bond offering)

The transactions herein appear as a matter of record only.

September 25, 2008 @ 1:28 am | Comment

Tell me, why is China’s life expectancy not that different from the US, even though China is a third world country and US is a first world industrial nation?

If China’s food is so dangerous. Why are Chinese not living shorter lives? They should be suffering from all kinds of diseases and illnesses and dying at around 40 to 50, right?

Tell me, why are Chinese people not dying earlier and faster? According to you, they must be!

Please answer me this question.

September 25, 2008 @ 2:13 am | Comment

My wife and I noticed several weeks ago that some of the products we usually pick up from the Asian grocery were never in stock and when we inquired about it with the store manager, we were informed that the US govt. had banned the import of those items and as it turns out they were products of China.

We also spend a small fortune shipping large quantities of vitamins and health supplements to her parents every few months, but the peace of mind is worth the price. (and no, they are not produced in China)

September 25, 2008 @ 2:36 am | Comment

I’ve always been surprised that in China formula milk was considered “best” for a baby – what happened to mother’s milk? I’ve heard the justifications but have the authorities tried to dispell the myths?

September 25, 2008 @ 4:10 am | Comment


Life expectancy is not all, you must also take into account life quality.

The kids with stones in their kidneys may life long, but will the live a comfortable life. What consequences will they suffer.

Do not underestimate the resilience of the human body. But the fact that you are alive does not necessarily mean that you are enjoying life. The ailments produced by the tainted food, pollution, etc may limit or make quite uncomfortable their lives.

Have you ever hear the expression: “Iron strong bad health”?

September 25, 2008 @ 5:03 am | Comment


You must also analyze life expectancy. You may get the same average, but where are the extremes?

Many may dye younger, many may die much older, and you get same average. But what would that mean to life quality of the majority?

Hope you are satisfied with these answers.

September 25, 2008 @ 5:08 am | Comment

@HongXing – Chinese life expectancy: 72.8 Male, 71.1 Female. USA life expectancy: 78 Male, 75 Female. Quite a difference.

US does not import milk from China and pharma is one area of commerce where the Chinese government does permit foreign importers to do their own quality inspection and control.

@ Richard. The supermarket chain I shop at carries no Chinese seafood at all. Trader Joe’s as of last November said they were going to have all Chinese food imports off their shelves by the end of the year. I’d be shocked to find that they’re still selling Chinese tilapia. Where Country of Origin Labeling Enforcement (CORE, a law on the books that the Bush admin is lax in enforcing) is enforced (as it is in seafood) few will buy Chinese foodstuffs.

As for those families in China with infants sick from adulterated milk, my heart goes out to them. That infant is their only child. I cannot fathom the vicious neglect, malfeasance and corruption that allowed this to happen in China. And the same goes for the central government, which did not let news of this out until after the Olympics to keep their image up. For all the good that the fabulous Olympics did for China, it sure didn’t last long.

September 25, 2008 @ 7:51 am | Comment

Ellen thanks for calling Red Star on his usual BS. Didn’t know that Trader Joe’s pulled it’s Chinese fish and other foods. Very sad for people trying to make a living in China, but they (the greedy ones) brought it on themselves.

The children…. One thing you do not mess with in China is the children. The government can get away with murder on a lot of things, but if they are perceived as tolerating the poisoning of children, parents here will not forget about it or just let it go. That’s why the story keeps reverberating here, unlike most other scandals that quietly die down after a couple of days.

September 25, 2008 @ 10:14 am | Comment

“why are Chinese people not dying earlier and faster?”

Perhaps you should ask why the consumers of Chinese products in other countries are not living longer.

It’s just a question of time before some of these vitamin supplements are exposed as galvenized rock from a disused quarry in Henan.

September 25, 2008 @ 10:32 am | Comment

In China no one has ever officially considered formula best for babies. Doctors and other health workers have always held that breast milk is best. However, they have never been supported by the kinds of long-running information and media campaigns promoting breast milk that we’re used to in other countries (for example, the UK).
This, combined with the huge advertising budgets of the formula companies left many families, especially those who were not well-educated, vulnerable to receiving the wrong message. In the past, plenty of Chinese mothers told me that they knew that breast milk was best, but they had all received at least a college level education.

In an attempt to find the silver lining in the current storm, many Chinese doctors and health workers have been eager to use current media attention on infant formula to spread their message that ‘breast milk is best’ to a much wider audience than usual.

So, in answer to your question, there has never been official support for any ‘breast is best’ campaigns, but the doctors are using the current crisis to do their best to spread the message.

September 25, 2008 @ 10:35 am | Comment


Wait until the 70s, 80’s, 90s generation grow up and we see the cancer incidence from these generations. To my knowledge, China has not always been the toxic dump that it is currently. I think we cannot judge the global health of the Chinese people using as a reference the older generations.

Their food habits were better, they lived their youth in a less polluted environment, China was not yet victim of the capitalism cancer turning normal people into crooks, etc.

September 25, 2008 @ 10:36 am | Comment

The poisoning of baby’s milk is just a symptom of a larger moral collapse in Chinese society. In the US, we’re experiencing a similar moral collapse. If people are willing to knowingly poison infant formula (or maliciously or recklessly cause the collapse of the US financial system), then there’s no moral floor as to how far we will sink into the moral abyss.

I’m certain that if one wanted to re-create Au..sch/w==it/ z in China, then all one would have to do is to take an existing hell-hole Chinese export factory (and there are literally thousands of them) and then pay them some money to liquidate their less efficient workers. You’d have to make it legal, of course, or, at least, pay off enough government people to look the other way, but you could do it. There is no moral bottom.

September 25, 2008 @ 11:21 am | Comment

“…for what is proposed is not the nationalization of private corporations but rather a corporate takeover of government. The marriage of highly concentrated corporate power with an authoritarian state that services the politico-economic elite at the expense of the people….”

A Fox to Protect the Henhouse?
by Robert Scheer

Does it really matter which party is in charge when it comes to bailing out the Wall Street hustlers whose shenanigans have bankrupted so many ordinary folks? Not if the Democrats roll over and cede power to the former head of Goldman Sachs, the investment bank at the center of our economic meltdown.

What arrogance for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson-who the year before President Bush appointed him treasury secretary was paid $16.4 million for heading the company that did as much as any to engineer this financial travesty-to now insist we must blindly trust him to solve the problem. Paulson is demanding the power to act with “absolute impunity,” said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who admonished the treasury chief: “After reading this proposal, it is not only our economy that is at risk, Mr. Secretary, but our Constitution as well.”

Clearly, it’s a vast improvement to have Dodd in the chairman’s seat of the Senate Banking Committee, asking the right questions, rather than his predecessor, Texas Republican Phil Gramm, who presided over the committee in the years when the American economy, long the envy of the world, was viciously sabotaged by radical deregulation legislation.

Gramm, whom Sen. John McCain backed for president in 1996, pushed through the financial market deregulation that has brought the American economy to its knees. Maybe this time Congress won’t give the financial moguls everything they want, including a bailout for foreign-owned banks like Swiss-based UBS, where Gramm now hangs out as a very well paid executive when he’s not advising the presidential campaign of McCain, his old buddy and partner in crime. Oops, sorry, no crimes were committed because the deregulation laws Gramm pursued and McCain faithfully supported decriminalized the financial scams that have proved so costly.

Just check out the language of Gramm’s pet projects, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. By preventing mergers between the various branches of Wall Street, the former act reversed basic Depression-era legislation passed to prevent the sort of collapse we are now experiencing. The latter legitimized the “swap agreements” and other “hybrid instruments” that are at the core of the crisis.

The legislation’s “Legal Certainty for Bank Products Act of 2000,” Title IV of the law-a law that Gramm snuck in without hearings hours before the Christmas recess-provided Wall Street with an unbridled license to steal. It made certain that financiers could legally get away with a whole new array of financial rip-off schemes.

One of those provisions, summarized by the heading of Title III, ensured the “Legal Certainty for Swap Agreements,” which successfully divorced the granters of subprime mortgage loans from any obligation to ever collect on them. That provision of Gramm’s law is at the very heart of the problem. But the law went even further, prohibiting regulation of any of the new financial instruments permitted after the financial industry mergers: “No provision of the Commodity Exchange Act shall apply to, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission shall not exercise regulatory authority with respect to, an identified banking product which had not been commonly offered, entered into, or provided in the United States by any bank on or before December 5, 2000. …”

Even some Republicans on the Senate committee expressed exasperation Monday with the swindles that they had voted for with such enthusiasm in the past, as well as with giving Wall Street yet another blank check. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., condemned Paulson’s proposal as an effort to “take Wall Street’s pain and spread it to the taxpayers.” He added, “It’s financial socialism and it’s un-American.”

He’s wrong on that last point, for what is proposed is not the nationalization of private corporations but rather a corporate takeover of government. The marriage of highly concentrated corporate power with an authoritarian state that services the politico-economic elite at the expense of the people is more accurately referred to as “financial fascism.” After all, even Hitler never nationalized the Mercedes-Benz company but rather entered into a very profitable partnership with the current car company’s corporate ancestor, which made out quite well until Hitler’s bubble burst.

