As mentioned in our first blogpost, the following series of posts will summarise the workshop on “Urban food, sufficiency, and sustainable agriculture in China” organised on August 26, 2023, in Guangzhou, China. This post covers the first part of the workshop.
The workshop started with inspiring opening remarks by Dr. Eva Sternfeld from the Sino-German Agricultural Center (DCZ) and Associate Professor Chen Tingting from Sun Yat-sen University, setting the tone for an engaging session. Marius Korsnes then introduced the MidWay project, paving the way for two thought-provoking presentations by the MidWay Advisory Board members.
Prof. Thomas Dubois’ presentation on “Approaches to meat in China: Commodity and cuisine” and Associate Professor Liu Chen’s research on “The digitalization of eating practices and its social and environmental consequences” were both eye-opening and inspirational. Dubois emphasized the need to study food not only as a commodity or culture but also as food. He highlighted that what constitutes enough depends on the context and the instance in question, for example, when we have visitors or eat alone. His message was clear: we must broaden our understanding of food as a commodity and a cultural experience.
Liu Chen’s research shed light on the social and environmental impact of digitalizing eating practices, arguing for a local understanding of how the interactions between digital platforms and urban lives impact consumption.
Dr. Liu Chen’s insightful presentation examined how apps are revolutionizing how Chinese people order takeaway; her research offers a compelling argument for a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between digital platforms and urban lifestyles. Drawing on Shin et al.’s (2020) research, she highlighted the increasing reliance on food delivery services and the need for more flexible options for busy professionals. Her thought-provoking conclusion challenged us to reflect on our behavior around food waste and consider what types of food practices lead to more waste and what can help reduce waste.
He next followed a session on dairy in China, which Dr. Michaela Böhme, Sino-German Agricultural Center, moderated. The first presentation was by Professor Bu Dengpan from the Institute of Animal Science, Chinese Agricultural Academy of Science, who pointed out that the dairy sector in China has become more concentrated, with fewer but larger farms. The average farm size in China is 377 dairy cows, a number which has grown steadily over the past 25 years. Demand for dairy products is growing in China, and most of the milk is produced in the northern regions, where the climate is better for cows. Prof. Bu pointed out that 70% of the milk comes from only one-fourth of the provinces, concentrated in Northern China around Hebei. Prof Bu also mentioned some environmental issues faced by the dairy sector in China, such as water and land scarcity, heat stress, and climate change. He said these factors can affect the productivity and welfare of the cows and the industry’s sustainability. He suggested that the dairy sector in China will continue to grow and steadily adopt more efficient and climate-smart practices in the future.
In the second presentation, Prof. Veronica Mak discussed how science, tradition, and government policies have contributed to the rise of milk production and consumption in China. Her presentation showed how milk has gone from primarily medicine to a staple food for a larger portion of the population. Nutrition science, milk technology, and government policy have been shaping milk production and contributing to what Prof. Mak terms the “milk craze” in China. Curiously, Prof. Mak also pointed to the role of Tetra Pak’s UHT packaging technology, which significantly increased the shelf-life of milk in China. Due to the popularity of reconstituted milk, dairy producers don’t need to rely on fresh milk from farmers, which has resulted in a distancing between milk as a fresh produce and the timing of its sale. Prof. Mak also pointed out that the dietary change towards more dairy products has significant environmental and health implications.
Dr. Xu Chenjia’s presentation on China’s dietary guidelines scrutinized the “lack of calcium” argument, contributes to increasing milk consumption. Over the years, dietary guidelines have evolved, and milk is now an everyday essential with a recommended consumption of 300g-500g per day. Dr. Xu pointed out that central actors like the Chinese Nutrition Society, dairy corporations, and state actors reinforce and reproduce scientific knowledge claims like “milk for calcium.” This, in turn, can lead to levels of milk consumption that are higher than strictly needed in terms of health and nutrition.
The first half of the workshop concluded with a panel discussion that included all the presenters from the first half. The panel summarized some of the shared themes from the presentations and tackled more significant questions, such as how the idea of sufficiency fits into the broader context of the increasing industrialization of animal agriculture in China.
Funded by the European Union (ERC, MidWay, project 101041995). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.