Smoked bacon custom stays amid pursuit of fresh air
Published: Nov 28, 2023 11:15 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/Global Times

 With glossy brownish red skin and a crispy feel with each bite, thick-sliced smoked and air-dried bacon is a traditional homemade dish in Southwest China's Sichuan and Chongqing, as well as Central China's Hunan Province. The aromatic meat is not only a mainstay at Chinese New Year family dinners in these regions, but also a handy present to connect with relatives when celebrating this important festival.

Based on individual household's culinary habits when marinating the meat, the bacon varies in its flavor from region to region but the smoking process, which adds depth and richness to the taste of the bacon, is invariable. 

In rural areas, burning cypress branches used to be the primary way to smoke marinated bacon. Amid the increasing pursuit of a clean environment, more people have called this method into question.

To combat air pollution, two counties in Sichuan recently issued respective circulars banning the smoking of bacon in markets and residential buildings. Instead of using personal facilities to smoke the meat, local residents are required to go to designated spots to have the meat produced. 

The authorities' regulations soon sparked an outcry from the public as the ban was deemed too abrupt and harsh, while others accused the designated spots of profiteering off the initiative.   

The incident served as a renewed call for an attentive and thoughtful approach for authorities to map out its regulations concerning folk customs.

Smoking bacon is a winter tradition for local residents and results in a Chinese specialty delicacy. It has been deeply ingrained in the lifestyle of local people for decades and the dish serves as a social tool for family members.

As the traditional method of preparing the bacon may have an impact on the environment, there is a need to address the issue while preserving this delicacy. 

Whether it is a centralized smoking spot or more innovative technology, addressing the concerns of people's livelihood requires a thoughtful approach based on reality. The needs and opinions of the public should be taken seriously.

While striking a balance between protecting the environment and respecting local traditions remains a challenge for authorities, the local government's subsequent apology and willingness to work out a better solution demonstrated their commitment to the well-being of the people. 

In response to the public discontent, the Tongjiang Law Enforcement Bureau issued a clarification to apologize to the public for the misconception.

"We will carefully listen to people's demands for a better life, collect opinions and suggestions from the masses, optimize our work, and create a safe, clean, orderly and convenient environment for residents," the clarification read.

The two designated smoking spots mentioned in the circular raised people's eyebrows because one of the spots was still under construction at the time of the notice, and the other one only dealt with meat purchased from it, which generated additional costs for consumers.

The apology reflected the government's recognition of the custom of smoking bacon and its determination to rectify a one-size-fits-all regulation designed to curb air pollution at the cost of disrupting local residents' traditions and culture.

Lowering the regulator's stance with a thoughtful approach based on realities in handling a similar issue has won applause from residents in the Yubei district of Chongqing.

Some 26 environmentally friendly bacon smoking spots were set up for the public in Yubei in 2016. 

The centralized smoking spots were equipped with top ventilation hoods and double-door smoking systems. 

In addition to being environmentally friendly, the fire and temperature also can be adjusted during smoking, so that the taste of the smoked sausages and bacon is consistent with traditional smoking.

Instead of issuing an overriding ban on a homemade dish, more accessible designated spots charging fair prices provides easy and viable options for the public to adjust their habits and tradition. 

Frictions may arise when traditional customs are inherited in modern lifestyle, but there are always means to address the problem and find ideal methods to carry on the traditions and accommodate with the new environment, and in many cases, traditions can be better protected and more widely cherished thanks to modern techniques and facilities. The recent controversy on smoked bacon has called for a down-to-earth stance and thoughtful approach in addressing people's concerns.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.