Smell a rat if Congress approves the Paulson plan without severely curtailing CEO pay and putting a freeze on the mortgage foreclosures that are threatening to destroy the homes of millions of Americans.

September 25, 2008 @ 11:26 am | Comment

Bush: “Without immediate action by Congress, American could slip into a financial panic and a distressing scenario would unfold,” Bush said in a 12-minute prime-time address from the White House East Room that he hoped would help rescue his tough-sell bailout package.”

This is a LIE. If they’re worried about averting a collapse of equity markets, then all that they have to do is do what other governments have vowed to do: Pump money into falling equity markets.

This is a coup d’etat of the US government.

September 25, 2008 @ 11:31 am | Comment

JR, you are spamming a thread about Chinese food. Please don’t do it again, okay? Put your comments in relevant thread, like the one directly below this.

September 25, 2008 @ 11:39 am | Comment

Amid milk scare, China’s elite eat all-organic
Government outlet provides safe, special food for the nation’s leaders
China’s top officials are privy to a safe, secure food supply from a special government outfit.

updated 5:29 p.m. ET Sept. 24, 2008
BEIJING – While China grapples with its latest tainted food crisis, the political elite are served the choicest, safest delicacies. They get hormone-free beef from the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, organic tea from the foothills of Tibet and rice watered by melted mountain snow.

And it’s all supplied by a special government outfit that provides all-organic goods from farms working under the strictest guidelines.

That secure food supply stands in stark contrast to the frustrations of ordinary citizens who have faced recurring food scandals — vegetables with harmful pesticide residue, fish tainted with a cancer-causing chemical, eggs colored with industrial dye, fake liquor causing blindness or death, holiday pastries with bacteria-laden filling.

Now that the country’s most reputable dairies have been found selling baby formula and other milk products tainted with an industrial chemical that can cause kidney stones and kidney failure, many Chinese don’t know what to buy. Tens of thousands of children have been sickened and four babies have died.

Citizens’ outrage
Knowing that their leaders do not face these problems has made some people angry.

“Food safety is a high priority for children and families of government officials, so are normal citizens less entitled to safe food?” asked Zhong Lixun, feeding her 7-month-old grandson baby formula after he got checked for kidney stones at Beijing Children’s Hospital.

The State Council Central Government Offices Special Food Supply Center is specifically designed to avoid the problems troubling the general population.

“We all know that average production facilities use large quantities of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Antibiotics and hormones are commonly used in raising livestock and poultry. Farmed aquatic products are contaminated by various kinds of water pollution,” the center’s director, Zhu Yonglan, said in a speech earlier this year.

“It goes without saying that these are harmful when consumed by humans,” Zhu told executives at supplier Shandong Ke’er Biological Medical Technology Development Co., which posted it on its Web site.

Zhu’s speech has been widely circulated by Chinese Internet users on blogs and forums in recent days, with many expressing outrage that top government officials have a separate — and safer — food supply than the public.

The special food center enforces strict standards on suppliers like Shandong Ke’er, which makes health supplements designed to boost immunity and energy. Foods must be organic, not genetically modified and meet international food standards, said a manager in the center’s product department, who only gave her surname, Zhang.

The reason: its A-list clientele of government officials and retirees of vice minister rank or higher.

It’s not unusual for China’s leadership to have a special food supply; the practice stretches back thousands of years to farms providing ingredients for lavish imperial meals or the greasy, spicy dishes favored by Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong.

‘Nation A’ vs. everyone else
The former Soviet Union’s ruling classes also ate food that was unavailable to the masses. In North Korea, where withering famines have seen tens of thousands starve over the past 13 years, leader Kim Jong Il is a gourmet known for his love of lobster, shark’s fin soup and sushi. His former private chef has said Kim keeps an extensive collection of vintage French wines.

Set up in 2004, China’s Special Food Supply Center is almost as secretive as its high-end clientele, whose precise number is unclear, but includes hundreds of top political leaders, their families and retired cadres. Much of the information on its Web site was removed after media inquiries and interview requests this week.

Goods deemed to meet the highest standards are stamped with the label “Nation A,” which stands for “top end, irreplaceable, the best,” according to the Web site. Those products are for senior politicians or government offices and not released to the general consumer market, said a customer service agent surnamed Dong.

Rice fed by melted snow from Mt. Changbai, which straddles the China-North Korean border, gets a “Nation A” rating, according to the Web site.

The center scours the country for purveyors in places famous for a particular product, said Zhang, the manager.

These include fish from Hubei province — known traditionally as the “land of fish and rice” — tea from mountainous Yunnan province abutting Tibet, and beef and mutton from the Inner Mongolian steppes, according to Zhu’s speech.

As for rice, some comes from the northeast, grown from seeds specially cultivated by experts from the Jilin Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said sales manager Wu Honghua of Chifeng Heiyupaozi Organic Agropastoral Development Co.

It “has a very small output. It tastes very good. And it doesn’t involve genetic engineering,” said Wu.

Wu said 90 percent of the rice goes to the Beidaihe Sanitorium — a seaside resort for retired party cadres. The remainder is sold on the market, he said, at $4 a pound — a price five times higher than regular organic rice and 15 times more than the price of ordinary rice.

A brand of organic tea supplied to the center sells for $187 a pound. “It’s fresh and tender, smells good and has a bright color,” said Xia Dan, an employee of the Huiming Tea Co. in eastern Zhejiang province.

September 25, 2008 @ 11:48 am | Comment

We’re gazing into the moral abyss—A bottomless moral blackhole.

Soylent Green

Soylent Green is a 1973 dystopian science fiction movie depicting a future in which overpopulation leads to depleted resources on earth. This leads to widespread unemployment and poverty. Real fruit, vegetables, and meat are rare, commodities are expensive, and much of the population survives on processed food rations, including “soylent green” wafers.

The film overlays the science fiction and police procedural genres as it depicts the efforts of New York City police detective Robert Thorn (Charlton Heston) and elderly police researcher Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson) to investigate the brutal murder of a wealthy businessman named William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten). Thorn and Roth uncover clues which suggest that it is more than simply a bungled burglary.

The film, which is loosely based upon the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room!, by Harry Harrison, won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film in 1973.

[edit] Plot
Set in the year 2022, Soylent Green depicts a dystopian future in which the population has grown to forty million in New York City alone. Most housing is dilapidated and overcrowded, and the impoverished homeless fill the streets and line the fire escapes and stairways of buildings. Food as we know it today–including fruit, vegetables, and meat–is a rare and expensive commodity. Half of the world’s population survives on processed rations produced by the massive Soylent Corporation (from soy(bean) + lent(il)), including Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow, which are advertised as “high-energy vegetable concentrates”. The newest product is Soylent Green – a small green wafer which is advertised as being produced from “high-energy plankton”. It is much more nutritious and palatable than the red and yellow varieties, but it is — like most other food — in short supply, which often leads to riots.

Processed “Soylent Green” ration wafersRobert Thorn (Charlton Heston) is a New York City police detective who lives in a dilapidated, cramped one-room apartment with his aged partner Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson). Roth is a former professor who searches through the now-disordered remnants of written records and books to help Thorn’s investigations. Roth and his like are known as “books”. He tells Thorn about the times before the ecological disaster and population crisis, when real food was plentiful, although Thorn is generally not interested in the “stories”.

Thorn is assigned to investigate the murder of William R. Simonson (Joseph Cotten). When he goes to the crime scene, he finds Simonson lying in a pool of blood from being struck multiple times in the back of the head. Instead of looking for clues, the poorly-paid detective helps himself to some of the wealthy man’s food, liquor, soap, and books. He also questions Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), an attractive 24-year old prostitute (euphemistically known as “furniture”) who comes with the luxury apartment, and Simonson’s bodyguard, Tab Fielding (Chuck Connors), who claims that he was told to escort Shirl on a shopping trip when the attack took place.

Returning to his apartment, he gives Sol two large books he took from Simonson’s apartment, the two-volume Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 to 2019. Thorn returns to work and talks to the Chief of Detectives, telling him that he suspects it may have been an assassination, since nothing was stolen from the apartment and the murder seemed professional. He finds it odd that the luxury apartment’s sophisticated alarm and monitoring electronics happened to be inoperative on the night of the murder, and his bodyguard just happened to be out of the apartment at the time.

After Thorn questions Fielding’s live-in “furniture”, he realizes she was eating from a “$150 a jar” container of strawberry jam, which is an out-of-place luxury for the prostitute of a bodyguard. He returns to his own apartment to eat a meal of the purloined food, where Sol tells him that Simonson was a member of the board of directors of the Soylent Corporation, one of the most powerful corporations in the world. He then returns to question Shirl, who tells him that Simonson had become deeply troubled in the days before his death, even taking her to church. Thorn later attempts to question the priest about Simonson’s confession, but the priest is almost catatonic and does not reveal anything. Fielding later murders the priest to ensure he never talks. After Thorn begins to uncover evidence on why Simonson was murdered, New York Governor Santini (Whit Bissell) instructs Thorn’s superior officer, Lieutenant Hatcher (Brock Peters), to close the investigation. However, Thorn refuses, and continues his investigation into the murder. Later, when Thorn is on riot duty during the distribution of rations, Simonson’s murderer fires several shots at Thorn, wounding him, but Thorn is able to push his attacker under a riot control vehicle.

