Chinese state media is blaming its apocalyptic smog problem on kitchen fumes

Delicious smog.
Delicious smog.
Image: Reuters/Damir Sagolj
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Your greasy stir-fry is causing pollution, says Chinese state media, as the country looks to lay blame for the airpocalypse that choked one-ninth of the country in a toxic haze last week.

An editorial in state mouthpiece People’s Daily on Dec. 24 (link in Chinese) warned that fumes from cooking with oil are a “major cause of air pollution in urban cities.” The writer claims that based on a test done in Changsha, a western Chinese city known for its spicy cuisine, a plate of stir-fried chilli peppers cooked at high heat could send PM2.5 readings—a measure of particulate matter in the air—”off the charts.” The piece adds that cooking fumes make up some 13% of PM2.5 in Beijing’s air, 6% in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Metropolitan Region, and 14% in Guangzhou.

Internet commenters in China were quick to criticize the piece.

“Why does the government make it seem like we have been eating raw meat for the past five thousand years, and that we only started cooking with fire recently?” commented (link in Chinese, registration required) one user on social media site Weibo.

Others joked that household kitchens in China should adopt the odd-even restrictions on vehicle license plates used to keep pollution in check in Beijing since 2008. “People should just cook according to whether their ID card numbers are odd or even,” said one user on Weibo (link in Chinese, registration required).

This isn’t the first time Chinese authorities have targeted food in their quest to curb air pollution. In 2013 Beijing reportedly shut down 500 ”illegal” outdoor grills that sell meat skewers on streetsides across the cities. Authorities also imposed restrictions on restaurants in its revised (link in Chinese) air pollution law in August 2015. The law requires that restaurants “install cooking-fume purifiers, or apply other measures that help purify fumes.”

Dong Liansai, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace, said the main reason for China’s persistently high levels of air pollution is coal-burning and heavy industry—not cooking. “The air pollution problem originates from China’s reliance on coal, which needs a long-term solution,” Dong said. “Traffic and cooking restrictions might temporarily help reduce the peak level of pollution, but it cannot ultimately solve the problem.”

China has said it wants to lower coal consumption in the past, but progress on cutting back on coal-burning has slowed as the government balances the need to keep industrial production high and maintain GDP growth, especially after it announced new economic stimulus measures earlier this year, Greenpeace told Quartz as the heaviest smog was shrouding Beijing last week.