The Chinese adore their food. Like the French, they take great pride in their cuisine. No surprise then that the International Food Festival that just ended on August 17 in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning Province, caught the attention of many.
For not entirely the right reasons.
The highlight of the festival was the "Delicacies of China" exhibition. On show was a meal, the Man Han Quan Xi, tailor-made for the royal family during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The meal comprises 196 dishes. More than 80 actors, 30 chefs and 30 other staff and 200,000 yuan (US$24,674) were used to stage the exhibit.
At the end of the three-day exhibition, most of the 196 dishes, and one could say the 200,000 yuan, was thrown out with the garbage.
As thoughtless as the wastage from the exhibition might appear, it is by no means an isolated case.
After any given meal at any given restaurant, up to 10 percent of the food ordered is wasted. On average, restaurants across the country discard 50 kilograms of leftovers every day. In Shaanxi Province alone, 5,000 tons in leftovers are thrown away each and every day. In the first half of the year, more than 1 billion yuan worth of food or table leftovers was wasted.
Projecting that figure on a nationwide basis, that works out to about 60 billion yuan a year.
Despite the figures, the shocking reality is that most people are accustomed to wastage and being wasteful. It is not uncommon to see waitresses and waiters clearing tables of dishes that were barely eaten.
The situation is much worse when one considers "happy" occasions like weddings and festivals. Not only is it normal for people not to flinch at the sight of food wastage, it is deemed almost necessary for that added festival atmosphere.
A Mr Yan who just celebrated his wedding, told journalists that he thought that it was the done thing to serve each table of guests with at least 10 dishes although he knew that there would be plenty of leftovers. "People will laugh at you if the amount of food served is just enough," Mr Yan said.
If we do the sums, the 200,000 yuan worth of food that was wasted making the "Delicacies of China" exhibit is equal to the 30-year income of a farmer in Shenyang. Even more startling is that the 1 billion yuan that was thrown into the garbage bin over a six-month period in Shaanxi could have gone towards supporting 2 million children under Project Hope at 500 yuan per child per year. Project Hope is a national community project that helps put needy children through school.
Thankfully, some restaurants are seriously thinking of taking matters into their own hands to deal with the wanton wastage. The manager of a restaurant in Shanghai said that they are thinking of imposing fines on diners who over-order and refuse to take leftovers back with them. The manager explained that since the restaurant opened, some 1.5 tons of leftovers have been thrown away.
On August 12, 232 restaurants in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province, proposed that cards be placed on tables to remind customers to either take leftovers with them or to only order what they need.
While such measures are laudable, the bottom line is that food wastage is a problem that needs to be tackled by society at large. The concept of "face" must give way to a concept of reducing wastage.
(China.org.cn by Li Xiaohua, August 29, 2005)