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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs