Do we really need a subway ban on food and drinks?

By Ember Swift
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 6, 2013
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While the consideration of other passengers and safety issues are both extremely sound reasons for the ban, to disqualify every form of food consumption on the metro is an extreme measure that does not offer the Chinese public a chance to display common sense or mutual courtesy towards one another. Civilization training techniques, on the contrary, in the form of televised advertisements (through the metro's continuous stream of video advertising), along with posted reminders, will notify the public that certain types of foods are disrespectful if consumed in a public subway car. Then, it will be up to the passenger to adhere to these notices, not to mention the right of fellow passengers to point out the reminders or notices to each other.

Furthermore, banning food and drink consumption in the whole metro -- both on the platforms and in the subway cars themselves -- significantly complicates the lives of those with long commutes but low blood sugar or small children who would otherwise be appeased by consuming snacks regularly, for instance.

What's more, many foods are non-odorous such as nuts or nutritional bars or chocolate. If there is no disturbance to other passengers with the consumption of these kinds of edibles, why should they be considered offensive?

The regular consumption of water, as well, can be a very important health requirement for many members of society such as senior citizens or those with specific health issues. Without the opportunity to take a sip from one's water bottle and then securely fasten its lid afterwards, especially during the intense heat of summer, Shanghai may be placing some of its citizens in physical danger.

The Shanghai government has listed food and drink consumption on the same list of banned activities that includes spitting, smoking, urinating, defecating and begging. Combining food and drink consumption with these others acts is an insult to its populace. How can the daily required human act of eating and drinking --especially when there is not always a set space in which to do this when one is in transit (unlike a restroom for urinated and defecating) -- be placed on the same scale as the acts listed above? Additionally, as they have not banned eating and drinking on buses or other trains, the Shanghai government is creating a behavioral double standard dependent on the choice of public transit employed by its citizens.

There are other ways to encourage behavioral shifts in a populace.

For example, if the main issue is strong aroma, a reminder to passengers to "please refrain from the consumption of odorous foods" would suffice. Passengers cannot be stopped from wearing strong perfumes or transporting food that emanates odor, thus odors will occasionally be a disturbance to other passengers regardless of the metro's ban. Instilling awareness, on the other hand, will eventually shift behavior.

If a secondary issue is safety, a reminder to passengers to refrain from the consumption of foods that could spill such as noodles or sauce-filled items, would ensure that passengers first consider what they're eating before actually consuming it. If a spill is unavoidable, additional notices to passengers to either personally take responsibility for their spillage and clean it up or to immediately notify metro staff about the spill is an important step in ensuring passenger safety.

Behavioral bans give no power to the population to adjust their behavior according to general public opinion. Instead, it is forced adjustment, leading only to resentment or outright counteraction. The Shanghai government should place the onus on its citizens to model good public behavior, rather than placing the onus on a ban to enforce such behavior.

The author is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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