Launching frugality drive, Chinese President Xi calls for ‘sense of crisis’ on food security

China is mulling mechanisms to prevent wastage of food days after President Xi Jinping called the amount of food wasted in the country “shocking and distressing”.

Xi’s renewed call for the “clean plate campaign” comes in the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has battered the Chinese economy into contraction this year, and the worst floods in years impacting rice production areas in China.

Chinese official media, Xinhua, quoted Xi calling the issue of food waste “shocking and distressing” and said it was important to “…maintain a sense of crisis regarding food security”.

The phrase “sense of crisis” about food also recalls the time of Chinese leader Mao Zedong in the early 1960s when the country was ravaged by famines.

Beijing, however, has said that despite the twin problems of epidemic and floods, the agriculture sector has yielded “bumper harvests” this year.

Catering groups, reports said, responded to Xi’s call by embracing a so-called “N-1 policy” — urging customers to order one dish fewer than the number of diners at a table.

No new national statistics is available about food wastage in China but a 2018 report by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) said consumers wasted 17 million to 18 million tons of food served in big cities in 2015.

The amount wasted could have fed 30 million to 50 million individuals or the total number of people living in South Korea, officials had then pointed out.

Following the publicity given to Xi’s call, short-video platforms have begun to crack down on “competitive eaters”, many of whom waste or spit out the food they ordered.

“Such shows have been condemned by many netizens and generated heated discussions on Sina Weibo. The related hashtag had been viewed more than 830 million times as of Thursday afternoon,” a state media report said.

Xi had first launched a similarly titled campaign against food waste in 2013 but rather than the general public it focused on feasts and banquets hosted by Communist Party of China officials on government funds.

Xi’s call on food waste, an editorial in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post pointed out also recalled Mao’s time during the Great Leap Forward between 1959-62

“China’s leader has urged the country to maintain a sense of crisis about food security…It is a reminder of the Mao Zedong era when Chinese leaders, prompted by natural and man-made disasters, encouraged people to store food. It was a time of widespread hunger and starvation,” the editorial said.

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