Cherishing every grain of rice

“Tilling the earth in the midday-sun, sweat drips down and seeds the soil. Who knew that each grain of rice on your plate comes from a farmer’s toil?”

The Tang dynasty poem by Li Shen shows the deep cherishing of food in Chinese culture. Yet nowadays, food waste is still considered a problem, especially in a country where it is often considered polite to order more than one dish.

China’s ‘clean your plate’ campaign encourages people to save more food and waste less.

But how do ordinary Chinese feel about the ‘clean your plate’ campaign? We asked Beijing locals what they thought about it and its impact on their lives.

Ms. Wang is a young woman from Shandong, now living in Beijing. According to her, the reasons behind ‘clean your plate’ are understandable.

‘China has a huge population and if everyone can save a little bit of food, the total amount saved will be a lot,’ she said. ‘Various issues relating to the weather and global trade mean saving food will be particularly important in coming years.’

Ms. Wang noted that food waste is particularly a problem at large gatherings.

‘While I think people eating alone at restaurants mostly just eat as much as they need, when many people eat together at a restaurant, they often waste too much.’

One of the reasons for this excess, according to Ms. Wang, is a reluctance to take food home in front of others for fear of ‘losing face’.

However, there is no reason eating prudently cannot be part of Chinese culture, says Mr. Long Li, who resides in Beijing with his wife and young son.

‘Even given the Chinese custom of trying many dishes, we can still save food by ordering smaller portions. Some Shanghai and Guangdong cuisine is like this.’

‘I really like the small chicken feet portions at my local restaurant ‘tanggong’, said Long.

Food saving measures are also extended to restaurants.

Regina is a mother-of-one and kitchen staff at Sodexo restaurant Beijing, where efforts are being made to increase food sustainability.

‘Our restaurant has a ‘clean plate’ plan for next month,’ said Regina.

‘In the process of of making dishes in the kitchen, there will be some leftovers. We will use the lefovers to make some more dishes. Some vegetables like cucumber and coriander can be cut out again to make dishes for guests to eat for free,’ she said.

In this way, generosity can be part of the solution to the problem of food excess.

It is hoped that through efforts such as these, the ecological impact of food waste will be ameliorated.

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