27 August 2010

More Choices for Ordinary Chinese

As disposable income increases in the world’s most populous country, ordinary Chinese are getting far more choices than ever before. That includes what they eat.

Up to now, the Chinese have not been as concerned as people in the West about nutritional issues. But that’s largely because fast-food only arrived in China two decades ago. Although shopping daily for fresh food has always been essential for Chinese cuisine, choices for ordinary people were limited in Mao’s China. The days of mounds of cabbage stacked under quilts on the tiny balconies of soviet style apartment blocks are not totally over. But one is hard-pressed to find them in China’s gleaming new cities.

On early-morning walks in Beijing last year, I was struck by the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables that ordinary Chinese now have to choose from at bustling street markets: bananas, mangoes, and papaya from the south; apples, melon and grapes from the north-west. A far cry from the few curious looking vegetables that were on sale when I lived in Beijing 25 years ago. In those days, what a treat it was for the office staff when somebody came back from a field trip to a far-flung place like Hainan Island with a sack full of pineapples!

Longfu Temple market in Beijing, near the Forbidden City (photo above), operates every morning from 6 to 8 a.m. After that, everything is cleared away and the area cleaned. It’s not actually a farmers market; it’s run by a company that buys from farmers and wholesalers.

China’s love affair with McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried is by no means over. But with child obesity becoming the nation’s number one nutritional problem, fresh fruit and vegetables are making inroads

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