News / Asia

Effects of Changing Tastes in China Extend Abroad

FILE - A customer looks at meat at a shop in Shanghai.
FILE - A customer looks at meat at a shop in Shanghai.
Mike Fussell
The traditional Chinese dinner plate is getting a makeover as tastes in the country begin to change. Exotic seafood and different meats are now being purchased at increasing rates.

In fact, China is the largest overall consumer of seafood in the world-with an increase of more than ten percent in fish consumption over the past decade according to the World Bank. During that same time, the USDA reports, the amount of pork people eat in China rose nearly 40 percent.

Michael Fabinyi, a Research Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, notes substantial socioeconomic trends are influencing what people eat in the Middle Kingdom. 
   
“This is part of a broader change in food consumption patterns in China that include a shift to a greater consumption of meat,” said Fabinyi. “Some of the broader, larger factors contributing to this shift are urbanization and increased incomes.”

Pork has always been a staple in China, but as the middle class in the country grows and has more money to spend, its consumption of this traditional meat-as well as others-is increasing rapidly.  

In addition to the evolving Chinese economy, social factors are driving people to buy more of these products than ever before. Fabinyi claims the luxurious banquet culture among the country’s elite is a large reason why the high-end market for seafood like live reef fish, sea cucumbers and shark fins is thriving. 
    
”It’s a way of cementing social ties with important business and government partners,” said Fabinyi. “Often, people who are in high level positions in government or the private sector attend several banquets a week as part of their work obligations. During these banquets, hosts are expected to impress their guests by serving very high status foods like these types of seafood.”

Analysts note Chinese regulations, recently put in place to eradicate government corruption, are diminishing the effects of banquet culture but high-end seafood and pork consumption are continuing to grow overall.  

In spite of this, some government policies are actually encouraging Chinese people to eat meat and seafood-and have done so throughout history.

USDA agricultural economist Fred Gale said Deng Xiaoping-one of China’s first post-Mao leaders who focused on directing the country toward a market economy-made it a point to support the changing diet to keep the Chinese people competitive in the global marketplace.  

“[Deng Xiaoping] stated, we must fundamentally change the racist food structure-increasing the meat and dairy intake in our diet to improve the physique of the Chinese people,” said Gale. “So, they will rank among the excellent members of humanity. At this point, meat and dairy became a nationalistic thing and promoting production became a major national policy goal.”

Regardless of the Chinese Communist Party’s intentions, negative effects associated with the increase of pork and seafood consumption are leaving a bad taste in some peoples’ mouths. Environmentalists argue there are ecological problems occurring on land and at sea within these animal populations.  

Fabinyi explained the environmental problem of over-fishing spans beyond China affecting countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia which are seafood suppliers-especially when ultra-effective methods are used to catch fish.
   
 “A tablet of cyanide is dissolved in a water bottle which is then squirted by a diver into the coral that stuns the fish,” said Fabinyi. “Then, the fish are scooped up and revived when taken back up to the surface. Because this is a much more efficient method than hook and line, it obviously is a large contributor to fishing pressure, apart from the effects that the cyanide has on the coral reefs.”

Problems associated with sourcing food are also an issue on land. Disease is affecting the increasing number of pigs imported from the United States. Most western breeds are not meant to be raised in outdoor areas.

But in China, these animals are being exposed to the elements as well as insects, mice and other carriers of dangerous illnesses. Gale said the effects of these conditions on the environment have many Chinese worried about food safety. 
 
“As the marketing chain distance between the consumer and the pigs increases, the consumers don’t really know where their pork came from or what’s in it,” said Gale. “There are a lot of things like this on the Chinese internet where a local person, in some village, is complaining about the big farms near his house and how they dump all this manure in the water making it undrinkable.”

But not every aspect of getting these increasingly popular foods to the dinner table is unpalatable. Fabinyi argues fishing opportunities for people living on islands with poor agricultural potential provide a livelihood for a population that has few other natural resources to draw from.  

“The trade in live-fish has been a massively important economic stimulus to local communities,” said Fabinyi. “Relative to where they were previously, many households have been able to improve their standards of living from assistance-level only to being able to invest in basic-level education for their children, some level of healthcare and material goods that have resulted in the improved standard of living.”

Chinese eaters are becoming more adventurous than ever before. In turn, as the flavors they seek grow in complexity, so do the effects of the country’s massive consumption. Food experts claim both the positive and negative consequences of China’s changing diet are already beginning to cross borders, become international issues and will continue to do so as consumption grows.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid