China’s state-run Global Times newspaper claimed on Wednesday that “chewing grass,” a slang term for light eating, had become a booming trend among China’s youth due to their preoccupation with health and fitness.
The Times noted that Weibo, a social media outlet whose content the Chinese Communist Party heavily regulates and censors, was promoting “light meals” as a trending topic on Tuesday. The topic featured photos promoting the exclusion of Chinese food basics like rice and pork from users’ daily menus.
The sudden interest in smaller meals omitting key items in a traditional Chinese diet follows the launch of dictator Xi Jinping’s “Clean Plate” campaign late last year, which resulted in the passing of laws that punish restaurants that serve meals the Communist Party deems too large and heavily regulates catering at weddings and other private events. Government agencies claimed the “Clean Plate” campaign was a response to egregious food waste promoted through social media binge eating videos, urging observers to dismiss the timing of the launch – immediately after nationwide floods devastated a significant portion of China’s farmland and an African swine flu outbreak severely limited the country’s pork supply.
The Global Times made no mention of food shortage concerns in its “chewing grass” feature while noting the Weibo posts promoting a light diet notably abstained from consuming the agricultural products most damaged by last year’s floods.
“The topic of ‘light meals’ was the second-hottest topic on Sina Weibo at noon on Tuesday, as netizens shared their light meal photos on social media,” the Times reported. “Some showed steamed and sliced purple sweet potato and pumpkin to replace rice, and others had chicken and fish instead of pork, which is considered to be healthier even though the amount of calories is similar.”
“More Chinese, especially young people, are choosing light meals with less carbohydrates and more vegetables. This trend, observers say, reflects the fact that anxiety over appearance is increasing in society,” the state propaganda outlet claimed, “but if also shows increased interest in healthier lifestyles amid reports that China accounts for almost half of global gastric cancer cases.”
“Jokingly referred to by young people as ‘chewing grass,’ the light meals are a healthy alternative to the more common dietary habits in some parts of China, such as spicy hotpot in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province using red chili oil as a soup base,” the outlet alleged.
An anonymous Chinese career woman claimed that young people in the country are engaged in “an invisible competition” to get fit that includes extended late-night gym sessions and competing over who is eating the healthiest lunch in the audience.
China endured significant crop destruction last year after floods along the Yangtze River affected 27 of the country’s 31 provinces and threatened the integrity of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest in the world. Estimates suggested that the floods resulted in as much as $1.5 billion in economic losses including the destruction of entire communities in addition to farmland. Officials estimated that 55 million people suffered adversely from the floodly.
Xi Jinping launched the “Clean Plate” campaign in August, shortly after the flooding concluded. In his announcement of the program, he called food waste in the country “shocking and distressing” and particularly condemned videos on social media showing thin people, often small women, eating extreme amounts of food for entertainment. Xi did not link the food waste campaign to the potential food shortages, but Chinese state media outlets insisted they were unrelated.
“Observers noted that adoption of the legislation against food waste does not imply that China is facing an immediate food shortage risk,” the Global Times insisted following the passage of laws limiting food portions at restaurants, “but it is a far-sighted move for food security as the country seeks to stabilize domestic grain output and ensure supply, facing increasing domestic demand for grain due to population growth and external uncertainties.”
The outlet also dismissed public speculation among experts that China was enduring a more formidable food crisis than it had claimed as “media hype.”
In February, Chinese Minister of Agriculture Tang Renjian admitted that China’s food supply was “under pressure” and Beijing needed to “stabilize” it. That same month, Xi Jinping announced that China had declared “complete victory” against poverty. Skeptics noted that, to do so, the Communist Party had significantly redefined “poverty” from the generally accepted standards used by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other global institutions.
The Global Times insisted against last week that China’s has “has reached basic self-sufficiency in staple food” and that volatile international food prices would not affect supply.
“Experts said that the country has the capacity to maintain a stable and sufficient domestic grain market, as annual grain output has surpassed 650 billion kilograms for six consecutive years and the country’s grain storage remains at a high level,” the propaganda outlet relayed. “Recently, Chinese authorities announced a spate of measures to ramp up support for grain production in 2021, demonstrating the central government’s resolve to ensure food supply.”