Saying that the coronavirus pandemic has “sounded the alarm” on issues surrounding food security, Chinese President Xi Jinping is challenging Chinese cities to propose creative solutions to avoid food waste.
According to Chinese state news agency Xinhua, Xi said in a speech on Tuesday, August 11, that the volume of food waste in the country was “shocking and distressing.”
Xi called for cities to step up efforts to strengthen legislation and enhance supervision to stop food waste in the long term, Chinese-state linked outlet CGTN said. The outlet added that Xi said each individual grain of rice on a plate represents “hardship,” as the coronavirus has caused food prices in China to rise.
In addition to swelling food prices, recent mass flooding in the southern Jiangxi province has devastated swaths of farmland, increasing the precarity of local food production. According to Xinhua, the floods damaged over 1.2 acres of land used for growing crops and caused $1.16 billion in damages.
In response to Xi’s calls for creative problem solving of the looming food crisis, several Chinese cities proposed limiting the amount of food diners can order at restaurants.
In an open letter on August 11, the Wuhan Catering Industry Association proposed an initiative, deemed “N-1,” that would limit one dish for every diner, minus one.
“If there are 10 people, they are only allowed to order nine dishes,” the letter said, adding that more food could be ordered if diners were still hungry only after they finished their meals.
The letter also called for restaurants to introduce half-portions and to-go boxes in order to further limit waste.
According to The Guardian, several other cities, including Xianning in the Hubei province and Xinyang in the Henan province, also suggested implementing the N-1 policy.
The Guardian added that in Chongquing, a municipality in the Yuzhong district, local authorities promised to heed Xi’s request and make sure consumers were “eating frugally.” A local newspaper reported that food waste was “still common” in some restaurants in the city, as diners ordered more food than they could finish.
Some Chinese social media users called out the N-1 policy for being impractical.
"What if one person goes to a restaurant alone? How many dishes can he order? Zero?" asked one person on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, reported the BBC.
“This level of control. Even the number of dishes people order has to be regulated?” another Weibo user posted, according to The Guardian.
A 2015 Chinese report indicated that urban diners wasted up to 18 million tons of foods—roughly enough to feed between 30 to 50 million over the course of a year.
Xi’s speech comes on the back of a 2013 campaign called “Clean Your Plate,” which called on Chinese diners to finish their meals at restaurants.