In the meantime, Roth goes over oceanographic reports that Thorn took from Simonson’s apartment with other intellectuals at the “supreme exchange,” a library of old books. The other books convince Roth of a “horrible” truth, which despite reading it for himself finds it almost impossible to believe. The “books” intend to use the overwhelming evidence against the Soylent Corporation and to prove what Soylent are doing before taking it to the Council of Nations. Unable to live with what he has uncovered, Roth opts for euthanasia (euphemistically known as “going home”) at a government clinic. There, he is taken to a comfortable bed, is given a poison-laced beverage, and is shown panoramic views of an unspoiled pristine Earth as he dies. As Roth is viewing this, Thorn (who has since read a note from Roth that he is “going home”) forces the staff to allow him to see and talk to Roth. He thus sees the earth as it once was for the first time. Overwhelmed at seeing what is for him such wondrous natural beauty, he is moved to tears. During Roth’s final moments, he begs Thorn to prove the horrible truth about “Simonson… Soylent.”

After Roth dies, Thorn sneaks into the basement of the euthanasia facility, where he sees corpses being loaded onto waste disposal trucks. He secretly hitches a ride on one of the trucks, which drives to a heavily guarded waste disposal plant. Once inside the plant, Thorn sees how the corpses are processed into Soylent Green wafers. After Thorn escapes from the plant and heads for the supreme exchange with the information, he is ambushed by Fielding and several other gunmen. In the shootout, Thorn kills some of the gunmen, but is himself wounded and retreats into a cathedral filled with homeless people. After a desperate fight, Thorn stabs and kills Fielding. When police backup arrives, the seriously wounded and nearly hysterical Thorn confides to Hatcher the horrible secret behind Soylent Green and urges him to spread the word: “Soylent Green is people! We’ve got to stop them somehow!”

[edit] Film production
The screenplay was based on a 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!, which is set in the year 1999, with the theme of overpopulation and overuse of resources leading to increasing poverty, food shortages, and social disorder as the next millennium approaches. While the book refers to “soylent steaks”, it makes no reference to “Soylent Green”, the processed food rations depicted in the film. The book’s title was not used for the movie since it might have confused audiences into thinking it was a big-screen version of Make Room for Daddy.[1]

The director Richard Fleischer, who began by shooting film noir thrillers after WWII, learned to do special effects in the 1950s and 1960s when he did a number of Science Fiction films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Fantastic Voyage (1966). In the years before and after Soylent Green, Fleischer did films centering on famous serial killers and capital punishment (1968’s The Boston Strangler and 1971’s 10 Rillington Place) and the controversial and provocative Che Guevara biopic Che! (1969).

This was the 101st and last movie in which Edward G. Robinson appeared. He died from cancer twelve days after the shooting was done, on January 26, 1973. Robinson had previously worked with Heston in The Ten Commandments (1956). The female lead character, Shirl (Leigh Taylor-Young), is briefly seen playing a Computer Space arcade game, an early depiction of the 1970s pop culture phenomenon of videogames. The game was similar toAtari’s popular “Asteroids” video arcade game, in which a triangular space capsule blasts away at asteroids on a collision course with the capsule. However, this game was not released until 1979, six years after the release of the film.

[edit] Music
In the film, after the aged Roth learns the truth about Soylent Green, he decides he can no longer deal with the world, and states that he is “going home”. By this, he means that he is going to sign up for government-provided euthanasia. When Roth arrives at the clinic, he is asked to select a lighting scheme and a type of music for the euthanasia chamber. Roth selects orange-hued lights and “light Classical music.” When he goes to the euthanasia chamber, a selection of Classical music plays through speakers and films are projected on large screens.

The “going home” score in this part of the film was conducted by Gerald Fried and consists of the main themes from Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”) by Tchaikovsky; Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”) by Beethoven; “Morning Mood” and “Åse’s Death” from the Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg. As the music plays, scenes of majestic natural beauty are projected on film screens: “deer in woods, trees and leaves, sunsets beside the sea, birds flying overhead, rolling streams, mountains, fish and coral, sheep and horses, and lots and lots of flowers — from daffodils to dogwoods”. Amidst the music and the scenes of nature, Roth remembers the world as it once was, and peacefully takes his last breath.

