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Clean Your Plate, Waste No Food – China’s Anti Food Waste Campaign Is Sweeping the Nation

These are the main trends and topics in the context of China’s nationwide ‘Clean Plate campaign.’

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Empty plates, small orders, stop promoting excessive eating – China’s anti-food waste campaign is alive and kicking all across the country. These are some of the main social media topics and trends in the context of the ‘Clean Plate campaign.’

Since the call by President Xi Jinping to fight against food waste earlier this month, new regulations, initiatives and trends are popping up all over the nation to curb the problem of food loss.

Following China’s COVID-19 crisis, the ongoing trade war with the US, and mass flooding, President Xi called the issue of food waste “shocking and distressing,” as he stressed that the country needs to “maintain a sense of crisis about food security.”

According to numbers posted in online information sheets by state media, some 38% of the food at Chinese banquets goes to waste. In 2015 alone, an estimated 17 million to 18 million tons of food was wasted.

This is the second time in a decade for China to launch a ‘Clean Plate’ campaign (光盘行动). There was a previous campaign in 2013 that used the slogan “I’m proud of my clear plate.” The estimated annual wastage of grain in China at the time was estimated to be 50 million tons.

On Chinese social media, the 2020 “Operation Clean Plate” is receiving a lot of attention. These are some of the trending topics we have seen on Weibo in relation to the anti-food waste campaign.

 

RESTAURANTS

“N-1” Is the Way to Order, the “Waste Prevention Supervisor” Will Help You

One way restaurants are now addressing the problem of food waste is implementing the “N-1 ordering mode” (N-1点餐模式) which basically means that instead of a group of ten people ordering eleven dishes (N+1), they are advised to only order nine.

Famous Peking roast duck restaurant company Quanjude (全聚德) now advises groups of, for example, seven people to either take their set meal or to order no more than five or six dishes from the menu to avoid wasting food.

They have even appointed a “Waste Prevention Supervisor” (制止浪费监督员) in their restaurants to oversee customers’ orders.

The “N-1” idea is now being implemented in various cities across China.

Earlier this month, Sixth Tone reported that the Wuhan Catering Industry Association (武汉餐饮行业协会) was taking measures to limit the number of portions restaurant patrons can order. Now, the same measures are also being taken in other cities, like in Shijiazhuang (Hebei), Xianning (Hubei), Xinyang (Henan), Guangzhou (Guangdong), Quanzhou (Fujian), and other places.

One restaurant in Changsha got a bit too carried away recently, as it encouraged customers to weigh themselves and order food accordingly. The restaurant apologized after causing some controversy on social media.

 

TRAINS

Smaller Portions on the Gaotie

In line with the country’s anti-food waste campaign, some Chinese highspeed railway trains have also started introducing smaller portions for their in-train food services.

Instead of larger portioned rice meals or noodles, the Nanchang Highspeed Train now offers customers different small size portions in ‘blue and white porcelain’ bowls.

The initiative became a topic of discussion on Weibo (#南昌高铁推出青花瓷小碗菜#), where some applauded it while others complained that the meals were still relatively expensive while being small.

 

SCHOOLS

Be an “Empty Plate Hero”

China’s anti-food waste campaign is also actively promoted in schools across the country. Hundred primary schools in Jinan, for example, teach their students about combating food waste with a slogan along the lines of “Don’t leave food behind, be a ‘clean plate’ hero” (*the original slogan “不做“必剩客”,争做“光盘侠”” also has some word jokes in it).

The schools have also set up various activities to raise awareness of food waste.

 

ONLINE MEDIA

Operation Clean Plate: Empty Plates Snapshot

“Operation Clean Plate” is not just actively promoted in Chinese restaurants and in schools; Chinese state media and official (government) accounts are also promoting the campaign through social media.

The Weibo hashtag “Operation Clean Plate” (#光盘行动#), initiated by the Chinese Communist Youth League, had over 610 million views by August 21st, promoting the idea of “treasuring food, and refusing to waste it.”

Besides the Communist Youth League, other official accounts including China Youth Daily and People’s Daily also actively promote awareness on wasting food and encourage people to empty their plates. China Youth Daily even initiated the online trend of posting a pic of your own empty plate under the hashtag “Clean Plate Snapshots” (#光盘随手拍#)

Another hashtag, the Big Clean Plate Challenge (#光盘挑战大赛#), initiated by People’s Daily, had 290 million views by August 21, with hundreds of netizens posting photos of their before and after dinner plates.

Using the “clean plate” hashtags, many netizens are posting evidence that they are not squandering food.

 

EATING INFLUENCERS

Big Stomach Stars Need to Turn it Down a Notch

In 2018, we wrote about the trend of China’s “big stomach stars” (大胃王) or “eating vloggers’ (吃播女博主), an online video genre in which hosts will consume extremely large amounts of food (also known as the ‘mukbang‘ phenomenon in South Korea).

Since attempting to eat 17 kg (35 pounds) of meat by oneself – something that is actually done on camera by these kinds of vloggers – does not exactly fit the idea of China’s anti-food waste campaign, these eating vloggers are now being criticized in Chinese media.

Social media platforms such as Douyin (the Chinese Tiktok) have also taken action against the ‘big stomach stars.’ On August 12, the Douyin Safety Center published a video saying the app will not allow any behavior on its platform showing food-wasting or otherwise promoting activities that lead to food loss.

For now, popular Chinese eating influencers will have to adjust the content of their videos. Little Pigs Can Eat (逛吃小猪猪) is one of these influencers who recently has showed smaller portions and more empty plates in her videos.

