Chiang Mai, ThailandI love wandering around food markets in developing countries because of the flagrant disregard for what I once would have considered vital practices for handling food safely.

When I first encountered these markets in Latin America I remember I was horrified. Food cooked out on street, unrefrigerated eggs, bins of spices open to the air and raw meat sitting sitting on the counter. Neither sink nor soap in sight and none too many gloves! The floor is dirty, there are birds flying through and at times I will even see a rat scurrying for cover. I wondered, how do these people survive this?

Somehow everyone is healthy in these conditions which would have people put in jail in the USA. Inconceivable! Yet somehow possible.

Then I started thinking about all the nice clean restaurants I eat at. Where do I think they buy their food? Is there a secret health conscious organization delivering their food? Or are they just walking to the market up the street and buying that food I was so horrified to see sitting in the open air? I took a risk and tried the food in these markets.

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Notice the fan overhead with streamers to help keep flies away.

Wonder of wonders, I did not get sick! There were of course occasional times when my body was not happy with me but that was temporary and short lived as I adjusted to the new diet. But not the horrific results I assumed were waiting for me having grown up in a carefully sanitized western country.

I love those markets now! When I am in a country such as Thailand I eat most of my meals at a market and buy all fruit, vegetables and meat there because I know it will be far better quality than any of the grocery stores. Common sense must, of course, be used in abundance. The food in these markets is generally kept very clean. The vendors don’t want you to get sick any more than you do! But some people are more careful than others and the difference is obvious if you take a moment to look at the environment.

When I travel to the USA or Europe it makes me think about the different culture. How much of the industry surrounding safe food preparation is actually necessary? How much ends up being no more than a jobs program to keep people employed? What about our immune systems? Are we stunting the development of our body’s natural self-defense mechanism by limiting the contamination in our food?

Chiang Mai, Thailand

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  1. Alan

    I recently read this article explaining why eggs outside the US (and a few other countries) don’t have to be refrigerated:

    Maybe all this comes down to a question of what’s considered an acceptable level of risk. In the US, it’s a scandal if one person out of millions gets sick from eating contaminated food. So we can justify a whole anti-contamination industry based on that standard. Likewise, we can justify spending countless billions (38.2 for 2015) on homeland security, in the (vain) hope that we can prevent even a single terrorist attack from being perpetrated on US soil. By the same token, we can justify gutting the Bill of Rights and flushing our hard-won civil liberties down the drain. Safety first!

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