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A new campaign by Chinese President Xi Jinping encourages citizens to be conscious of how much food they waste. This so-called Clean Plates Campaign may be a positive direction for a country with such a large population and notable food waste issues, but some are concerned about what it signifies. Questions are naturally bubbling to the surface about what could have prompted this sudden resolution and on how it should be implemented.

The recent outbreak of coronavirus has had a major effect on international agriculture. But, despite China’s outsized population, the country could largely feed itself without the need for imports. But China still relies heavily on imported food for its economy. While crops are abundant within the country, a recent outbreak of the swine flu has devastated pork production, and flooding has had a notable effect on the output of crops like rice. Compound these conditions with the worldwide Covid-19 epidemic, and you’re left with a perfect storm of circumstances that could jeopardize China’s food stability. But as with many aspects of China’s economy, any specific conclusions are speculative. If China was facing a food shortage issue, it’s unlikely that President Xi Jinping would be forthcoming about it.

Also drawing attention is the haphazard implementation of the Clean Plates Campaign. As of now, there are no regulations on a national level, and that means that actual implementation of conservation methods can vary wildly from one city to the next. One restaurant has seen notable criticism for weighing its customers before entry and recommending meals based on their weight. Other restaurants have placed the impetus for conservation on the part of the staff – deducting from their pay for customers who leave the restaurant with food on their plates.

Regardless of the reasoning behind the Clean Plates Campaign or the regulations implemented on a personal, regional, or national level, changing the habits of citizens on such a large scale could be an uphill battle. Dining is as much a social experience as it is a means for nourishment. Spending richly on others is a means to show off one’s generosity and wealth, and social programming can be difficult to overcome. Ultimately, if a food shortage is in the cards, it’s likely the poorest who will suffer the greatest. And even if shortage issues are restricted to imported luxury items, many citizens could find themselves relying on rice and little else until national and international conditions improve.

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