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Friday, August 24, 2018

The World Needs For China to Rejuvenate its Plant-Based Diet--UPDATED

I have mentioned before that as China gets richer, the population has been demanding more meat in the diet, especially pork. While the pigs are mainly grown in China, a lot of the food for those pigs is grown elsewhere and imported to China. Since nearly one in five humans lives in China, this is a big deal. The environmental impact of growing food for the pigs and the climate impact from pig waste all are huge problems going forward. 

There may be hope in sight, however, given the prospect of new innovations in plant-based diets in China. The story is from The Economist's 1843 magazine, and I thank my older son, Professor John Weeks, Jr., for pointing it out to me.
In the last few years there has been a rush in demand for vegan and vegetarian foods in Western countries. Much of it is coming from flexitarians – people who have not renounced meat completely but want to cut their consumption. To satisfy them, companies are developing products that look, taste and feel as close as possible to meat and dairy dishes – most famously a plant-based burger made by Impossible Foods that appears to bleed like a rare beef patty.
Amid this flurry of innovation in the West, it’s worth remembering that the Chinese have been using plant-based foods to mimic meat for hundreds of years. In the time of the Tang dynasty (AD618-907), an official hosted a banquet at which he served convincing replicas of pork and mutton dishes made from vegetables; in the 13th century, diners in the capital of the southern Song dynasty (Lin’an, now Hangzhou), had a wide choice of meat-free restaurants, including those that specialised in Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.
The tradition is still alive in contemporary China. In Shanghai, most delicatessens sell rolled-tofu “chicken” and roast “duck” made from layered tofu skin. Restaurants offer stir-fried “crabmeat”, a strikingly convincing simulacrum of the original made from mashed carrot and potato flavoured with rice vinegar and ginger. Elsewhere, Chinese food manufacturers produce a range of imitation meat and seafood products, including slithery “chicken’s feet” concocted from konnyaku yam and “shark’s fin” made from translucent strands of bean-thread noodle.
My wife and I gave up meat 30 years ago when we got our first German Shepherd. It was an animal rights decision, not an environmental impact decision, but over time two important things have happened: (1) our knowledge of the environmental impact (not just the inherent cruelty) of growing animals to kill and eat them has expanded exponentially; and (2) the volume and quality of plant-based diets has expanded exponentially. This latter aspect is a great trend not just for China, but for the entire planet. 

UPDATE: A special report today from Reuters discusses the ecological damage being done in Brazil as it tries to meet China's demand for meat and grain:
Deforestation in the region has slowed from the early 2000s, when Brazil’s soy boom was gaining steam. Still, farmers continue to plow under vast stretches of the biome, propelled largely by Chinese demand for Brazilian meat and grain. The Asian nation is Brazil’s No. 1 buyer of soybeans to fatten its own hogs and chickens. China is also a major purchaser of Brazilian pork, beef and poultry to satisfy the tastes of its increasingly affluent consumers.
Rising trade tensions between China and the United States have only deepened that connection. Brazil’s soybean exports by value to China are up 18 percent through the first seven months of the year as Chinese buyers have canceled tens of millions of dollars’ worth of contracts with U.S. suppliers.

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