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‘Baozi Burgers’ as ‘Insult’? Global Times Editorial Attacks Western-Chinese Fusion Food

“It combines Western with Chinese fast food while ridiculing both food traditions for the sake of a marketing gag for expats with little or no culinary background.”

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“A new fad has flooded expat-oriented restaurants in Beijing,” author Lilian Hamilton writes for Chinese state media outlet Global Times in a recent video news feature. The video criticizes fusion foods such as the ‘Baozi burger’ or ‘Baozza’ (baozi + pizza) that mix popular Western and Chinese fast foods.

The feature was covered by Beijing blogger Jim Boyce on Beijingboyce.com, where he writes that “state-owned medium Global Times just cooked up a heaping serving of culinary cultural appropriation shade with a side dish of WTF. In this slide show, it takes aim at “baozza”, the tasty pizza-baozi combos I have covered here, here and here.”

Culinary ‘cultural appropriation’ has been an online issue of debate for some time now. In this Huffington Post article, for example, the author expresses that she finds it “painful” when, among other examples, the New York Times issues a recipe that features ‘pho’ (a type of Vietnamese soup) with broccoli and quinoa, or when 7Up releases a self-invented kimchi recipe.

 

It combines Western with Chinese fast food while ridiculing both food traditions for the sake of a marketing gag for expats with little or no culinary background.”

 

In the thousands of restaurants in cities such as Beijing or Shanghai there will be new food trends popping up every day. The ‘baozza’ is one of them; it is a steamed bun, called baozi (包子) in Chinese, filled with pizza ingredients.

By whatsonweibo.com.

The full text of the Global Times feature, which was also published as an editorial, is as follows:

A new fad has flooded expat-oriented restaurants in Beijing: BAOZZA (Baozi + pizza). Baozi is a common Chinese breakfast dish or snack. A fluffy steamed white bun with a vegetable or ground meat filling.”

Global Times.

Pizza is brought to life by the Italian thin crust dough and the right sugo (tomato sauce), mozzarella cheese and fresh toppings.”

Baozza claims to be ‘Pizza with Chinese characteristics.’ Instead, it combines Western with Chinese fast food while ridiculing both food traditions for the sake of a marketing gag for expats with little or no culinary background.”

There must be at least a temporary demand. Otherwise, a newly-opened bar in Sanlitun would not offer ‘Burger Baozi’ on their menu. With the bamboo steamer basket being a mere decoration, these grilled ‘baozi’ halves come with beef, chicken, Beijing duck or mushroom filling. While a boazi at your regular street vendor costs 2 yuan, you pay around 50 yuan for a ‘Baozi Burger.’

Luckily, these fusion food fads are usually gone faster than you can flush the remnants of your latest food poisening down the toilet.”

The article text by Lilian Hamilton also says that the ‘baozza’ “seems like an insult,” and is “wrong on just so many more levels.”

 

A growing movement of people call out ‘white people who profit off the culinary ideas and dishes swiped from other cultures’.”

 

At a time when cultural appropriation, in general, is a hot topic, the idea of the cultural appropriation of food has also become more of an issue of debate.

Defining the term and idea of ‘cultural appropriation’ itself is not easy. While the Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture,” the Urban Dictionary says it is “the ridiculous notion that being of a different culture or race (especially white) means that you are not allowed to adopt things from other cultures.”

A recent example is that of the American girl who wore a Chinese-style dress to her prom – something people in US seemed to take offense to, while most commenters on Weibo deemed the critique was silly.

The ‘cultural appropriation’ of food suggests that certain foods can be ‘confiscated’ when people from a dominant culture start to commercialize it.

A 2017 BBC article featured the views of Filipino-American food and travel photographer Celeste Noche, who finds it problematic that food bloggers will posts photos of, for example, Filipino short ribs with chopsticks (“even though Filipinos traditionally eat with spoons and forks or their hands”), or the stylization of Asian dishes on bamboo mats or banana leaves.

A Washington Post article from 2017 also addressed a growing movement of people who call out “white people who profit off the culinary ideas and dishes swiped from other cultures,” one of the names mentioned being Fuchsia Dunlop, a UK-born cook and food-writer who specializes in Sichuan cooking.

 

A “marketing gag”? More like genius and truly innovative..”

 

So are the ‘baozza’ or the ‘baozi burgers’ the next targets in the campaign against the ‘cultural appropriation’ of food?

The American inventer of the ‘baozza’, Alex Cree, evidently does not see anything wrong with it. He came up with the idea of stuffing a Chinese steamed bun with cheese, tomato, or other pizza toppings, during a trip with clients in southern China.

On Weibo, the only comments relating to Baozza are those of people who are curious to try out the ‘fad’ food. New or original food items such as these are often (temporarily) popular; another recent food item that attracted the attention of Chinese netizens was the Zang Baobao, a Chinese-French chocolate croissant product.

