Introducing “What’s in the Bun?”

     As China’s middle class grows, so too does its consumption of processed food. As a result, food safety issues have become increasingly – worryingly – common. According to a 2015 Global Attitudes Survey by the Pew Centre, 40% of Chinese citizens had strong concerns about the safety of their food, as opposed to just 12% in 2008. In 2016, China’s government declared food safety as a top priority and passed new food safety regulations to “instill public confidence in the Chinese food industry.”

     Rumours of egregious health code infractions are as pervasive as they are unreliable: In China, misinformation about food safety is so prevalent that major newspapers, science blogs, even government institutions regularly publish articles aimed at debunking the latest and most popular food rumours circulating online.

     So how accurate is the knowledge of the general public? How do citizens distinguish safe from unsafe food items?

     To help dispel false food rumours and provide reliable information about food safety incidents in China, we developed “What’s In the Bun?” a choice based, quiz style micro-game that allows players to test how savvy they are when it comes to food safety.  People use a simple swipe left-or-right interface – reminiscent of dating app user interface design – to indicate whether they believe a food scandal is real or fake.

     Our research team compiled a list of food safety incidents – some real, some false – that have spread over recent years as rumours across China. This food safety data was drawn from “Throw It Out The Window,” a crowd-sourced database created by a graduate student from Fudan University. The database contains 3500+ articles about food scandals which were cross checked against, China’s largest food industry information portal sanctioned by, among other regulatory bodies, China’s Food and Drug Administration. Each example was reviewed by multiple experts to ensure the data was sound.

     We wanted players to interrogate the assumptions they made about food: are certain types of meat safer than others? What about food items, like rice or noodles, that are generally considered safe but come under fire due to the sheer number of producers who are involved? Were people’s assumptions correct? By playing “What’s in the Bun?” users can explore these questions, find answers, and challenge the data with their own research.

     Since launch, the game has drawn hundreds of thousands of players across China, with over 890,000 guesses about food rumours answered to date.