I've written a lot about Chinese roads. I've ridden thousands of kilometers on them. Now I think I might have literally eaten a bit of them.
Somedays, I cook my own lunch in my office. One dish in my regular rotation is corn grits with red beans, green peppers and sweet garlic chili sauce dripped over it. It's a one-pot meal, all cooked up in a little rice cooker. I buy the coarsely ground corn grits - a bit like rough-cut polenta - in the bulk food bin section in a grocery store a couple blocks from my office. It costs less than 50 US cents for a kilo of the stuff. I've never had problems with it ... until today.
The grits cooked up nicely and I stirred in the beans and peppers. It was almost ready when I sampled a spoon full of it. As I was chewing, something went "crunch!" in my mouth. It felt like I was eating tiny fragments of glass. I carefully isolated the parts in my mouth, then spit them out on the palm of my hand. Fortunately, it didn't seem to be glass. The culprit appeared to be tiny black bits of asphault or rock from a road.
Now, why would I think the crunchy stuff might have come from a road? During my forays into rural China, especially the northern parts of the country, I've often seen farmers drying out their corn crop on the side of the road. They'll remove the kernals from the cob, and spread them out on the hot shoulder of the road, letting them bake in the sun for awhile. It's a beautiful scene - a long carpet of brilliant yellow stretching along the road. I've always wondered how they filter out the road dust and car exhaust contamination. Sheep, pigs and cows also use the road, so that's another concern.
But I never thought much more about it because I figured the road corn was most likely the farmer's private stash. Could it ever make its way into the bulk food bin at my local grocery store? Nah.
Today at lunch, I started wondering about it again, though. I was facing one of the most common dilemmas in China: Should I keep eating this stuff? I decided to continue and stop thinking about it. I had already invested too much time, effort and money (about US$1.50!) in the lunch to throw it away and head back out to forage for food. I cautiously chewed each bite, searching for hard bits with every first soft chomp. I found a couple more tiny suspicious pieces, but the rest of the meal seemed OK.
Has ingesting the road given me a better feel for it? Not yet.