On Twitter, the attack on fusion snacks is also does not receive much understanding. “A “marketing gag”? More like genius and truly innovative! Way more tasty than traditional baozi,” @XiaoLan17 writes.

Damien Ma (@damienics) is already thinking of the next food fad; a ‘moonut’ that mixes Chinese moon cake with donut products.

Although Global Times‘s Lilian Hamilton and others might object, the rise of fusion food trends shows that snacks such as the Baozi Burger, the Baozza, or the potential ‘Moonut’ will not disappear from China’s big-city restaurant scene anytime soon.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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Backgrounder

Binging and Purging as Online Trend: From China’s “Big Stomach Stars” to “Vomit Bars”

China’s ‘Big Stomach Stars’ are all the rage – but is it really just harmless entertainment?

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Skinny girls that eat a week’s worth of food in one sitting: Chinese binge-eating vloggers are all the rage recently. But behind their cute image and happy fans, there are darker online discussions tying them to self-induced vomiting – something that is promoted in China’s so-called ‘vomit bars.’ How innocuous is this social media extreme-eating trend?

Mimi Zhang (aka Mizi Jun 密子君) has over seven million fans on her Weibo page. She regularly hits the top trending lists on Chinese social media, and even has her own online fanclubs.

Unlike previous rising Chinese social media stars such as Papi Jiang, the 26-year-old Mimi from Chongqing did not become an online celebrity because of her comic skills or acting talent, nor for her singing voice or dance moves. Mimi Zhang became famous for eating 8 lb (4 kg) of rice in one sitting, during an eating challenge in 2016.

Mimi eating 8lb (4 kg) of rice in one sitting.

By now, Mimi is one of China’s most successful ‘Eating Broadcasting’ hosts. Also called ‘Big Stomach Star Eating Livestream’ (大胃王吃播) or ‘Livestream Eating Vlogging’ (吃播女博主) in China, it is an online video genre in which hosts will consume extremely large amounts of food.

BJ The Diva during one of her livestreams.

In South Korea, it is known as the ‘mukbang‘ phenomenon, and the craze started there some years earlier, peaking in 2016. ‘Eating Broadcasting’ stars such as Kinoshita Yuka (video) and BJ The Diva (video) already had their moments of fame on the internet in South Korea, Japan, and beyond, but the genre only recently has become a real hype on Chinese social media.

 

Binging on Camera

 

Looking at the number of views and subscribers from YouTube to Twitch, or on platforms such as Kuaishou or Douyin, the ‘Eating Broadcasting’ genre obviously has millions of fans worldwide.

This online movement is innocuous in many ways. According to experts, people enjoy watching others eat because they feel a social connection, or want to stimulate their own appetite – it is one of the reasons why the craze is also dubbed ‘social eating.’

For many, the genre is simply entertaining; hosts often eat unconventional dishes, they are descriptive with taste, play around with their expressions, take on challenges, talk, and make funny sounds while eating.

Chinese food vlogger Duoyi (大胃王朵一) eats some skewers…

But what if ‘social eating’ becomes ‘binge eating’? How harmless is the genre if it shows skinny women eating excessive amounts of food, inadvertently promoting unhealthy eating habits and unrealistic standards?

Extreme binging on camera: eating noodles- not from a bowl, but from the back of a delivery car.

Along with Mimi Zhang, ‘Big Stomach Mini'(@大胃mini) is one other among many Chinese livestreamers that has achieved online stardom by eating large amounts of food. The 24-year-old reportedly is 1,70 m. tall and only weights 47 kilograms (103lbs), yet recently managed to eat a staggering 17 kg (35 pounds) of meat (video).

‘Big Stomach Mimi’

More and more, netizens are starting to connect these live-streamers to a habit of purging. Ongoing rumors suggest a supposed connection between binge streaming and vomiting.

Recently, various accounts claimed that Mimi Zhang used to have an account (using the name ‘Little Mi 360’ 小密360) on an online forum where people, mainly women, encourage each other to binge and purge.

 

China’s “Vomit Bar” (催吐吧) Community

 

China’s so-called “Vomit Bars” (催吐吧), online forums focused on binging and purging, have formed a hidden community on Chinese internet for years.

The phenomenon already came to light in 2012, and started to receive news media attention within China in 2015 and 2016. Most of the bigger online forums got shut down in 2017, however, after rumors circulated that a member of a ‘Vomit Bar’ had reached such a low weight that her organs failed and she passed away.

Example post from a ‘vomit bar’: 158 cm tall and 37 kg weight, but still wanting to lose.

Nevertheless, the online community consists of thousands of people, mainly women aged 14-40. A previously well-known forum on Baidu (now shutdown) had around 50,000 members called ‘rabbits’ (兔子) and over 5,5 million posts.

