Innovative responses in campaign against food waste

Wan Lixin
I was brought up by my mother in the belief that waste of food is a sin and might invoke the wrath of heaven.
Wan Lixin

Recently Chinese President Xi Jinping issued instructions addressing the outrageous problem of food waste, with a view to fostering a societal attitude that stigmatizes wasteful practices.

Many sectors are responding to the instructions with admirable promptness.

For instance, last week the press group I am working with came up with a set of guidelines aimed at curbing food waste in the canteen.

These include providing dishes in smaller portions (sometimes with reduced prices), supplying main food (which refers to steamed rice here) in the amount as dictated by the customer, and a “clean plate” initiative whereby if customers send pictures of clean plates at the end of their meal to an app for five days, they will be awarded a serve of pastry made by the canteen.

As someone brought up in the belief that waste of food is a sin and might invoke the wrath of heaven (as warned by my mother), it pains me to see how canteen food is often treated. Sometimes virtually untouched dishes get dumped, and all that is needed as an excuse is some judgement on the taste, usually passed in a neutral or lighthearted tone. But no extenuating circumstances are needed to vindicate the throwing away of such stuff as egg yolks, or fatty meat (which I still view as delicacies). They are fatally unhealthy, of course.

One truer explanation for waste is a growing lack of appetite for real food, as people become addicted to processed food that has been adulterated, manipulated, visually enhanced or aesthetically packaged.

Another explanation is vanity.

When business partners, friends or relatives meet, there is nothing more harmonizing than a well-spread table. And the amount of pricey dishes left unconsumed often reflects on the generosity and prosperity of the host.

In light of the recent campaign, a more rational practice, according to experts, is to first order food that might satisfy 80 percent of the guests’ need, and order more later if necessary.

Thanks to the recent campaign, Jiefang Daily recently reported, one restaurant in Shanghai has announced that if diners have the leftover food packaged for takeaway, the 15 percent service charge would be waived.

A lot of people tend to over-consume in buffet restaurants, and this gives rise to the jocular observation that a consummate buffet patron is one that staggers in leaning against the wall, and staggers out leaning against the wall.

To curb the tendency for people to take too much at a buffet, it is worthwhile to bring in a rule, already adopted in some places, that customers have unconsumed food packaged for takeaway, at a price.

If instances of wastefulness above-mentioned are still within scope of rational imagination, there are instances of excess verging on, at least it seems to me, crimes.

I have heard that some young women, in the hope of keeping a seductively slim figure, choose to first gorge and then throw up with the help of emetics. This is also a practice surreptitiously adopted by some livestreaming celebrities trying to show off the capacity of their stomach. There is also the need to learn from some of our neighbors, such as Japan.

When some conferences took me there in recent years, I found the lunch was mostly cold lunch boxes with portions that will definitely not send you to sleep in the afternoon sessions, and the feast (if at all) in the evening tended to end abruptly and prematurely.

The initiative to save food can also be better understood in the context of garbage sorting. According to municipal sources, since the “empty plate” initiative was implemented in 2012, household kitchen waste has been reduced by half, testifying to the efficacy of the drive.

But the problem cannot be addressed at one strike. Food waste is a chronic problem prone to relapse. A fundamental solution would call for the creation of long-term mechanisms that would sustain the current momentum.

Apparently, with primary and middle schools and colleges due to open soon, the campaign against food waste, if managed well, is expected to reap a rich harvest on school campuses.

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