The 2012 London Olympic Games staged a spectacular farewell to the world on August 12. Looking back, amongst all the medal winners, it’s not difficult to spot two vegetarians. One is Lizzie Armitstead who chose to give up eating animals at the age of 10, and won Great Britain’s first silver medal in the 87-mile road cycling competition. The other is Chen Ruo Lin, the 20-year-old Chinese gold medalist in the women’s 10-meter platform dive, who’s been a vegetarian for the past 4 years for weight loss. But she’s not the only “forced to be vegetarian” among China’s Olympians.
Most of them had to give up meat long before they got to London. For example,, Chinese hurdler and former Olympic champion Liu Xiang hasn’t been eating pork for many years to avoid ingesting leanness-enhancing drugs, which are banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). In the four years since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, sports officials have often ordered Chinese athletes to avoid eating outside of their training centers in the run-up to competitions to avoid drugs in meat.
In 2012, China’s General Administration of Sport (GAS) held two meetings on food safety and followed up with urgent notices. In January, a “meat ban” was issued by GAS. Athletes were forbidden to eat pork, beef or mutton what wasn’t supplied by their training centers, and the training centres themselves were ordered not to serve meat unless it came from a reliable source. The Olympics aquatics competition offered a profound lesson.The day before the 2008 Beijing Olympics began, Ouyang Kunpeng, an expected gold medalist for China, was found to be taking the banned substance clenbuterol (a leanness-enhancer often found in Chinese meat products) and was given a lifetime ban by the Chinese Swimming Association.
According to the athlete, the positive test results were caused by the meat he’d eaten at BBQ gatherings with his family and friends during his holiday. While the Chinese Swimming Association reduced Ouyang Kunpeng’s suspension to two years, he still hasn’t received official recognition.
Another Chinese athlete in the Beijing Olympics, judo champion Tong Wen, was banned by International Judo Federation also as a result of clenbuterol being found in her body. The same thing happened to badminton player Zhou Mi from Hong Kong who had to face an early end of her sports career. So to avoid being banned from the Olympics, a meatless diet is no longer new to many Chinese Olympians. Other Chinese national sports teams are taking matters in their hands in other ways: controlling their food supply by raising their own livestock to ensure the health and promote the best performance from athletes during the Olympic games.
Witnessing these developments, some within the Chinese public have started asking, if Olympians and top athletes like Liu Xiang dare not eat pork, how about other Chinese? Are their health and safety less precious than the athletes’? Through awareness of the Olympic “meat ban,” the secret of meat safety in China has leaked out. I hope every Chinese also realizes that if the demand for meat doesn’t decrease, every Chinese is doomed to eat heavily-drugged meat, because it’s simply impossible to meet soaring demand for meat without industrial-style factory farm facilities.
On a global level, for every world citizen to eat as much as an average American does, we’d need at least two or three more planets like Earth. So, the real question for every Chinese, Olympian athlete or not, is this: Do we really have to eat so much meat while destroying our health, environment and ecosystem just so we can feel proud of the rising intake of meat as a symbol of China’s increased wealth?
Photo courtesy of Mia MacDonald