A “Vomit Bar” forum.

Since then, there are still some scattered forums, and a special Android app called ‘Meet Like Rabbits’ (相识于吐), where users can share their experiences and tips on message boards. On WeChat’s group chats, members of the community have more freedom to talk in private with less risk of being shut down.

The app for online purging community.

Members of the online ‘purging community’ are called ‘rabbits’ since the Chinese word for rabbit, tuzi (兔子), sounds similar to the word for ‘purging’ (tu 吐), and also because they eat all day, just like rabbits.

The main goal of these online forums is to share tips and tricks on how to lose weight by purging, while still binging on food. People also post photos of their binges or body, and share their hopes and fears in losing weight. “The way it is now, I could maintain a weight of around 46 kilograms,” one ‘rabbit’ writes: “I think it’s fat. My heart is filled with panic. I can only vomit.”

Netizens taking part in the ‘vomit bar’ community sharing photos of their binge food.

Newcomers ask others about best ways to vomit, and some people who say they’ve been binging and purging for years share experiences about their painful stomach and tooth decay.

Doctor Ma Yongchun (马永春) from Zhejiang Tongde Hospital since long has been warning people that these kind of online forums are harmful. She told iFeng news that the so-called ‘rabbits’ get caught up in a vicious cycle of binging and purging, and in doing so are developing serious eating disorders that can become life-threatening.

 

Eating Disorders in China

 

The Chinese ‘rabbit’ community could perhaps be compared to the Western ‘pro-ana‘ phenomenon, an online movement where people promote the behavior related to the eating disorder anorexia nervosa.

But there is one major difference; the ‘pro-ana’ community is connected to the term ‘anorexia’, suggesting that users of such forums are somewhat aware their behaviors are a sign of an actual eating disorder.

In these Chinese online communities, however, there seems to be a lesser acknowledgment that the cycle of binging and purging is one that belongs in the realm of a psychological disorder. Although people do complain that they feel they can no longer stop their irregular eating pattern, they talk more about their stomach aches and ulcers than they actually talk about suffering from an eating disorder.

This perhaps relates to the fact that there is little general awareness about eating disorders (ED) in China. Although there are no official statistics on the occurrence of bulimia, anorexia, or other ED in China, previous studies have found levels similar to Western countries (Tong et al 2014).

What various studies over the past years have also established is that there are major differences between Western countries and China in how eating disorders manifest themselves, suggesting they are not culture-bound but culture-reactive (Getz 2014, 749; Pike & Dunne 2015).

Because EDs are (1) traditionally conceptualized as a “Western mental health issue,” because (2) there is a social stigma attached to mental health issues in general in Chinese society, because (3) there is little general awareness on EDs, because (4) there is a lack in Chinese healthcare facilities specialized in EDs, and because of (5) various cultural factors (e.g. a very strong food culture), Chinese patients are more prone to talk about their problems in the form of somatic symptoms such as an extreme (dis)taste for food or abdominal problems, than in the form of a psychological problem (Getz 2014, 746-750).

 

Growing Awareness?

 

Recently, Chinese media slowly seem to be promoting more awareness on eating disorders. The American video “I became Anorexic for Instagram” has gone viral on Chinese social media over the past month, as it was posted by various state media channels on Weibo.

Among thousands of reactions, many said: “It seems that this kind of disease doesn’t occur much in China – we have too many tasty food!” Others said: “I want to lose weight too – I want an eating disorder like this!”

But there are also more and more people who are tying the rise of China’s online unhealthy eating trends to more serious issues. “These girls who eat so much [on camera] do not just have big stomachs, they actually puke in order to eat so much. I don’t find it entertaining to watch them anymore,” one netizen (@有兔劳劳) says.

“I now find it sad to watch these ‘big stomach stars’ (大胃王),” another person says: “They definitely vomit – it’s impossible for one person’s stomach to hold so much food.”

“What’s up with all these ‘big stomach stars’ recently? It’s not something they were born with, or something they were trained in doing; they are like those ‘rabbits’ and it is a disease, it’s bulimic. I don’t want to support them anymore by watching how they harm themselves,” another commenter writes.

Meanwhile, China’s binge-eating online stars seem to be unaffected by the online rumors that connect them to unhealthy trends and eating disorders.

This week, Mimi Zhang has posted her latest video in which she finishes a total of 15 desserts, while ‘Big Stomach Mini’ has posted a new video in which she eats, amongst others, 250 skewers of meat.

For some commenters, there is no issue at all: “She just has a great appetite.”

Are you suffering from an eating disorder and need help? For information on eating disorders and how to help if you are worried about someone, Beat (UK) or ANAD (US) has advice for sufferers, friends and family.

