Lejen Chen with her husband, Shan En, at their Green Cow Organic Farm.Ever since Lejen Chen, a Chinese-American, opened her New-York-style diner, Mrs. Shanen’s, in Beijing seven years ago, the biggest challenge has been ensuring a clean safe supply of food.

By clean and safe, Chen isn’t talking necessarily about pathogen-free. She means free of the chemicals, pesticides, toxic sludge, and GMO products that have contaminated so much of the Chinese food supply, as epitomized by the scandal over melamine-tainted baby formula, along with other dairy products. She also means having access to “clean manure.” Too often, she says, “We’d find needles and asbestos from roofing” in chicken, pig, and cow manure purchased from neighboring livestock farms.

I met Chen recently in the Boston area, on one of her trips back to the U.S. She told me about the journey she and her husband, Shan En, have taken to feel comfortable about the food they serve in their restaurant, where the clientele is about 60% American and 40% Chinese.

She said the spread of dangerous chemicals has led to higher cancer rates in many cities and towns. The widespread use of pesticides means “more people are committing suicide with pesticides.” Increasingly, people are becoming concerned about where their food comes from.

So gradually, she and her husband have taken control of producing ever more of their restaurant’s food. They began by renting a couple of green houses to produce safe lettuce. But they were always concerned their produce might be exposed to chemicals used by a neighboring grower, not to mention trash and smoke from cigarettes–so, the couple searched out land to lease near the restaurant.

They were eventually able to lease 12 acres, and have steadily added to the lettuce and other vegetable production–200 egg-laying hens, 17 pigs, and now, eight cows, of which two are milking. They call the place Green Cow Organic Farm.

Salad being served at Mrs. Shanen’s restaurant in Beijing.They have enough food for the restaurant, along with a 20-member CSA (community-supported agriculture). For $199 a month, members receive a weekly supply of vegetables; most also purchase eggs and milk.

The milk is available pasteurized, or unpasteurized…and not homogenized in either case. 
So far, only two regular customers are taking their milk unpasteurized, but that could well increase. Lejen is increasingly consuming her milk unpasteurized, and in a few weeks plans a Harvest Festival, at which she and her husband will conduct a milking demonstration and pass out samples of raw milk.

While most villages in China have at least one milking cow that supplies everyone, people tend to take the milk home and heat it up. But in the cities, raw milk isn’t generally available, since China pretty much copies our U.S. Food and Drug Administration model, and thus discourages raw milk and promotes factory-style milk production. The melamine scare has encouraged the government to regulate dairy more than it once did. 

Based on what Chen told me, it seems as if China is mirroring the growing American concern about finding reliable supplies of good clean nutritious food. Except in China, the situation seems as if it could rapidly become even more desperate. ?


Sharon Zecchinelli, a Vermont food rights activist, is helping organize a fundraising drive to raise legal funds for Morningland Dairy in Missouri, which is under threat of being shut down in connection with the Rawesome Food Club raid. She is asking people”to make a donation to Morningland Dairy via an Un-Cheese Party. Since the cheese is under embargo, it cannot be sold or moved. But you can sponsor a 5 lb block. The price per pound for the cheese is $5.00. This fund will soon be converted to a full legal defense fund.” She’s set up a special web site for the Un-Cheese Party.