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New Food Fad Sweeping China: ‘White People Meals’

There’s a new food fad sweeping China: ‘White People Meals’ are catching on like wildfire, especially with young people and workers on the so-called ‘996’ plan. What’s the deal anyway? And why the memes poking fun at it?

White People Meal - © Weibo

Tripped over this story looking for a recipe to share. It’s been too long. Anyway, I couldn’t resist. And it actually qualifies as a recipe’ post inasmuch as it explores the combinations of foods food-forward Chinese consider typical of what ‘White People’ eat.

Not that enticing to Westerners

The kind of Western-style meals appearing on Chinese social media aren’t exactly what most Westerners would choose. They’re spare, raw and healthy, and quick and easy to prepare.

And Chinese foodies are enjoying making fun of them.

Check the hashtag #whitepeoplemeal around lunchtime in China and you’ll find plentiful posts both criticising and defending Western-style food.

I was so tired I ate a white people meal today,” one slightly sarchastic post said.

“White people meals are still meals,” another countered.

The appeal of Western-style food

Many devotees say it’s cheap, easy and quick to prepare (many posted lunches include raw veggies), and light on the stomach.

Chinese (and other Asian) cuisines typically employ many ingredients, tend to be spicy and take a lot of preparation effort.

Teresa Duan from Hubei Province explains the hot-and-cold reception of Western Food in China. “Chinese people don’t understand how foreigners can fill themselves with such food. They might even think it’s an insult to gastronomy.”

But she admits it takes some getting used to. “I found this food healthy and time-saving at the same time, and two or three years is long enough to change my gut flora to help me get used to this diet and begin liking it.”

“For me, ‘white people food’ is easy to digest because I have a bad stomach. And this uses less oil and spice, so I feel light even after eating,” says Perry Liu of Beijing. “When you’re under pressure at work, you tend to binge.”

The ‘996’ factor

A significant number of young, ambitious Chinese office employees find themselves on the 996 regime: working 9 am until 9 pm, 6 days a week. For them, the appeal is convenience. And convenience is a huge thing to them!

“There is more pressure on young people today, especially with the 996 working culture. There is less time to cook and to prepare nutritious traditional Chinese meals,” says Manya Koetse, editor-in-chief of the blog What’s on Weibo.

More than just a fad?

‘White people food’ is almost exclusively an urban phenomenon. “If you tell people in a remote Chinese village that you had a ‘white people meal’ today, likely no one would understand what you are talking about,” says Mei Shanshan, a Beijing-based food writer. But the concept is beginning to permeate Chinese culture. Its route into the ancient edifice is what Mei characterizes as ‘economic and demographic forces prioritizing efficiency’.

Now, as this post reveals, the concept of ‘White People Food’ versus Asian food is starting to percolate back into Western culture. And what’s coming back is something that might seem odd to Westerners – something uniquely Chinese!

And, yes, I’d say this is more of a trend than a fad!

~ Maggie J.