[edit] Analysis and impact

[edit] Thematic analysis
In the film, police detective Thorn is a “prophet of doom” who learns of the “most horrifying results” of the overpopulation and environmental disaster. In addition to being a prophet, “Thorn is a pioneer, a tragic hero willing to speak up and resist homogenizing forces as an individual.” In the film’s depiction of corporate corruption and police complicity in the cover-up, Thorn’s “morality transcends all those around him” as he becomes the “sole voice of reason” as he “stands alone”. After Thorn learns of the use of human bodies to make food, his main concern is with the future implications: that the Soylent food company will eventually “raise humans like cattle.” After Thorn is shot by Soylent Corporation gunmen, he appears to be mortally wounded, and so his warnings about the horrors he witnessed in the Soylent plant “seem to be his last”, making him a classic “tragic hero.”[2]

In the film, Thorn’s assistant Roth “serves as the reminder of better times.” The aged researcher, a former professor, tells Thorn about the past, when “‘real’ food was plentiful and the natural environment thrived.” Real food is a symbol of the past; as a result, when Thorn investigates the murder of Simonson, a Soylent board of directors member, Thorn takes “lettuce, tomatoes, apples, celery, onions, and even beef” from the wealthy man’s luxury apartment. These rare and expensive luxuries were out of reach for all but the most powerful members of the society. When Thorn shows Roth the red filet of beef, Roth weeps at his realization of how much society has lost due to pollution and overpopulation. Now that most humans subsist on processed ration wafers, when Roth sees the “real” food, he asks “How did we come to this?”[2]

After Sol discovers that Soylent wafers are made from human flesh, and decides to end the horror by signing up for government-assisted euthanasia, Sol is shown a montage of beautiful natural images in the euthanasia chamber: flowers, deer, mountains, and rivers. When Thorn rushes to the euthanasia clinic to try to stop Sol, he is too late to save his friend, but he is able to share Sol’s final moments. In Sol’s last minutes alive, “Thorn shares Sol’s nostalgic moment” as Sol asks “Can you see it?” and “Isn’t it beautiful?”, which helps Thorn to realize “what he and the rest of the world has lost.”[2]

[edit] Critical response film reviewer Tamara Hladik calls the film a “basic, cautionary tale of what could become of humanity physically and spiritually” if humans do not take care of the planet. She points out that “[t]here is little in this film that has not been seen” in other films, such as the film’s depiction of “faceless, oppressive crowds; sheep mentality; the corrosion of the soul, of imagination, [and] of collective memory.” While she notes that the director has a “tendency…to overuse Charlton Heston” in scenes depicting this beleaguered, futuristic dystopia, she admits that the film “often succeeds despite [the missteps of] its director”.

Hladik argues that the “most powerful moments do not belong to Heston[‘s]” police detective character Thorn, who she calls a “dubious, ambiguous hero”. Instead, she claims that Robinson’s characterization of the aged police researcher Sol Roth are the “most moving passages,” which give the film “conscience and soul.” She acknowledges that the film has “imagery [that] is powerful and haunting”, such as the scenes in which riot control vehicles scoop up protesters with metal shovels, as if they were garbage. Overall, though, she states that “[m]ostly, though, the profundity of humanity’s transformation [in the film] is dealt with in less than a masterful manner.”[3]

Reviewer Jeremiah Kipp claims that the plot of the film “trudges along” as the Heston’s police detective character pursues the murder investigation in a meandering fashion.[4]

[edit] Impact on popular culture
Soylent Green was influenced by the environmental movement[2], which still influences popular culture films in the 2000s, such as 28 Days Later (2003) and The Day After Tomorrow (2004). The term “soylent green” and the last line “Soylent Green is people!” became catch phrases in English, in part due to a Saturday Night Live parody where comedian Phil Hartman mocked Heston’s acting in the final scene of the movie.[4]

Soylent Green is referred to in a number of television series and other media, either for dramatic or comedic effect. The film was referenced in an episode of the US television sitcom Barney Miller (1975-1982), which was set in a New York City police station in Greenwich Village. The animated American sitcom Futurama, which is set in the year 3000, makes a number of references to fictional “soylent”-based foods. The show, created by Matt Groening, depicts billboards that advertise a variety of “soylent” foods, including “soylent cola” (the taste of which, according to Leela, “varies from person to person”). Groening also makes references to soylent green food in several episodes of the animated comedy show The Simpsons, including in an episode which parodies the film by depicting a food shortage in an overcrowded elementary school detention hall.

The animated series South Park parodied the “Going Home” euthanasia scene of Soylent Green in season 4, episode 414 “Helen Keller! The Musical” by depicting turkeys in a “humane slaughter house.” Before the turkeys are killed, the lights are dimmed and calming visions of nature are shown, set to light classical music. This scene is also parodied by The Simpsons when grandpa Abe Simpson goes to commit suicide at a euthanasia clinic. He is plugged into a “DiePod” and requests his video to be of cops beating hippies and his music to be Glenn Miller.

