Guest Post: Observations on Food Waste in China

Nathalie Lussier, the Raw Foods Witch, recently returned from a four-month trip to China. I was excited when she contacted me about sharing some of her observations on food waste in the most populous nation. Here’s her report:

The “Finish Your Food Guilt” Trip

There’s a wonderful, ironic comic strip by Mike Adams that really illustrates the interesting dilemma between wasting food and overeating. One way this plays out is by guilting people into eating more than they should.

In China, meals are organized in such a way that there is less chance for overeating. In a typical Chinese meal, each person has his own individual bowl of soup or rice, and all of the main dishes like vegetables and meat are at the center of the table. Everyone has chopsticks to take some food from the shared plates. In more formal dinners, there are public chopsticks to eliminate the fear of photo by Nathalie Lussiercontaminating shared plates with germs.

This type of sharing food is useful because it encourages you to eat as much or as little as you want. There is no need to “finish your plate.” It also allows people to save all of the food later, without scraping leftovers from someone else’s plate.

Restaurant Etiquette In China

One food wasting problem I saw in China is that people order more food than the group could possibly eat so as to appear generous. In China, the concept of “giving face” requires that guests are well taken care of and well fed. This unfortunately leads to ordering way too much food, creating a lot of leftovers.

Restaurant leftovers might not seem so bad, but I noticed that most people were not interested in packing up the leftovers and bringing them home.

I asked some locals about this phenomenon and I found out that more and more people are realizing the gravity of so much wasted food. They told me that a few years ago no one even considered bringing leftovers home from the restaurant. Things are certainly changing, especially as people realize how much energy is spent bringing them this wasted food.

Chinese People Don’t Waste Food at Home

While I was staying with family friends in China I noticed how well planned each home cooked meal was. Not only do Chinese people tend to buy only their food for the next day or two, but their whole kitchen is organized around fresh food and finishing what you prepare.I was surprised to find that this household had a very small refrigerator, which was only used to store leftovers from one day to the next.

The family I was staying with went out to shop for vegetables, fruit, and meat every single day. They planned meticulously what they made for each meal. Interestingly enough, the markets in China allow you to buy as little of each ingredient as you want. You don’t need to buy a 12 pack of anything, and you can buy a piece of meat the size of a coin and no one will look at you funny. The same goes for buying a few stalks of green leafy vegetables.

Looking back, I’m really grateful for learning about the way Chinese people eat, and their food saving strategies. I think we can learn a lot from the Chinese way of eating. I especially like the idea of sharing food via central plates, because it allows you to eat as much or as little as you want. I think it’s a great way to venture out and try different foods too.

I’d love to know what you think about my observations about food wasting and saving in China. Feel free to leave a comment here or get in touch with me via my site, Raw Foods Witch.


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