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Individual meals and serving chopsticks: Changing dining table habits

BEIJING, March 26, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- A news report by China.org.cn on China's efforts to change its communal meal habits:

Recently, cities in China such as Beijing and Shanghai have been encouraging the use of serving chopsticks, and proposing individually served meals instead of communal dishes. Taizhou city in Jiangsu province has also introduced the country's first document at the local level on standards for the use of serving utensils.

These proposals may seem fairly normal to many people, especially those from Western countries. However, anyone who has been to China and experienced the food culture here may think differently.

In China, dishes are usually served on separate plates, no matter at Chinese restaurants or in people's homes. Whether it is a quick meal or an elaborate banquet, people will sit around a table and take food from the center using their own chopsticks and spoons. This tradition of communal meals can be traced back to as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Chinese cuisine highlights color, aroma and taste, while Chinese culture emphasizes completeness and family reunion. As such, chicken and fish are often cooked whole, with people believing the color, shape and flavor of the food will be affected if they are divided into smaller portions. This led to the popularity of communal meals, as they not only reflect the food culture, but also embody different feelings. At the dinner table, elders pass food for their children and grandchildren to express their care and love, while hosts do the same for their guests to extend their welcome and respect. Communal meals are therefore often perceived as a way of bringing people closer in an equal manner.

However, such traditions have indeed increased the risk of spreading diseases. According to the WHO, the incidence rate of foodborne diseases ranks high among other illnesses, and saliva remains one of the major transmission routes. Considering the need to prevent and control COVID-19, China is actively seeking alternatives to traditional communal meals, something which will also help develop healthy lifestyles in the long run. Recently, the World Federation of Chinese Catering Industry and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade Commercial Sub-Council published a set of service specifications for Chinese restaurants, regarding individually served meals and serving chopsticks. These specifications will be widely applied across the country's catering industry.

Since it is difficult for people to change their eating habits all of a sudden, using serving chopsticks on each food plate, or each diner having two pairs of chopsticks -- one for serving and the other for eating -- is a good compromise. Some people may find it emotionally difficult to stop sharing food, regarding it as a betrayal of "tradition," and perhaps even worrying it is destroying Chinese food culture. However, over time, traditions can become more scientific, and cultures more inclusive. The use of serving chopsticks and having individual meals will not eliminate the essence of the Chinese food culture. Instead, it will enrich it as a new dining habit.

From the proposal of individually served meals to the revision of the Wildlife Protection Law, China has not refused to change or progress just because of some conventional practices. Instead, the nation is pursuing healthier lifestyles with firm determination and solid action.

China Mosaic
http://www.china.org.cn/video/node_7230027.htm

Individual meals and serving chopsticks: Changing dining table habits
http://www.china.org.cn/video/2020-03/26/content_75862841.htm

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SOURCE China.org.cn