Food scandals and political fights: Taiwan's year of the fake

Food scandals and political fights: Taiwan's year of the fake

TAIWAN - Based on Facebook selfies, food safety issues and political battles within and between the political parties, people chose a perfect word to describe Taiwan in 2013: fake. It was a confusing year for the people of Taiwan. We cannot trust the labels on packages of food, and we cannot trust politicians when they say they are always thinking about the people. The award-winning documentary "Beyond Beauty," released toward the end of 2013, shows the audience the beauty of Taiwan, and also the hidden ugliness of the island. What did people go through and learn from the year of fake?

In 2013, well-known bakery chain store Top Pot Bakery, which claimed to use all-natural ingredients, was exposed for putting artificial flavoring in their bread. Following the scandal, another issue about cooking oil arose. It turned out that many oil manufacturers intentionally mislabeled low-cost cooking oil as olive oil.

People thought that they could trust the labels on products, and believed in major food manufacturers. They were all disappointed after the scandals broke. Food sellers intentionally mislabeled products so they could lower the cost and earn more profit, and they bet on the fact that most people use the product without questioning it. Most people love beautiful exteriors, and they don't care what the manufacturers does to provide a shining appearance.

The field of politics is always one of the most confusing and complicated of places. In 2013, we witnessed the legislative speaker being accused of involvement in a month-long spectacle involving the Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip, an incident which later transformed into a battle between Wang Jin-pyng and President Ma Ying-jeou.

The nation watched these performances by politicians from all parties, and even though the Legislative Yuan cleared Wang of the accusation of illegal lobbying, people were still confused. We are left wondering how the legislators and politicians could focus on fighting for the citizens' benefit when they are so busy fighting each other. And that question was based on the assumption that those battles between politicians were real.

In the documentary "Beyond Beauty," audiences were stunned by the beauty of Taiwan that had been overlooked, but they were also shocked by the pollution and destruction that is taking place. Rivers were turned the colour of desperation and trees were replaced by illegally constructed buildings. If the director and camera crew could capture these true images and present them to audiences, how can people with the authority to make a difference pretend like nothing is happening?

The truth is, most people who have political power spend most of their time trying to maintain that power instead of being concerned for the public. They always wait until the media or the public unwrap the ugly truth hidden inside shining packages to start acting.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare started massive inspections and proposed amendments to increase punishments for food sellers who mislabel products after the cooking oil scandal was revealed. Kaohsiung City's Environmental Protection Bureau started to crack down on factories that dumped wastewater into rivers illegally after the public was shocked by the colour of the Hou-chin River. The Ministry of the Interior began to look into illegally operated hostels at Cingjing Farm after the documentary "Beyond Beauty" showed the nation the potential hazard those hostels could bring to the area.

Sometimes, a certain level of fake can bring no harm to anyone, just like lengthening a model's legs with Photoshop cannot hurt people who see the image. However, it does leave people with a false impression and keeps people from seeing the truth. With all the fake information from food labels, "entertaining" performances from politicians, and shocking footage from "Beyond Beauty" in 2013, people in Taiwan can still have some hope for 2014. If not, at least they have learned how to fake it.

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