In 1997, the “Space” episode of NewsRadio, set in the future as a science fiction spoof, included a newscast which is purportedly sponsored by Soylent Green. The 1999 dark comedy, mockumentary format movie Drop Dead Gorgeous depicts a beauty pageant competitor using an excerpt from the film as a dramatic monologue. The catchphrase was also used in the Millennium TV series, in a 2001 episode of Disney’s Lizzie McGuire, and in an Australian comedy/variety series Micallef Tonight. The film was also referenced in the American animated series Harvey Birdman, a North American animated television series comedy which revolves around the activity of a law firm staffed mainly by superheroes and characters from 1960s-era Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The series uses a surrealist style of comedy and it makes substantial use of pop culture references.

Several rock songs refer to the movie. Rudy Ratzinger of the German electro-industrial band Wumpscut created a song in 1993 named after the movie which contains audio samples from the German-dubbed version. In the 2000s, folk rock singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, whose quirky satirical songs often refer to science fiction and technology, penned a song entitled “Chiron Beta Prime” which refers to the film.

Soylent Communications, the owner of the website took its name from the fictional company of this film. is a US-hosted shock site devoted to morbid curiosities, primarily pictures of gruesome fatalities, deformities, autopsy or forensic photographs, depictions of perverse sex acts, and historical curios that are disturbing or misanthropic in nature.

September 25, 2008 @ 11:55 am | Comment

JR, sorry but I have to ban you. You’ve been spamming threads, coming on here under at least four different names, you posted a long borderline pornographic article on John Holmes and, in the Holmes tradition, you’re being a dick. We wish you all the best.

September 25, 2008 @ 12:10 pm | Comment

Food is a fundamental for citizens, if manufacturers are so immoral and local officials are so corrupted that they would jeopardize their future, all the babies, just for the profit, then China is a morally bankrupted country. When officials are timid of doing the right thing, and they would only catch a few big guys and not get rid of potentially hundreds of local officials who all had turned the other way while all of the harmful additives were added to the dairy products, they accepted special favors from manufacturers, all for the sake the self interest. How could people have confidence in their country when officials don’t do the right thing to care for their citizens?

September 25, 2008 @ 12:22 pm | Comment

There is a disconnection between what China is capable of doing-sending men into space, running a glorious Olympics Games, but can’t even produce milk that’s safe for babies.

September 25, 2008 @ 12:27 pm | Comment

Richard said:

“The children…. One thing you do not mess with in China is the children. The government can get away with murder on a lot of things, but if they are perceived as tolerating the poisoning of children, parents here will not forget about it or just let it go. That’s why the story keeps reverberating here, unlike most other scandals that quietly die down after a couple of days.”

Richard, I’m not sure that’s true. We’ve seen many instances of a familiar pattern involving parents who lost children due to government/business negligence or ill intention. The parents are pressured to accept one-time cash payments in exchange for signing agreements that they will not pursue any further legal action or publicity – in effect, that they will quietly go away.

Sadly, Chinese parents usually sign the dotted line, probably they see little choice (get some cash versus get nothing … except maybe trouble from the local authorities).

Some examples that immediately spring to mind: the thousands of schoolchildren buried in rubble of sub-quality schools in the Sichaun quake, the kids who drowned in that school up north when the dam broke a few years ago, even that little girl who was electrocuted by the security gate a month ago … same method used each time.

I think this is a common practice in China, and it seems very effective in making problems involving dead children quietly vanish.

September 25, 2008 @ 12:28 pm | Comment

You could be right, Slim, but this crisis seems to have a much wider geographical scope and there are too many potentially affected and angry parents for the government to give each of them a handout. I think what’s been affected is overall trust, and the indignation is more widespread. In the earthquake example, the government was able to contain the uproar by bribing and silencing victims. The milk example seems, at least to me, on a different level – a nationwide scandal where people everywhere feel personally enraged at a government that would tolerate the poisoning of their children (or of their CHILD, which makes them even angrier).

September 25, 2008 @ 12:34 pm | Comment

China can’t really gain respect from the West if they don’t start treating the lives of their citizens with respect and dignity. Unfairness happens in all parts of the world, but China is very blatant in how officials brush off citizens with iron fists. If China wants to be part of the global players, with respect, they have to leave that type of backward, 18th century treatment to their citizens behind.

September 25, 2008 @ 12:40 pm | Comment

China is in a credit crisis as the US is, in a different form, but it’s still about lost of confidance and trust in the ability of the govnt. ANd it has worldwide affect as well.

