Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Chinese meat story: why Chinese people eat so much meat?

In China noticed that whenever I am invited to a restaurant, at my parents' in law.
My Chinese host will order many meat dishes.
For instance, there would be 5 dishes of meat, 1 fish and 1 vegetable.

In fact this is one of the main change in Chinese people eating habits.

Once meat was rare and expensive.
Eating meat was a sign of wealth and Chinese people wrongly believed and still believe eating meat makes you healthy.
As meat became affordable and as Chinese people became more wealthy, they started eating more meat and more often. Nowadays, many Chinese people want to show their wealth as it gives them a social status, they like to boast that they have meat everyday!

Not only Chinese people eat more meat dishes, they also use more meat when preparing some dishes. As you know Chinese dishes mix together different ingredients: meat, fat for taste, vegetable, oil... As Chinese people changed their habits the ratio of meat in Chinese dishes drasticly increased! In fact this a common trick in restaurants. In order to keep their costs low, they will use very little meat when preparing some dish. They will also use the worst part of the meat: more fat for instance.

Chinese people meat hierarchy.
And there is even a hierarchy between different types of meat!
First comes beef meat.
After all in the past it was almost impossible to have beef meat. And Chinese people believe that all foreigners eat beef meat! This is what makes them tall and "handsome". Foreigners are also believed to be wealthy.
In second position comes lamb, dog meat, duck.
In third position comes chicken, pork meat.

This ranking is based on Chinese people perception and also on prices. 
For instance a few days ago a french restaurant opened in Changsha. They call themselves steak house, french restaurant. Thus they use Chinese consumers perception. In many Chinese people mind, steak is prestige, expensive. French food is also prestige and expensive, thus steak is associate with french food. Steak is often believed to be a french dish!

Meat is the best part and should be offered to guests.
My mother in law always wants me and any guest to "eat meat and to take more meat". She is being kind, polite, hospitable.
She really believes that meat is the best food as it is the most expensive.

Meat makes you strong.
In winter Chinese parents often say: "you should eat more meat, it is cold outside". Meat is supposed to keep you warm, to make you strong.
A few years ago I even heard some tell me that it is healthy for their child to eat steak or even worst Mac Donald hamburger! This perception is changing but slowly.

Our bodies are not meant to eat meat everyday. We should eat meat not in large quantity maybe and probably only once a week!
Worst, Chinese meat is contaminated full of hormones... There was a scandals last year about KFC chicken meat which was said contained far too much hormones. Confronted with this issue, KFC simply apologized...

Meat is for men.
I have often witnessed in restaurant vegetable are ordered for women while meat dishes are ordered for men. Chinese women would rather eat vegetable than meat.
It might be some machism inheritage, perception? Meat makes men strong. They need it for the hard work. Women on the contrary can eat vegetable?

I would like to conclude quoting a friend:
In China you don't live to eat and you don't eat to live.
In China you should eat and survive.


  1. As a Chinese, have to say sth. Most points in this article are right. But few is wrong such as Meat for woman. We've all known, more and more Chinese girls want their bodies look like hot and slim. They only can eat more vegetable and less meat to keep fit. Every gathering, my female friends hardly eat meat.

    1. I think you are right, Chinese women want to keep thin, therefore they would rather eat vegetable.

      However this might not be the only reason.

      I believe there is more to it. In all culture meat has been associated to heavy work. Men should eat meat... I think even today there is this belief even though most Chinese people wouldn't know why they think this way.

      It is inside the subconscious...

      Let me take another example: Sometimes as there were not enough seat for everyone to sit down, I noticed that men would sit down but women, their wives, girlfriends would rather stand up to eat and let the men sit down... In a western perspective this would appear as machisme. Here in China it is rather being polite. China is ""a machist society"" (not in a negative way, as long as people like to live this way).

      I believe this extends to eating meat men vs women.
      Maybe I am wrond.