Persimmons, China and Smog

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Dried persimmon are a delightfully sweet staple for Chinese New Year in Northern China

Dried persimmon are a delightfully sweet staple for Chinese New Year in Northern China

Persimmons are a staple Chinese New Year item in Northern China. Persimmons look similar to a tomato but taste sweet. Chinese villages grow them and dry them for some much needed fruit during the winter. Persimmons evoke a feeling of happiness that is difficult to describe, and can be called a comfort food. Grown and dried outside, in the presence of heavy smog, any fruit or vegetable will look bad, and persimmon is no different. Persimmon grown in heavy smog is not fit to consume.

China’s dried persimmons are beloved throughout the country and are exported around the world. I have seen them for sale fresh and dried, here in Toronto.

Unfortunately China’s smog and heavy air pollution problem also affects persimmon production. In the village of Songting, 200km east of Beijing the air is heavily polluted and their water source is now contaminated. That is pretty far from Beijing, and closer to Tangshan and the Pacific Ocean.

In preparation for the 2008 Olympics the Chinese government decided to move all steel mills near Beijing to the area of Qian’an City, Hebei Province. Pollution from their steel mills was exported from Beijing to 200km farther east. Steel mills, which burn coal, were set up in Qian’an City just east of Songting Village. What was once clean, virgin farmland in a remote area of China is now thick with pollution and poisonous groundwater.

Beautiful dried persimmons, but do not know from where.

Beautiful dried persimmons, but do not know from where.

Songting Village, Qian'An, Hebei Province is 200 km east of Beijing.

Songting Village, Qian’An, Hebei Province is 200 km east of Beijing.

Songting Village, Qian'An, Hebei Province is 200 km east of Beijing, and south-east of the Shigang Resevoir in the Qian'an area.

Songting Village, Qian’An, Hebei Province is 200 km east of Beijing, and south-east of the Shigang Resevoir in the Qian’an area.

Huge numbers of steel plants west of Qian'an City, near the villages of Qiangang, Jiujiang, Songting and Yanshan. Of course the pollution is heavy. Qian’an Iron and Steel (Qiangang)

Huge numbers of steel plants west of Qian’an City, near the villages of Qiangang, Jiujiang, Songting and Yanshan. Of course the pollution is heavy. Qian’an Iron and Steel (Qiangang)

Songting Village, looking east to Qian'an City and numerous large steel mills that burn coal and pollute the air and their water supply.

Songting Village, looking east to Qian’an City and numerous large steel mills that burn coal and pollute the air and their water supply.

Normal dried persimmon  in Tangbian village, Gongcheng Yao autonomous county, Guangxi Province, Oct 30, 2011. [Photo/Asianewsphoto]

Normal dried persimmon in Tangbian village, Gongcheng Yao autonomous county, Guangxi Province, Oct 30, 2011. [Photo/Asianewsphoto]

Dried persimmons from Shanxi Province. They are flattened due to drying and then skewered through with a string holding them together. The white colouring is natural sugars from the persimmon. 2017 Don Tai

Dried persimmons from Shanxi Province. They are flattened due to drying and then skewered through with a string holding them together. The white colouring is natural sugars from the persimmon. 2017 Don Tai

Dried persimmons turn black after drying in the smoggy air of Songting Village, Qian'an, Hebei Province, just west of steel plants that burn coal.

Dried persimmons turn black after drying in the smoggy air of Songting Village, Qian’an, Hebei Province, just west of steel plants that burn coal.

I would not eat these dried persimmons. They probably contain dangerous amounts of heavy metals and other toxins. Songting Village’s ground was is now polluted enough that the steel company trucks in water to the village to drink.

Songting Village, Qian’an area, Hebei will never recover from this pollution, yet the villagers have nowhere else to go. Their land, groundwater and air have been destroyed bu the steel mills that are their neighbours. Some man-made disasters can never be completely reversed.

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