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CHINA declares war on food waste

Shared from the 8/23/2020 The Denver Post eEdition

 

By Bella Huang and Amy Qin
© The New York Times Co.

Chinese regulators are calling out live-streamers who binge-eat for promoting excessive consumption. A school said it would bar students from applying for scholarships if their daily leftovers exceeded a set amount. A restaurant placed electronic scales at its entrance for customers to weigh themselves to avoid ordering too much.

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, has declared a war on the “shocking and distressing” squandering of food, and the nation is racing to respond, with some going to greater extremes than others.

 

The ruling Communist Party has long sought to portray Xi as a fighter of excess and gluttony in officialdom, but this new call for gastronomic discipline is aimed at the public and carries a special urgency. When it comes to food security, Xi said, Chinese citizens should maintain a sense of crisis because of vulnerabilities exposed by the pandemic.

“Cultivate thrifty habits, and foster a social environment where waste is shameful and thriftiness is applaudable,” Xi said in a directive carried by the official People’s Daily newspaper last week.

Xi’s edict is part of a broader message from the leadership in recent weeks about the importance of self-reliance in a time of tension with the United States and other economic partners. The concern is that import disruptions caused by the global geopolitical turmoil, the pandemic and trade tensions with the Trump administration, as well as some of China’s worst floods this year, could cut into food supplies.

But like so many top-down orders in China, the vaguely worded directive prompted a flurry of speculation. State news media moved quickly to tamp down panic about imminent food shortages, reporting that China had recently seen consecutive bumper grain harvests and record high grain output.

The edict was also met with sometimes ham-handed measures. The restaurant that offered to weigh patrons in the central Chinese city of Changsha quickly drew a backlash and was forced to apologize over the weekend.

“Our intention was to advocate not wasting food and for people to order in a healthy way,” the restaurant said. “We never forced customers to weigh themselves.”

Xi’s “clean plate” campaign strikes at the heart of China’s dining culture. Custom dictates that ordering extra dishes and leaving food behind are ways to demonstrate generosity toward one’s relatives, clients, business partners and important guests.

Such habits have contributed to an estimated 17 million to 18 million tons of food being discarded annually, an amount that could feed 30 million to 50 million people for a year, according to a study by the Chinese Academy of Science and the World Wildlife Fund.

Xi’s call is as much a warning against the dangers of profligacy as it is a reflection of the generational shift in values that has emerged as living standards rise.

For Xi, the issue of food security has taken on more importance as China grapples with overlapping crises including a shaky economy and severe floods that have left large swaths of the country’s farmland under water.

 

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