Next to pizza, there is perhaps no food more universally celebrated in the U.S. than Chinese.
Orange beef, kung pao chicken, GENERAL TSO'S, Y'ALL... Chinese food (or, at least, what many of us consider Chinese food) is some of the most diverse, tasty, and addictive stuff on the planet, and I'd argue that it's well on its way to replacing the hot dog as our national food in America.
In China, though, there's a specific reason behind the habit-forming quality of the food: poppy seeds.
Those little black things that you're used to enjoying on a bagel actually come from the opium poppy plant, and they can contain traces of highly addictive alkaloids found in morphine, codeine, and cocaine. Because of this, the sale of poppy seeds has been banned in several countries around the world, from Taiwan to Saudi Arabia.
Chefs at dozens of restaurants in China have been adding poppy capsules to their heavily flavored foods.
The New York Times reported last week that 36 restaurants and snack bars in China were busted for using poppy capsules in their food, bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase "addictively delicious." They were putting poppies in dishes like hot pot and fried chicken, and even mixing them into their sauces.
It's one of the dirtiest secrets of the Chinese food industry.
The seeming complete lack of concern for customer safety displayed by the owners of these restaurants is pretty upsetting. "It's quite effective," one poppy seller told Xinhaunet. "Many small-scale hotpot restaurants frequently buy from me. It keeps the customers coming back for more."
The worst part, though, is that poppy capsule consumption can have terrible long-term effects on health. According to Zhao Lan, a doctor with the Third People's Hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan, consuming large amounts of poppy capsules can lead to ill effects from chronic intoxication to long-term nervous system damage.
This rampant problem goes back to one key issue facing China's food system: lack of governmental regulation.
While the penalty for using poppy capsules in food may not seem that significant (up to 15 days in prison and a fine of up to $455), this drama is a sterling example of why government regulation matters everywhere.
Here in the U.S., it's a sad truth that we know very little about the foods we put into our bodies on a daily basis (just ask Michael Pollan about that). Instead, we trust that the businesses selling them would never do anything to intentionally harm us.
But imagine if a major fast food chain could sell us whatever they considered to be "burgers," or imagine if nutrition labels suddenly became a thing of the past! It would be salmonella-infested chaos.
Government regulations do actually protect us, the little people, from being exploited by the businesses we place our trust (and cash) in.
We tend to look at political issues like regulation as black and white, but the reality of regulatory systems is far more complex. Yes, our government may be frustratingly inefficient and wasteful at times, but it can also serve as a reassuring presence in the face of injustices — you know, like it was created to do. To put it in "Game of Thrones" terms, government is basically our Castle Black, protecting us from the horrors that lie beyond The Wall.
So that Five Guys burger you had for lunch that didn't make you sick? The Chipotle burrito that didn't give you E. coli? You can thank government regulation (and the efforts of the CDC) for those. Ain't that right, Pauly D?