One of the cornerstones of the Better Politics theme is isolating the ways in which humans erect unnecessary barriers to finding solutions to universal issues. That is, all the ways that narratives are spun to stall cooperation and empathy.
There have been instances in the way the coronavirus pandemic has been reported that focuses not on the death of the victims and the bereavement of their families, but looks to blame the victims for the illness and imply that it is the collective patient zero’s fault for bringing the disease to the wider global population. Doing so takes the lens away from focusing on constructive ways forward – how different countries can pool resources and craft media awareness campaigns that limit the spread of the pandemic.
Headlines have been irresponsible and agitating, using footage or pictures of Chinese people eating bats. Images of cooked bats floating in soup that accompany these reports are placed clearly to inspire disgust. The reader is left not with sympathy for those who are ill – or an idea about how the world is working constructively together to fight this virus – but a sense that somehow, the victims had it coming.
This goes against not only the urgent need for a calm constructive approach to find a cure and prevent the spread of the disease but also the entire point of the news. News should report global events in accurate, transparent ways to arm people with information that they might not otherwise have access to so they may have more control over their lives.
These reports also sloppily (and likely deliberately) gloss over the fact that it is by no means certain that the coronavirus originated with consuming bats. If you look carefully, the language is always caveated before the reports move swiftly to scaremongering about how the bat eaters have caused a pandemic – bats "may" have caused, "are thought to", "scientists think", the virus "might have" jumped from bats to humans. It is also not pointed out that even if the virus originated from bats, there are ways it could have infected humans through "intermediate species".
Reducing the virus to eating foods that are considered "gross" gets in the way of forging a sense of solidarity in the face of a common threat, one that could have come from any corner of the world, and does. And besides, who gets to say what is "revolting"? In response to a New York Times report on China’s omnivorous markets, one that included the quote, “this is where you get new and emerging diseases that the human population has never seen before", a tweeter posted: "Germans eat cheese flavoured with live mites. From Romania to the US, folks eat heaping piles of pig brains. This whole ‘coronavirus outbreak is caused by Chinese people eating weird shit’ isn’t based on anything other than casual racism."
In Sudan where I am from, a common dish is raw sheep stomach seasoned with lime and spices. In the UK, a much-loved dish is essentially pigs’ blood mixed with oatmeal. The point isn’t what we humans eat, it is that we collectively and constantly face threats of viruses that come from living on the same planet with other species. If anything, the diversity of what we consume is something to celebrate. Setting public safety up as a question of gross eating practices and "normal" ones is divisive. As my colleague OluTimehin Adegbeye wrote: "in a world of seven billion people, there are infinite possibilities for difference".
In that spirit, please let me know in the comments below what "gross" food you enjoy. I’ll start – Sudanese cow feet soup goes really well with a bit of peanut butter paste. Let me know in the contributions below!