China's state television broadcaster has taken a strong stance against traditional Chinese culture by labeling the ancient Chinese concept of "food restrictions" – the widely-practiced Chinese belief that combining certain foods when cooking will produce a fatal poison – as being "false rumors."
During its annual televised gala for the "3.15 National Day for Protecting Consumer's Rights," CCTV-2 included a 13-minute-long segment (watch here) in which they attempted to debunk a number of pervasive myths about the detrimental combination of specific foods.
As shown during the gala, CCTV explained that a commonly-held belief in China is that red dates must not be combined with miniature shrimps when cooking because the two ingredients will produce arsenic. Additionally, people make a point of not eating durian fruit and milk at the same time because the combination will produce caffeine, therefore causing blood pressure to soar.
To combat these ingrained beliefs, the segment featured an interview with College of Food Science and Nutritional Engineering Professor Fan Zhihong who reassured the televised audience that they won't get sick from eating deadly food combos, urging the public to select foods based upon nutritional and hygienic value instead. As proof, Professor Fan showed off the results of a laboratory test that conclusively proved that cooking crabs with tomatoes does not produce any harmful amounts of arsenic, contrary to traditional Chinese belief.
Although the Chinese belief in food restriction has its roots in the traditional concept of the five elements that make up all matter in the universe (fire, earth, metal, water, and wood), a simpler explanation comes from the limitations of the Chinese language. If spinach is full of oxalic acid (Chinese: 草酸 cǎosuān) and tofu is full of calcium (Chinese: 钙 gài), it makes perfect layman sense that these foods combine to make calcium oxalate if its Chinese name is comprised of a combination of these characters (草酸钙).
However, CCTV is doing much more than just correcting old wives' tales by trying to disprove this entrenched Chinese belief. CCTV's debunking of food restriction will have serious repercussions against authors and consultants who have made food restriction into a major industry in China. And yet, CCTV continued its onslaught against the pseudoscience by targeting the main way Chinese rumors are spread.
In order to conclusively drive its point home, the segment concluded by focusing on a popular online food restriction guide. As Professor Fan pointed out, the "China Nutritional Committee" that supposedly published the guide doesn't exist; even more brazen, the guide features a false quote from the World Health Organization which is supposed to have said: "If food is not properly matched with each other, then food will become the death of you."
CCTV has been involved in previous attempts to debunk popularly-held Chinese beliefs as when it interviewed a TCM expert who declared that "anti-smog teas" were fake. However, the Chinese public continues to stubbornly follow its own beliefs, such as the Beijing residents who believed lying upon the hot marble slabs at the Temple of Heaven can provide medicinal help.
The "3.15 National Day for Protecting Consumer's Rights" Gala is normally used as an event to warn viewers against scams and educate them on ways they can spot a fraud. And, with this segment, they may have done just that.
Here's the food restriction guide that CCTV debunked for spreading "rumors" that tells us not to combine foods like milk and eggs, eggs and potato, baijiu and beer, or beer and shaokao barbecue:
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