I will not eat bat soup, you say.
I will not eat it sir, no way!
I will not eat it with dead rat.
I will not eat it with your cat.
I will not eat bat soup, you say.
But the virus will kill us anyway.
I guess I won’t be quitting my day job to go write children’s books any time soon. But the only reason that this nonsensical topic is running around in my head at the moment is the persistent theory that when the coronavirus erupted from a wet market in Wuhan, it was probably caused by someone eating a bat. Is that really true, though? Assuming you’re from a more western nation as I am, put aside for the moment that you’re probably not going to be eating any bats to begin with, even if they were cooked up by one of the winners from Iron Chef. The question is, could the evolving virus survive the trip if it was in the flesh of a bat?
That’s the question that Jim Geraghty looked at in his recent column at National Review. Working off the assumption that the dish was “cooked” in some typical fashion, Jim reasons that the virus couldn’t have survived the cooking and serving process. And if that’s the case, where did the jump to Patient Zero actually take place?
Shortly after the first reports that COVID-19, social media tracked down videos of people eating bats, both in broth and cooked and held with chopsticks. (Unpleasant images and video at that link.) It is worth noting that the videos circulating on social media weren’t from Wuhan and in some cases weren’t even from China.
It’s worth keeping in mind that cooking usually kills viruses in meat and animal tissue — that’s one of the reasons human beings traditionally cook their food. While it’s certainly possible that someone prepared a bat for a meal and undercooked it, research indicates that the related coronavirus that causes SARS is killed at temperatures anywhere from 132 degrees Fahrenheit to 149 degrees Fahrenheit. Most ovens cook at least 225 degrees Fahrenheit. You would probably have to really undercook a bat to leave the virus intact in the meat. Then again, it’s anyone’s guess as to what kind of ovens or cooking methods are being used in wet markets, and whether they reach a sufficient temperature.
Early on in the debate over this, the bat was seen as a likely suspect for the origin of the disease. After all, bats have long been known to carry other forms of coronavirus and have, at times, passed them on to humans. But other scientists weighed in and claimed that while bats could have been the progenitors of this particular mutation, they would have needed to infect an intermediary animal that was then consumed by Patient Zero. One of the leading candidates to be the intermediary carrier was the pangolin, which is apparently also commonly sold in the wet markets.
But what if the original assumption Jim Geraghty was working from is flawed? For that theory to not fall apart we have to assume several things. First, we’re taking it for granted that the bat was cooked. Also, we’re assuming that it was cooked to conventional American standards at a temperature of at least 225 degrees Fahrenheit. And if that were the case, then I would agree that the virus would have been long since dead before Patient Zero tucked into his or her delicious entree.
But can we make those assumptions? Bear with me for a moment because I’m going to suggest something that will probably not only sound fairly disgusting but will undoubtedly be described as racist. If you’re the sort of person that’s willing to go into one of these fly-infested wet markets and browse for “exotic” foods like flying rodents and scaly anteaters, how much attention are you really paying to the public health and safety guidelines concerning hygienic food preparation?
It’s not as if you don’t find raw or barely cooked foods even in more “civilized” western cultures all the time. During the last clambake I attended last year I scarfed down several dozen cherrystone clams entirely raw off the half-shell. I know several people who enjoy steak tartare. Warak Arish is a Lebanese dish I was served by the family of a girl I was dating while I was in the navy and it was primarily composed of raw meat wrapped in grape leaves with a lot of spices.
With that in mind, with the so-called “adventure diners” of China, is it that crazy that Patient Zero just had some chunks of raw bat in their bowl and scarfed them down? And given the concentrated nature of the first outbreak of the virus in a relatively small sector of a single city, it wouldn’t have taken a lot of people to try it. In fact, Patient Zero really could have been a single soul in a crowded neighborhood who took their dining adventure too far and kicked this whole thing off.
We may never know for sure. In fact, we probably won’t, given the dishonest nature of the CCP. But I thought I would offer this up as food for thought. (I apologize for that last phrase in advance.)