Chinese New Year custom of eating and drinking is outdated

By Chen Zeling Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/13 19:08:39


Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Chinese New Year is just around the corner. Considering the once-a-year holiday is the most important occasion in China, many people keep traditions related to this festival more than any other holidays. Two of the most important and most common traditions are setting off fireworks and dining/drinking. Unfortunately, both activities can have negative effects.

Setting off fireworks is believed to scare away a terrifying monster called Nian based on Chinese mythology, which is the very origin of the New Year. The loud sound is also greatly enjoyed by people for creating a boisterous atmosphere.

But the smoke is detrimental to our environment. So it is good to see that many cities around China, including Shanghai, have recently banned setting off fireworks in central areas. According to new regulations, no fireworks or firecrackers are allowed within the outer ring of Shanghai.

Besides these rules, people are shying away from fireworks because of more awareness of the importance of a clean environment. However, a more harmful effect of the festival traditions, which hasn't been recognized by many, is that people waste so much food when dining together.

Research conducted from 2013 to 2015 by Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research showed that Chinese people waste 18 million tons of food every year, an amount which could feed 50 million other people for an entire year.

Chinese New Year is when most food goes wasted during the year. A holiday atmosphere can induce extravagance. It is the same in some Western countries. Research by an Italian consumer organization showed that, in 2017, the value of wasted food in Italy during the social Christmas lunch is equal to 20 percent of all food consumption, which has raised concerns among the public, according to media reports.

In addition, Chinese people like to take turns hosting meals during this festival to create a place for people to reunite with faraway family members or meet up with old friends. As a result, it would certainly be considered inappropriate to order only a few dishes. Worse still, ordering a reasonable amount is never enough.

Tables are full - and usually so are people's stomach. During the holiday season, schedules to dine with different people can be tight. It is not uncommon that many dishes go untouched after people have been gobbling down big meals for an entire week.

There are many reasons to set up a big table, including showing that you are better-off financially or expressing that you value the relationship with those invited. I have noticed that some of my relatives take great delight in hearing their guests say "you order more than we can eat!" They usually consider this high praise and approval.

It is understandable that older people plan big meals for Chinese New Year. My father's generation, for instance, was plagued by poverty; Spring Festival was the only time that people could squander some money and fulfil their appetites.

But it is now obvious that the era of "spending all that you have and enjoying all that you can" is long past us. It is simply unnecessary in our modern times. We'd better return to the essence of dining together to simply enjoy a reunion and strengthen our connection with old friends and long-separated family members.

This year, be sure to only order a reasonable amount of food and drink, and remember to pack up leftovers. There is even another positive purpose for being thrifty on New Year's tables: to save the world. We have sacrificed fireworks for our environment, so why not big meals for less famine?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TWOCENTS

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