January 23, 2010
Yesterday I spotted a segment on the China Central Television (CCTV) web site describing the vegetarian restaurant scene in China and the emergence of a low-carbon diet trend. Meat consumption has risen dramatically in China in the last few decades; research by Barry Popkin at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and others has shown that as income has increased in China, adults proportionally increase their intake of animal protein. But there are apparently some Chinese who are choosing a vegetarian diet in part because of the environmental impact of meat production.
A manager of a vegetarian restaurant tells CCTV that the average age of his customers is under thirty-three years old. “They’re particularly interested in the concept of eating for a low carbon life,” the manager says. “Young people are more environmentally aware and more open to new ideas. They love to be in the trend or lead the trend.”
It seems that China may also have its own future Meatless Mondays advocate: Liao Sha, owner of four restaurants in Beijing, says she thinks people should give up meat once a week. But even if vegetarian restaurant owners and managers are eager for people to go vegetarian at least once a week, the reasons for going meatless seem to be shifting. There were once 80 vegetarian restaurants in Beijing, many likely tied to Buddhist traditions, but the number has dropped to 50. Sha believes vegetarian dining can make a comeback, in part because “the vegetarian diet is aligned with the Chinese philosophy of harmony between the body and nature.” And if Chinese increasingly understand the climate as a key part of nature under threat, then the low-carbon diet may show up as a real trend, albeit difficult to measure.