China: Changing horizons, changing diet

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Guardian: Food crisis, part 4, reports on the impact of urbanization and consumerism in China

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Story Transcript

VOICEOVER: The grimy suburban skyline of West Beijing is a new horizon for Jiang ["shway-WIN"]. The migrant from Yunnan province is one of tens of millions of Chinese who have moved from the countryside to the city in search of a better life. He and his family are part of a shift that is changing the world’s appetite, because as horizons change, so do lifestyles and diets. Born a peasant, Jiang is now a tennis coach. He has more money and new tastes. He used to grow food; today he buys it. And he is no longer satisfied with vegetables for every meal—now he wants meat.

JIANG (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Do you have short rib?

BUTCHER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Yes.

JIANG: How much is it?

BUTCHER: Nine Yuan per half kilo.

VOICEOVER: It is a trend repeated across the planet’s most populous nation that is affecting global prices of all commodities, including food. By western standards Jiang is a very modest consumer. His Beijing flat is small. The family are limited to one child. Their only home appliances are a fridge, a washing machine, a television, and a computer. But when he looks back at photos of his childhood home near Shangri-La, it’s clear how far he has moved towards the urban middle class. A big change is in diet. Millions in his grandparents’ generation died of starvation. The meal he is cooking now would have been a feast to his parents.

JIANG (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): In the past, children liked the spring festival partly because it was fun, but also because during the festivals they could have some meat. At that time, there were very few chances to eat meat. But now we can eat meat every day if we want. It has become part of our lives now.

VOICEOVER: Since 1980, the average Chinese person’s meat consumption has gone from 20 kilograms to 50 kilograms per year. It’s still far lower than in the US or Europe, but multiplied by 1.3 billion people, it’s pushing up prices of soya and grain that are used to fatten pigs, cows, and poultry. Jiang naturally wants a better life for his family and the relatives who come to visit, but he is concerned that China’s chopsticks could be diverted towards the West’s wasteful consumer ways. China is still relatively self-sufficient, but every year eight million farmers follow Jiang’s road from food-producing villages into hungry cities. To cope, he says, the next generation must learn the hard lessons from his rural childhood.

JIANG (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): The old Chinese saying is we wear cloth so we don’t get cold; we eat so we are not hungry. We should not eat too luxuriously ourselves, and it’s good if we can influence others to do the same. It would be even better if we could ask others to save food. My kid is very young, but when he drops even one grain of rice, I ask him to pick it up and eat it. I tell him it contains a lot of effort by an old farmer somewhere.

DISCLAIMER:

Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.