How much is too much?
In a culture where eating plays a truly central part in many aspects of people’s lives, it’s hard to foster drastic changes in general thinking about food. China cherishes food, giving space for long lunchbreaks, festive family dinners, food-celebrating of holidays, and many other occasions. Food culture is even deeply rooted in the Chinese language (omnipresent ‘have you eaten?’ instead of ‘how are you?’), constituting integral part of everyday habits and perceived as a long-awaited treat after a long day at work. On the other hand, some downsides of social etiquette, hospitality, and generosity can be seen at packed tables covered with food that nobody’s going to finish. All of this piles up to a very serious food waste problem, which the Chinese government recently tackled with a newly issued policy and related guidelines.
Enough is enough
Non-waste policies are not new to Chinese law. According to Article 14 of the PRC Constitution, ‘the state shall practice strict economy and combat waste’. There are other examples to be seen, with various environmental, agricultural, and consumer-protection laws referring explicitly to the non-waste of food. According to many however, these rules have not created any substantial real-world obligation or enforcement.
Against that backdrop, in mid-August, Shanghai government started an anti-food waste campaign which aims to change how people order and, indeed, think about food. This relates to both consumers and food-providers. Restaurants are asked to offer different sizes of dishes, to indicate a default number of diners, and generally describe the size of an ordered portion of food. Consumers might also be notified when they have ordered enough and encouraged to take leftovers on their way out. Although all this might appear a bit intrusive at first, we see that it serves a bigger purpose when we realize how much food we really need, and how much we waste.
Of course, we will still invite guests and we will certainly still offer them way more than they can eat, but as long as we take home what we haven’t finished – it’s fine. All this is meant to create a habit of non-wasting. Aside from online and on-site food orders, the campaign applies to facilities too, such as schools, factories, communities, etc. The government even intends to offer some awards to the facilities that manage the policy well, which might be another factor of speeding up the change.
The best is yet to come!
It is worth mentioning that environmentally related changes have been happening in China for some time now. We have seen an overall tendency to become more sustainable, conscious, and eco-friendly. In fact, not that long ago, we struggled to get used to the ‘new normal’ of waste disposal, which required sorting and significantly shortened the time slot to dispose of trash in Shanghai. Another example is recent encouragement to do without tableware when ordering takeout.
While none of this has been perfect, we are nonetheless happy to see all these eco-friendly changes in this great city, and we hope to see more ‘green’ policies and guidelines going forward. In the meantime, don’t forget to take the leftovers home next time you eat out or order in, and we’ll keep you updated on changes to come.