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Unsuspected Reality: China Cracks Down On Food Waste

When I think of countries – societies, cultures; however you want to describe them – that I’d never suspect of wasting food, China and India always come immediately to mind. But I’ve just finished reading a BBC report that the Chinese Central Government has revived a national Food Conservation program…

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China and India together now compromise a huge fraction of the world’s population, and food security has long been a serious concern in both those nations. According to China Daily, enough food is wasted in China every year to feed 30 to 50 million people.

Now – and I just learned about it this morning – China has instituted what it’s calling the ‘Clean Plate Campaign’ after President Xi Jaiping came out strongly against food waste, saying the COVID-19m crisis had, “sounded the alarm,” about food waste, and warned that China had to, “maintain a sense of crisis about food security.”

The ‘sense of crisis’ appears to have arisen after bad weather earlier this year resulted in massive flooding that, in turn, destroyed farms and washed away millions of tonnes of produce. We heard something about the flooding, but little about its consequences.

A culture that praises excess

There’s a tradition in China called Mukbang, in which livestreamers typically film themselves eating large amounts of food and run it on the internet. According to the BBC story, “some of these livestreamers throw up afterwards, as they are unable to digest the large amounts of food eaten.”

In response to Xi’s stern warning, the Wuhan Catering Industry Association urged restaurants in the city to limit the number of dishes served to diners. Called the N-1 plan, it simply sates that groups dining together must order one dish less than the number of diners. For example: if a group of 10 diners is seated together, it can order no more than 9 dishes, total. And don’t bother going to a restaurant alone. A single diner’s allowance under the plan is rigidly tied to the equation – and 1-1 =0!

No surprise that some diners and resto operators have lodged bitter protests over the new rule.

Not a new idea

A similar program, ‘Operation Empty Plate’, was first launched back in 2013 after embarrassing word got out about extravagant parties thrown by government officials. It’s seen by some as a natural outgrowth of the Chinese traditions of plenty that it’s impolite to leave an empty plate (indicating that the host didn’t serve you enough food). So it might take a lot of time and effort to force compliance with the new anti-waste plan. Last year, the Central Government brought in stiff fines for and companies that didn’t, “correctly recycle their food waste. [And] citizens faced fines as punishment for not complying, or penalties to their social credit rating.”

But, as is evidenced by President Xi’s recent pronouncement, things haven’t changed much. Yet. And if China is sounding a alarm over food waste, the rest of the world should be taking the issue a whole lot more seriously than it appears to be.

~ Maggie J.