 

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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China Food & Drinks

Man Throws Tantrum in Hunan Restaurant Over Food Being “Too Spicy”

“If you can’t handle spicy food, don’t go to a Hunan restaurant!”

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A video showing the angry outburst of a customer at a Hunan restaurant is going viral on Weibo. The incident occurred on December 3rd in Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, which is known for its spicy food.

The man was having dinner with five other guests, who started sneezing after eating some spicy dishes. The man then angrily complained to the waitress that the food was too spicy and that they were not able to eat it. “I’ve had Hunan cuisine before,” the man said: “But this is much spicier.”

Since there was “too much leftover food,” the man asked how the restaurant wanted to solve it, suggesting that they would not be charged for the dishes.

When the waitress offered the guests some free juice instead, the man starts throwing a tantrum, yelling: “You think I can’t afford juice myself?! I just said we have too much leftover food and I asked you how you want to handle this!” The waitress then repeats that she can offer free juice, after which the man aggressively throws a glass on the ground and takes off, screaming “We’re leaving!” to his friends.

The video shows the waitress looking distraught as the guests stand up and leave the restaurant without paying.

One hashtag dedicated to the incident received over 110 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#男子吃湘菜太辣打喷嚏要求餐馆免单#).

Most people commenting condemn the man’s angry outburst and him leaving without paying: “If you want to dine and dash, just be honest about it instead of first putting up such a performance,” one person writes.

“This is just an evil trick to avoid paying,” others say: “If it isn’t spicy, it’s not Hunan food.”

Many commenters said food being very spicy should not be a reason to leave without paying, especially not in Hunan: “If you can’t handle spicy food, don’t go to a Hunan restaurant!”

Another commenter wrote: “Some people think they can eat spicy food, but the real Hunan cuisine is too spicy for them. Hunan food in Hunan is different from the Hunan dishes served outside of the province.”

Hunan cuisine, also known as Xiang cuisine (湘菜), is known for being very spicy. One saying goes: “Sichuan people don’t fear spiciness, Guizhou people are fearless when it’s spicy, and Hunan people fear it’s not spicy enough.” (“四川人不怕辣,贵州人辣不怕,湖南人怕不辣”).

According to Sina News, the man apparently regretted his behavior the next day. On December 4th, he apologized to the restaurant and the waitress. He paid for his bill and also paid an additional 3 yuan ($0.50) to compensate for the broken glass.

The restaurant says the dispute is now resolved, and that no further action will be taken.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Food & Drinks

Hotpot Chain Haidilao Is Shutting Down Over 300 Restaurants

After adding 544 stores in 2020, Haidilao will close 300 locations this year.

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News that China’s most popular hotpot chain is closing down over 300 restaurants became a top trending topic on Chinese social media site Weibo on Friday.

Haidilao (海底捞) made the announcement on Friday evening through a social media post, saying the company will gradually shut down about 300 of its stores. The restaurants that are to be closed are those with relatively low customer traffic and lower-than-expected business performance.

Although the stores will be shut down before December 31 of this year, some of them will potentially reopen at a later date after reorganization. The company also said it would not lay off its staff for now.

Haidilao has approximately 1600 restaurants, of which many were opened in 2020, when the chain added an astonishing 544 new restaurants. In the summer of 2021, Haidilao had a total of 131,084 employees.

It has been over 25 years since Zhang Yong, the owner of Haidilao, set up his first hot pot restaurant in Jianyang, Sichuan, with a mere investment of 10,000 yuan ($1470). It later became the dominant hot pot chain in the country.

Hot pot restaurants, where fresh meat and vegetables are cooked at the table in the simmering broth, are extremely common across China. But Zhang Yong chose to market Haidilao and its authentic Sichuan hot pot with an innovative strategy: high-service, high-tech, and high-quality.

The restaurant is known for giving its customers a free manicure along with snacks and drinks while waiting for a table. The staff is thoroughly trained in providing the best customer service, and Haidilao has introduced new concepts throughout the years to enhance customer experience. People who dine alone, for example, will get a teddy bear to join them. The restaurant also introduced robot waiters and is known for its noodle dancers and staff singing birthday songs whenever there is a birthday celebration.

Want a bear to join you for hotpot? Haidilao’s got you covered.

Over the past two years, however, Haidilao’s table turnover rate shrunk dramatically. The average table turnover rate in 2019 was 4.8 per day, but that number fell to 3 times per day in 2021, with some restaurants only doing 2.3 per day, leading to significant losses for the company’s net profit.

Due to the Covid19 crisis and lockdowns, Haidilao closed its doors in late January of 2020. By mid-March, it started to gradually reopen some of its locations, although they initially offered fewer seats and introduced an increased distance between dining table, that were allowed to have no more than three guests.

Due to the restaurant’s limited tables and increased labor costs, its menu prices went up, much to the dismay of many netizens, who already thought the prices at Haidilao were steep before the pandemic.

In October of this year, the story of a Haidilao customer in Zhengzhou discovering that the 200 grams of tripe he ordered for 72rmb ($11) was actually only 138 grams also went viral on Weibo, stirring discussions on the Haidilao menu prices.

While news about Haidilao closing so many of its stores attracted over 260 million views by Friday night, many commenters agreed that the company should scale down. “The more stores you open, the less you focus on service, the surroundings of the newly opened stores are not up to par, while prices are only rising,” one person wrote on Weibo.

“They’re not making enough money, while their prices were already being pressed down, and still I can’t afford to eat there,” another commenter wrote.

Others also wondered how Haidilao could claim they would not sack their staff while closing down so many stores. “Does that basically mean they’ll wait for them to leave for themselves?”

“When there’s a pandemic, there’s bound to be bad luck [in business],” another commenter writes: “There’s really not much to do about it.”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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