Ever since the unappetizing revelation that he had been eating purposely tainted pork, 28 year-old Wu Heng has done nothing but work on this issue as an activist and author.
Wu, then a graduate student studying mapping, knew he wasn't the only victim, but there were no resources at the time for information on food safety. There were scattered news reports and plenty of rumours, but no public fact-checked database for people facing the serious food scandals for which China has become infamous.
So he built one. His website, Throw it out the Window, crashed within hours, overloaded with traffic. Within months of its launch, the site had mapped more than 3,000 verified cases of adulterated food contributed from readers.
The scandals ranged from melamine-tainted milk that sent tens of thousands of babies to the hospital, to pesticide-laden vegetables, to restaurants using fox hair and chicken feathers to make cooking oil.
The reaction was swift and overwhelming, and it had its effect on Chinese attitudes. Between 2008 and 2012, concern over food safety more than tripled, according to a Pew poll. But despite government crackdowns and the creation of a food safety ministry, Wu feels that nothing has really happened to make it better.
"I found that after I collect so much information about food safety issues, people get used to it," he says. "At first, they were very angry. But day after day…it keeps going on, and people get used to it. Even me, I get used to it."
Wu wanted to fix the problem by making it more visible. Now, he is concerned that all the website did in the end was to desensitize the public to the dangers of unsafe food. Those risks may not become apparent for decades.
"Unsafe food will cause illness in a long time," he says. "So maybe now it's ok, but 20 years later or 30 years later a lot of old people get ill or get cancer. And the fact is, even if you get cancer, you can't tell why."
While the average Chinese consumer is faced with the choice of eating potentially contaminated food or spending more to feed her family, Communist Party officials and the rich are able to afford better. The government has cracked down on those suppliers who would deliberately taint their food for profit. But meanwhile the risk has shifted. Now the environment is to blame, and the solution is far less simple.
The intensive application of fertilizers and pesticides puts more pressure on the available farm land. The country is the world's largest consumer of agrochemicals, but these are the least of the country's food safety problems. Factories and mines contaminate soil and water with heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury, as well as pesticides and persistent organic pollutants, which are absorbed in food and accumulate in humans. Those chemicals can cause a host of problems. Symptoms range from nervous system malfunction to bone weakening to cancer, depending on the pollutant, its origin and its concentration.