China’s state-run Global Times published multiple condemnations this week of a largely favorable article in Time magazine highlighting the growing meat substitute industry in the country, accusing those urging vegan diets in China of having a “sense of superiority” over Han Chinese people.
China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases fueling climate change. A 2018 scientific study described reducing the consumption of meat products as the “single biggest way” to reduce the harmful effects of pollution on the world environment. China consumes so much meat that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) listed an African swine fever epidemic in the country in 2019 as the “primary” reason for a global decline in meat consumption that year.
Environmental and animal rights groups, as well as public health experts, have also increasingly criticized the Chinese phenomenon of “wet markets” in the era of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic. Wet markets are open-air locations where consumers have access to live animals killed on sight to be purchased for food. Many markets feature exotic animals and face minimal oversight, prompting accusations of being hubs of disease. The Chinese government initially blamed a wet market in central Wuhan city for the initial spread of the Chinese coronavirus, though it has since pivoted to claiming that the U.S. military secretly began infecting people with it in Maryland in 2019, citing no evidence.
China reopened its wet markets in April with the approval of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.).
The Global Times urged those concerned about growing meat consumption in China — naming former President Barack Obama specifically — to instead express more concern with nations like Argentina and New Zealand, where beef consumption is high compared to other states but carbon emissions are relatively negligible.
“In recent years, the West has constantly raised concerns over the impact of Chinese eating meat on the environment,” the Global Times observed this weekend, quoting the CEO of the meat substitute company Impossible Foods, Pat Brown, stating, “every time someone in China eats a piece of meat, a little puff of smoke goes up in the Amazon.”
The Times also took issue with a remark Obama made in an interview in 2010: “If over a billion Chinese citizens have the same living patterns as Australians and Americans do right now, then all of us are in for a very miserable time. The planet just can’t sustain it.”
The newspaper accused Obama and those concerned about meat consumption in China of bigotry.
“In the eyes of some Western elites, Westerners can have the privilege to eat meat while Chinese should just eat grass,” the outraged newspaper accused. “They are reluctant to see Chinese are living an increasingly abundant life, and that the living standards of the Chinese are getting closer to the Westerners.”
The Global Times claimed that a declining “sense of superiority” was fueling environmental concerns, particularly towards “their political system … when they see Chinese, whose political path and values sharply differ from them, can also enjoy a better life.”
“Their intent of groundless blame and ‘moral kidnapping’ in the name of protecting environment [sic] or assuming international responsibility is simply to smear China’s international image and contain its further development,” the government publication concluded.
In a separate article also published this weekend, the Times cited Chinese “netizens” — the social media users the Communist Party allows to share their opinions online due to their favorable takes on the regime — calling Time and the West generally “hypocritical” for expressing any concern about meat consumption in China.
“Chinese observers booed the article,” the Global Times claimed, “saying the biased view was ridiculous and highlighted a double standard. Western media always hype China’s annual meat consumption but ignore the large population of China.”
The “netizens” allegedly insisted that only per capita meat consumption figures, and not the actual amount of meat eaten in each country, was a valid metric. The article nonetheless noted that China consumes half the world’s port and 28 percent of the world’s meat while insisting these data were unfair to China.
The article also decried that America is “historically” the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, despite the fact that this is no longer the case, and claimed China “has done a good job on reducing carbon emissions,” without significant elaboration.
A pro-government “expert” appeared in the article, again raising the specter of anti-Chinese bigotry.
“Are Chinese people inherently inferior to enjoy the standard of living as those in Western developed countries?” the “expert” asked.
The aggressive response to the Time article disregarded that the American magazine favorably painted China as a leader in plant-based eating, going so far as to speculate that its authoritarian government, believed to run the world’s largest concentration camps, is a net benefit to the world environment.
“Crucially, state action could have real consequences — China’s authoritarian system enables it to dictate commercial priorities and consumer behavior across its 1.4 billion population,” the article claimed, praising China for being “on the cusp of a plant-based-protein revolution” and for maintaining a traditional cuisine that prioritizes plant-based food.
In contrast, Time described Americans as “indoctrinated by a powerful meat lobby and a founding myth built around cowboys and beef ranches.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a U.S.-based animal rights organization that has both condemned the continued existence of wet markets and highlighted Asian cuisine in its slate of vegan recipes, emphasized in a statement to Breitbart News that it, as the preeminent pro-animal organization in the West, is seeking not just the promotion of plant-based diets in China.
“PETA wants the world to go vegan, and the U.S. and Europe could learn a thing or two from China, where foods like mock duck and soy-based pork originated and vegan brands like OmniPork, Starfield, Z-Rou, and Beyond Meat are booming,” Jason Baker, the vice president of PETA Asia, said in a statement. “We believe China can continue to lead by encouraging its citizens to abandon filthy pig factories and ‘wet markets.'”
China’s growing economy — setting a record for its trade surplus in 2020 — allows for both the reality that plant-based protein companies are increasingly popular and meat consumption is booming. Time‘s praise for plant-based eating in China follows the Global Times‘ boasting late last year that “China’s appetite for meat is showing no sign of slowing down.”
“The country is the world’s largest consumer of meat by some margin, with citizens expected to eat 40.3 million metric tons of pork in 2020, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),” the Times noted in November, highlighting the exact data it chided Time for mentioning this week. Rather than identifying the low level of per-capita meat consumption compared to Western countries as an environmentalist victory, the Global Times said in November that the fact shows “huge potential for future growth” in meat consumption.