Frog, by Mo Yan is a book with which I have a love-hate relationship. When I read the back-cover, I found it quite intriguing. The leitmotif? China’s one-child policy. A midwife’s lover defects from the communist party to Taiwan, and her own loyalty to the commies is questioned. To show her allegiance, she devotes herself to implementing the one-child policy, in unimaginable and cruel ways. However, due to the author’s writing style, I couldn’t finish the book. Still, I looked beyond what I disliked and gave the subject some thought.
A myriad of words has been used to describe it, each with a positive or negative connotation: “birth control” gives the woman power over her own body, “abortion” turns her into a murderer. Doctors prefer more neutral terms, such as “contraception” or “family planning”. For what was introduced in China in 1979, “family planning” is the best definition. The government’s greatest fear was overpopulation and a major decline in economy. Social engineering could temper this, they thought. And so, after having had a first child, women were obliged to place a contraceptive intrauterine device. Should they have a second child, sterilisation by tubal ligation was imposed. Noncompliance was punished with loss of employment, and limited access to schools for the children.
The Family Planning Policy had devastating consequences. Human rights were violated. The government went as far as chasing women, and forcing them to abort, as far along as 8 months pregnant. They even murdered babies, while the woman was in labour. Needless to say, maternal mortality also went through the roof. Abortion in China was not a right, it was imposed to execute government policy.
Romania is the other extreme. In the ’50s, contraceptives were scarce, so abortion was the only option for birth control. Women then also enjoyed greater access to the labour market, working longer hours. But living standards were quite low, which made it difficult to raise children. Consequently, the population was notably decreasing. However, government officials saw the decline as a result of the legalisation of abortion in ’57. The election of Ceausescu as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1965 was a turning point for women in Romania. Decree 770 was born: abortion and contraception were illegal, with very rare exceptions (in case of pregnancy after rape, for example). This led to a burst in unsafe, clandestine abortions which resulted in a shocking rise in maternal deaths.
Is there no golden mean, then? If imposing and banning abortion result in increased mortality, what is the solution? Once again, I come with my favored argument: education. Of women as well as men, of government officials, of doctors, of parents and teachers. People should know the risks they take when they don’t use protection, bureaucrats shouldn’t be negligent about possible life-threatening consequences of their laws. Doctors must promote prevention, instead of abortion: the condom really works miracles, you know. Parents and teachers should do the same. I am not promoting abortion here. We can and should interfere long before we reach that stage. China and Romania are a living proof that extremes don’t work. Instead of fixing a problem, why not forestall it? And prevention is carried out the most efficiently by and educated society.
Classics are classics for a reason: they are timeless. Boeuf bourguignon is a dish that pleases most tastebuds. The meat is tender and has a full taste. Served with some fried potatoes, it becomes comfort food, but à la française. This is one of those dishes that you put on the stove after brunch on a Saturday morning, and you let it simmer away through the day till dinner, just in time for when your guests arrive. They’re in for a treat, alright.
Ingredients (serves 4)
800g stewing beef, cut into large chunks
200g bacon (cubes)
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
4 carrots, sliced
200ml red wine
400g canned tomatoes
olive oil, butter
a handful thyme
2-3 bay leaves
1 tbsp honey
In a cast iron cooking pot, heat up some oil and butter. Turn the heat up, and give the beef a colour on the outside. Take the meat out and set aside. In the same pot, fry the bacon, until it starts to darken. Add the onion and garlic, and season with some pepper. When the onion gets a golden brown colour, add the carrots and continue frying till they start to soften. Then, add the beef back to the pan. This is when you add the salt. It’s important not to season the meat before, since you will drain it of all its liquid. Turn the heat up, add the honey and let caramelize. Deglaze with the red wine. Add the herbs and canned tomatoes, stir and taste to check the seasoning. Turn the heat down, and let simmer between 2-4 hours. The longer, the better.
Serve with some “questchies“. Bon appétit!