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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs