USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘toxins’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

Spitting in China

Main Piece

WY: “Let me think…so it’s like superstition. Whenever my mom hears something terrible or scary she will always spit on the ground. Kind of like a ways to spit out the horrible things so she won’t be hurt by those things.”

Collector: “Where I am from (San Francisco), I know a lot of Chinese people who spit deliberately like that, too, but none of them have ever mentioned that to me. Guess I know now!”

WY: “Yeah. A lot of places in China they probably have the same tradition. Chinese people also do it for general health. They call mucus and other stuff in the system ‘toxins.’ I think the air quality has a lot to do with it, so they just try to make their lungs feel as empty and breathable as possible.”

Collector: “Do you do it?”

WY: “Generally not, but every once in a while when I hear something really terrible, I end up doing it.”

Analysis

I found the informant’s insight on this tradition enlightening because she grew up in an environment where she understood the meaning of it and had had time to process it. She did not hold a strong belief in it, but in desperate times fell back on the practice that she had learned from her mother. It was also interesting to hear how a scientific idea was also put forward in order to justify it for those who would question it. The two beliefs could work hand-in-hand, and do not contradict each other.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Water Bottle Toxins

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“So whenever I bring a water bottle onto the car I almost always forget it there. My dad says that after you leave it in the sun and the bottle heats up, you’ll get cancerous toxins in the water and he would never let me drink it and would always force me to pour it out in front of him.”

The belief that water bottles leach toxins into the water that they hold is not a novel one.  I have heard this health belief from many other people in the United States. Generally, the usual concern is due to BPA (bisphenol-A), which is said to interfere with natural hormone regulation. My high school chemistry teacher believed strongly in this health belief and spent one of his lectures demonstrating how it is possible for BPA to leach from a plastic water bottle into the water it holds. As a precaution, he was often seen with a metal water bottle.

However, this is my first time hearing about possible toxins causing cancer. I think this plays into a cultural fear of carcinogens, especially within the food manufacturing sector, and combines it with our health beliefs about plastic water bottles.  None of my foreign relatives share this health belief, which leads to me to believe that it is mostly a belief shared by those in the US or specifically health and environmentally-conscious California. This health belief most likely stems from the fear of “chemicals” that seems to run rampant in our society. It is a fear of the unknown. We don’t know how water bottles are made and how the substances used in manufacturing them interact with our day-to-day usages, so we tend to assume the worst.

Furthermore, water is a life-giving substance to humans and the idea of vessels used to hold it “betraying” us and leaching something poisonous into it has a certain appeal to it. This health belief has been largely debunked in scientific literature: while plastic water bottles do leach BPA, the amount leached is so negligible that one would be more likely to die of water poisoning before the BPA levels would reach any significant level.

See:
Schmid, P., Kohler, M., Meierhofer, R., Luzi, S., Wegelin, M. “Does the reuse of PET bottles during solar water disinfection pose a health risk due to the migration of plasticisers and other chemicals into the water?” Water Research. 4 Sep. 2008, Volume 42, Issue 20: 5054-5060.

ACC. “The Safety of Polythylene Teraphthalate (PET).” PlasticsInfo.Org. American Chemistry Council, 1 Jan. 2007. Web. 13 Nov. 2009. <http://www.plasticsinfo.org/s_plasticsinfo/sec_generic.asp?CID=657&DID=2605>

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