Waste not, want not: Do singles face a tougher battle over food waste?

Andy Boreham
What will you change in order to waste less food?
Andy Boreham
Waste not, want not: Do singles face a tougher battle over food waste?
Illustration by Andy Boreham

China’s new “Clean Plate” campaign may be easier said than done for the country’s singles. 

The country has swung into action at lightening speed following President Xi’s call to stop food wastage, but how hard will it be for the average singleton to take up the challenge?

Xi announced recently that he hopes China can put an end to food waste and promote “thriftier” eating habits. He called the country’s food wastage “shocking and distressing” and said we need to “maintain a sense of crisis regarding food security.”

This led to the launch of nationwide legislative action as well as regional campaigns, including here in Shanghai, which mainly target restaurants and tourist sites that offer dining.

Restaurants around the city are being asked to participate in the campaign by helping customers to refrain from ordering too much, encouraging them to take leftovers home and offering half-portion or smaller options of dishes. Restaurants will also be asked to clearly indicate the amount of food in a dish and the recommended number of diners.

Dining as a single

In a country where eating food is largely a social matter and a number of dishes is required in order to get the correct amount of meat, vegetables and carbohydrates, eating out without wasting food can be an ordeal for the average single who isn’t always eating with others.

On top of that, it’s hard to buy fresh vegetables in small quantities at times, with farmers’ market workers either pressuring you to buy more or offering small portions for free, which obviously isn’t sustainable in the long run.

As a single I don’t often cook myself, but when I do it can be hard to buy adequately small servings of fresh broccoli, cauliflower, coriander and so on.

The staff will then add more into the bag before weighing without even asking or just give it to me for free, because 5 jiao (7 US cents) worth of spring onion just isn’t worth the effort.

If I buy more to avoid that awkward scenario, the food I don’t eat that day often goes to waste in that mysterious bin at the bottom of my fridge.

And then there’s the issue of eating out.

As a single, whenever I’m eating alone my choices of places to go are severely limited because of the setup of many Chinese restaurants which are, by and large, designed for group eating.

Instead of heading to a Xinjiang restaurant and ordering a meat dish, a salad and some bread which I definitely couldn’t finish myself, I need to instead head to noodle shops or fast food joints that offer combo meals for one.

This issue will hopefully be solved with these new regulations, because now solo diners will be able to enjoy a wider variety of smaller dishes that don’t require food to be thrown away or packaged up and taken home.

Changing habits

The “issues” I mentioned above aren’t insurmountable, and what President Xi is really hoping for is a fundamental change in attitude towards food. I’m up to the challenge.

If there is one thing I can try to do to limit my own food wastage it is to cook more at home. If I make my own meals at least two or three times a week I won’t be forced to buy tiny amounts of fresh vegetables, since broccoli and onions and potato and so on can easily last at least a few days in the fridge while retaining their freshness and nutritional value.

What will you change in order to waste less food?

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