The conceit of “Baby Formula 2013,” the latest installation by Chinese dissident and artist Ai Weiwei, should be outdated.
After all, it was back in 2008 that contaminated milk killed 6 children and sickened 300,000 others. But in the intervening five years, little has changed. The Chinese government has declined to institute safety standards (paywall) and, unsurprisingly, a slew of new contamination scandals have cropped up. The resulting panic famously caused global supply disruptions after Hong Kong instituted measures to protects its own infant formula supply from desperate mainland parents.
And, of course, it’s not just milk formula. With every bite, people living in China must wonder whether they’re downing lead, formaldehyde, human hair, e-coli, melamine, pesticides, bleach, rat meat, or any number of other foul and toxic substances. ”There’s increasingly the sense that simply living is bad for you,” Maura Cunningham, a modern Chinese history scholar living in Shanghai, tells Quartz. “Food safety cuts across all boundaries. I think it’s the issue that has the most potential to get the widest range of popular support.”
Ai is even more pointed on the matter. “That Chinese people have to go across the border just to get a fresh supply of baby formula and clean food, that’s shocking to me,” he told NBC. “Food safety is a huge issue now due to the neglect of the government.”
In the spirit of “Baby Formula 2013,” Quartz has mapped the most prominent food scandals of the last few years on top of Ai’s new artwork.