By Manya Koetse

References (online references linked to in text)

Getz, M.J. 2014. “The Myth of Chinese Barbies: Eating Disorders in China including Hong Kong.” Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing 21: 746-754.

Pike, Kathleen M., and Patricia E. Dunne. 2015. “The Rise of Eating Disorders in Asia: a Review.” Journal of Eating Disorders 3:33. Available online https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-015-0070-2 [17.1.18].

Tong, J., Miao, S., Wang, J. et al. 2014. “A Two-stage Epidemiologic Study on Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Female University Students in Wuhan, China.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 49(3): 499-505.


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China Food & Drinks

American Randy’s Illegal Changzhou Food Booth Sparks Discussion over “Double Standards for Foreigners”

Some accuse city authorities of double standards for allowing Randy to run his hamburger stall.

Luka de Boni

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When Chinese local authorities reacted leniently to the improvised breakfast food stall of ‘grandpa’ Randy in Changzhou, debates erupted on Weibo about double standards for foreigners in China.

A hot topic that has been included among Weibo’s top posts this week involves the American ‘Randy’, nicknamed ‘grandpa,’ who has set up an improvised and unlicensed breakfast food stall in the city of Changzou, Jiangsu province.

The post was shared by popular Weibo account Meishi Shijie (@美食视界, ‘Food Horizons’), which has 2.25 million followers. Within 72 hours, the post was liked more than 8000 times, shared over a 1000 times and received 2600 comments.

The topic was also widely discussed elsewhere on Weibo.

The post said:

American grandpa Randy recently opened a breakfast stall on a street in Changzhou, Jiangsu, selling hamburgers, hot-dogs, and mineral water. Because the food is so delicious and the stall so hygienic, his business has become very popular. This has come to the attention of city law enforcement, but they’ve not bothered him at all. In fact, they simply shook hands with him as they talked about matters regarding his license.”

Photo placed with the post.

According to People’s Daily, Randy is a 62-year-old American who has been living in Changzhou for seven years. He reportedly received permission from the local market to set up his stall there. He sells his hamburgers for 15 RMB (±$2).

The apparent lenient reaction of the city authorities towards Randy’s illicit food stall did not go down too well with some Chinese netizens. Many expressed that they felt the treatment was unfair, arguing that the leniency shown was based on the fact that the man is a white foreigner.

“What if the old man was Chinese? Surely the outcome would be different …” read the most popular comment, which was liked 4500 times.

“Wouldn’t they (the authorities) have confiscated the stall if he were Chinese?”, others wondered.

Many cities across China have seen crackdowns on unlicensed food stalls over the past year.

In the city center of Beijing, for example, many street food stalls have disappeared over the last years due to “civilized Beijing” campaign; street food is often seen as an indication of underdevelopment, but pollution caused by street barbecues and food safety issues are also said to be reasons for crackdowns.

Double standard for foreigners?

In the case of Randy, some netizens point out that had the street vendor been Chinese, authorities may have even resorted to violence to close down the food stall.

Confrontations between local officers and street vendors have turned into physical altercations before.

One popular comment, with more than 2000 likes, read: “Foreigners are
‘friendly’, but you wouldn’t hesitate to hit your own people..”

It is not the first time Chinese netizens complain about state authorities putting foreigners’ rights ahead of their own. Earlier this year, a video that showed the differences in dorms across China between foreign students and Chinese went viral. Many Chinese netizens felt outraged that the living conditions for foreigners were better than those of Chinese students.

In this case, there were also those netizens who came to the defense of the city authorities, saying they are generally good people and had been lenient with the American ‘grandpa’ because of their good will.

“Our city authorities here in Changzhou can be very helpful to the street merchants. Once, I saw with my own eyes as they helped some merchants move their watermelons back into their houses … do all people really think that they are monsters?,” said one commenter, gathering over 1700 likes.

Randy’s food stall is popular in Changzhou.

“There are many examples of local officers helping old grandpas and grandmas sell their vegetables. But you wouldn’t mention those, would you? To put it bluntly, you are being narrow-minded. How sad.”

But there are also those commenters who apparently only have one thing in mind: Randy’s hamburgers. They write: “I just want to go to Grandpa’s food stall..”

If they’re lucky, they’ll have a chance to taste Randy’s hamburgers soon; according to business media account @Avirex, Randy has now started to apply for an official license to run his hamburger stall, and is planning to open up his own fast food shop in the near future.

Note: It has come to our attention that Randy’s food stall generated media attention in 2014. The state media article referred to in this article also is from 2014. Nevertheless, this topic (again) became trending this week, along with the aforementioned discussions. All comments quoted in this article are from this week. If you have any updates as to how Randy is doing now and if he in fact has started up his restaurant, we’d like to know for a follow-up!

By Luka de Boni

This article has been edited and modified for clarity

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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