September 25, 2008 @ 12:46 pm | Comment

Never underestimate the determination of the authorities. They would much sooner toss thousands of parents in jail than see something so “trivial” as a bunch of dead kids disrupt their rule. I would imagine that anyone sinister enough to have made it to the Politburo doesn’t flinch at the thought of a few dead kids, but would certainly get worked up about any resulting protests. Parents will need to sacrifice their “individual interests” for the development of a “harmonious society,” as usual.
The most ridiculous thing was how the head of the Quality Inspection Ministry stepped down: it’s probably not that guy’s problem, but a result of the entire system. No matter who replaces him, does anyone really believe that food is any safer?

September 25, 2008 @ 12:50 pm | Comment

That’s what China has to face, either clean up the entire inspection system or loose millions of dollars worth of business. This time it’s greater of a diaster in terms of global affect, since this exposed after the Olympics. And the milk also is used in so many other products of food as well, the fact that they are shipped to the world, the consequences are enormous if they start throwing people in jail if protest start, now the whole world is watching the development because China is a major supplier of food.

September 25, 2008 @ 1:26 pm | Comment

If the PRC has so much determination to lock up poeple from protesting, why don’t they turn that determination into something more positive such as improving safety watch?

September 25, 2008 @ 1:31 pm | Comment

People are really angry now especially after their govt just put up such a modern Olympic Games, and sent men into space, that they still couldn’t get the basic stuff right. The same supplier for the Olympic athletes used different standards on average people, that their lives are worth less than the athletes.

September 25, 2008 @ 1:38 pm | Comment

I remember several years ago, I was in a small, but elegent Chinese restaurant in Guangzhou and I overheard a Chinese bloke (I think that his English name was ‘Richard’) joke to his Chinese friends as they were digging in to a steamed fish: “Oh…I never eat fish. You think that the chicken and pork is dangerous, but it’s nothing compared to the fish. Fish eat off the bottom of the lake.” Everyone looked at him with an expression that said: “You Dick!”

September 25, 2008 @ 1:58 pm | Comment

This one is great!

All usual arguments against any critic grouped together.

September 25, 2008 @ 2:55 pm | Comment

The scary thing is, apart from the few scapegoats who lost their jobs, only some of the culprits who actually put the melamine in the milk have been caught.

September 25, 2008 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

Slim, I agree with Richard. The reason the authorities can get away with stuff like you mentioned is that they are localised and/or the parents are poor – i.e. they really could do with some compensation. What we’re talking about here is a nationwide scandal. It isn’t just about those families with sick/dead babies – it’s those who are also shit-scared and who do not trust the suppliers anymore. The government can’t buy the whole country off – and even with its media control I’m not sure that the announcements of “victory” will satisfy parents that quickly.

dish, thank you for that information. I would have thought (and am glad to hear) that doctors backed breast-feeding, though I think the authorities should have also run media campaigns (they can afford to blow tens of billions of dollars on a space programme and military modernisation project – but not a few million on telling people about why breast feeding is best?)

September 25, 2008 @ 11:20 pm | Comment

Also the news in the following report (I guess the information has been circulated around the Chinese forums too) will piss a lot of people off.

Eventually the ability (and inclination) of the political elite to separate and isolate themselves from the concerns of ordinary Chinese will come to bite them in the backside.

September 25, 2008 @ 11:24 pm | Comment


Ah! You found it too. I was wondering how long would it take you to discover that news. 😉

September 26, 2008 @ 2:54 am | Comment

Remember reading something along those lines a while ago, but found it was relevant to the conversation. 🙂

September 26, 2008 @ 5:34 am | Comment

@Richard & Raj – I sincerely hope you are right. But for a little perspective … how many babies died from melamine poisoning? Four so far. In the Sichuan earthquake something like a thousand kids were killed. Sure, they were poor and concentrated in one area, but then again that was just five months ago. And when was the last time you read of some outrage over that, or reform in construction? And again … four versus a thousand.

I’m worried that before long we will be talking about this year’s melamine scandal in the same tones as references to toxic baby bottles made from recycled CDs (remember that?) or staffs of multiple orphanages organizing baby-stealing rings (remember that?).

However, there is a difference in how this melamine scandal is playing out that might produce tangible results: this scandal may have an impact on China’s exports. I hate to say it, but I have a feeling that the government’s concern over dead babies is just not quite the same magnitude as the government’s concern over money slipping out of their qianbao‘s. And as the article Raj linked to pointed out …no officials’ children are in danger.

Dead commoner babies? “Here’s some money, go away and shut up … or face the consequences.” Money out of official pockets? “Today the Peoples Congress announces a comprehensive package of reform policies to address …”

September 27, 2008 @ 5:21 am | Comment

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