Assuring Chinese Finish Their Live Lobster Sashimi

As the government and state media push a ‘Clean Plate Campaign’ and high-end restaurants suffer through a drought of official banquet reservations, Adam Minter examines cultural attitudes behind food waste in China. From Bloomberg World View:

The scale of the waste is almost beyond comprehension, especially in a country where 128 million people lived below the official poverty line in 2011. According to Xinhua, the state news wire, China throws away enough food every year to feed 200 million people — about one-sixth of the country’s population. In 2008, China Agricultural University estimated that the country wastes 50 million tons of food per year — about 10 percent of its total annual grain output. The waste occurs at every level of society. According to the university’s data, a third of the food purchased in Beijing university cafeterias is also wasted.

[…] What explains such waste? A September 2001 article from People’s Daily opined that “face,” a difficult-to-define concept that refers to social prestige, is the culprit: “Restaurant customers in China, especially those who want to treat guests or those have the privilege to spend public money in slap-up restaurants, generally have such notions in mind that their face or prestige depends upon how much money they spend on dishes.”

Bloomberg Businessweek reported in January, meanwhile, that the United States wastes 40% of all the food it produces, a total of $250 billion worth annually.


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