Opening a can of worms

Just as we imagine things can’t get any worse, the ultimate in grotesque bizarreness takes place. It’s hard to know where to start, so we’ll just go through events as reported in the Standard. It’s all about a mother who opens a can of Heinz baked beans and is shocked to find that it contains not only the sickly sweet legumes advertised, which are disgusting enough in themselves, but a seething, writhing mass of loathsome ‘white thingies’. Even allowing for the fact that this happens in Shatin – a place where space and time as we know them have no meaning – the story raises intriguing questions.

What sort of person buys or eats baked beans? Of all the products in our local supermarkets, they are among the most inexplicable: an agreeable if unremarkable foodstuff, the navy bean, is overcooked and laden with, of all things, sugar, plus a surfeit of sodium and a strange artificial colouring that glows in the dark. They are the only fibre or vegetable matter many children in Anglo-Saxon countries will accept; to make matters worse, a large proportion of British and American people continue with their childhood diets throughout their adult lives. As with Spam and Ovaltine, other cultures that should know better have somehow acquired a taste for the things. (The South China Morning Post’s review of different brands supports the impression that the Cantonese palate – which doesn’t mind an occasional dollop of the evil orange goo on rice – prefers Smedley’s.) Thus this obnoxious product ends up in a public housing estate in Shatin, and in a branch of the distinctly un-cosmopolitan Vanguard chain.

The paper reports that the mother is a permanent resident who has lived in Hong Kong for 20 years, but fails to establish what this has to do with the weevil-like invertebrates wriggling in her food. To add to the mystery, it also says that she speaks ‘a little Cantonese, English, Tagalog and Nippongo’, without informing us what language, if any, she can speak a decent amount of. The enigma deepens as we wonder why the reporter or copy-editor uses the word ‘Nippongo’, which is of course Japanese for ‘Japanese’.

We are mercifully spared details of the ‘soup of pork and beans’ she was making.

After her less linguistically challenged son identifies the life-forms as larvae, the mother marches off to have words with the boss at Vanguard. This is part of the state-owned China Resources group, and Mainland-style customer service predictably ensues, with the manager refusing to see her. She then emails videos of the repulsive creepy-crawlies to Food and Environmental Hygiene officials, who understandably freak out and leap into action. The story ends with the local Heinz representative checking with head office in the UK ‘to see if this is a normal situation’, which raises the possibility that insect eggs, spiders, millipedes and such like are standard ingredients, and it was all the Shatin mother’s fault for not reading the label.

The baked beans bewilderment continues. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s Standard to reveal what happens next.

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