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China launches “Clean Plate Campaign” against food waste

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

By Natalie Gao and Manasa Sriraj Oct. 14, 2020

Quincy Han Art

China has recently announced a new “Clean Plate Campaign” directed at reducing food waste. Proposed by President Xi Jinping, the campaign is aimed toward changing individual citizens’ consumption habits and encouraging them to limit waste as much as possible.

The Chinese Academy of Science found that in 2015, China’s cities produce around 18 million tons of food waste per year, enough to feed 30 to 50 million people. Additionally, the Global Times has found that up to 20 percent of food is wasted in the production process. Identifying these two problem areas, the Chinese government intends to target both with its new campaign, which limits the number of plates diners can order at restaurants to one less than the number of diners. Also known as “N-1,” the system was implemented by restaurants across the nation, despite overwhelmingly hostile responses from the general public. To add to the controversy, some restaurants are weighing customers when they walk in to help them make more frugal choices.

“China’s position is understandable, but I do not agree with the specifics of the N-1 policy. What if each person in the group wants to order a different dish? As far as I have seen, people tend to finish their plates in restaurants, so I think the initiative should be focused on other areas of consumption. Perhaps if China could work with other countries, the world could collectively hash out a new and more effective plan to reduce global food waste,” Freshman Nikita Parakala said.

The policy also placed blame on “mukbangers” for promoting food waste. Originating in South Korea, “mukbang” is an internet trend where users livestream themselves eating large quantities of food in a short time period while interacting with their audience. Taking issue with the trend’s popularity throughout Northeast Asia, the Chinese government has reprimanded participants, especially those who wasted food through bluffed eating—when “mukbangers” would film rather than livestream, chewing the food on camera but actually spitting it out off camera to appear as though they are eating even more. In compliance with the policy, various social media platforms threatened to delete or restrict their popular videos and admonished users against overeating.

Many people have complained that this move is too strict and authoritarian, especially since food has such high community value in Chinese tradition. Culturally, families consider food equivalent to pride. Ordering extra is considered polite, as empty plates signify that there was not enough food for the guests, and leftovers symbolize the generosity of the host. For some, Xi’s new policy is reminiscent of the Great Chinese Famine of 1959, which placed restrictive limits on rations in order to promote economic growth and killed approximately 36 to 45 million people.

“Food plays a big role in Chinese customs: a big feast is almost always expected during holidays and when eating with guests. Even though the campaign has its economic benefits, there are societal norms that need to be taken into account,” Sophomore Grace Zhang said.

Floods and locust invasions have already diminished food production in China this summer. Coupled with the pandemic and the U.S.-China trade tensions, food production has further declined. Bloomberg reports that food prices have increased by ten percent since July, with the cost of pork increasing by 86 percent. While China is the largest producer in the world, it is also the largest consumer, requiring imports from foreign countries, including adversarial ones. The policy is an attempt to create a self-sufficient China in the wake of increasing geopolitical tensions.

Nevertheless, whether it is a traditionally-oriented person entertaining guests at a family reunion, a celebrity “mukbanger” or a modernized college student who just wants to take a break from cooking, the eating habits and customs of many Chinese people could be affected the “Clean Plate Campaign” as its sentiment and potency is debated.


About the Contributors

Manasa Sriraj

Staff Writer

Manasa Sriraj is a freshman at Leland High School and a staff writer. She is a STEM, puzzle, and geography freak and loves torturing her friends by spamming and "Rickrolling" on group chats. Her hobbies include listening to music, playing basketball and the guitar, experimenting with snack recipes (which usually result in messes), and building Rube Goldberg machines and gadgets out of Legos and other regular household objects.

Natalie Gao

Staff Writer

Natalie Gao is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer. She likes playing Tetris and making mac and cheese in her free time.

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