In most Chinese traditional families, family members would sit around the dining table and dine together. Everyone would talk about the day and bond as a family. Usually, it would be the mother who would buy groceries after work and return home to cook for the family. Sometimes, the father, the children or even the grandparents would help out in the kitchen. The mother of the family would always consider the nutrition, thus for every dish, it would be well-prepared, making sure that every family member would not have any health problems, such as getting sick or malnutrition. This was what a Chinese traditional family would be like in the past where fast food restaurants and “instant” food were scarce.
Today’s Chinese family has altered tremendously. Purchasing meals at fast food restaurants is such an easy task compared to the loads of work and preparation for cooking at home. As a result, a mother has lost her chance to increase her energy expenditure that she would have spent on traveling to the grocery store, choosing and purchasing items, and returning home to cook. In addition, the bonding time for the family has decreased due to lack of interactions such as cooking and dining together. Instead, a mother has found other ways to provide food for the family.
She would often go straight to a nearby fast food chain, make a take-away order or purchase instant French fries or noodles from a nearby supermarket. Likewise, compared to the traditional way of Chinese dinners, where families sit around a table of different dishes, fast food menus are mostly set for individuals, the amount of time that a family spends together is again decreased, and this unhealthy diet may slowly lead to unpredicted illnesses.
In a matter of time, whether you are sitting in a restaurant or walking along the shopping districts of Shanghai, you look around and you could see humongous people with waist like pillars, arms that looks like thighs and thighs that rub against each other when they walk, one hand holding a cup of Pepsi and the other feeding themselves with McDonald’s cheese burger. There will be no more people with wrinkles and white hair. The life expectancy has dropped to fifty. This is not an illusion but an anticipated look of the future: The Fat China.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, globalization is the development of an increasingly integrated global economy, which is marked by the increase in cross-border flows of goods, services, money, people, information and culture. It brings the world together by spreading different ideas, making foreign products easier to access, speeding up the pace of life, and increasing the understanding around us. Most countries welcome the rush of globalization, which symbolizes advancements.
However, the negative consequences on Chinese culture are deniable and are not worth the consequences. Food globalization is spreading through the world’s diverse cultures in the form of fast food restaurants, high-caloric beverages, supermarkets supplying instant food and high-caloric imported products, and culture changes that affect family bonding time. These changes have resulted in unhealthy diets, a decrease of energy expenditure, and illnesses such as obesity. Food globalization is causing a negative effect in China.
Since the 1980s, China’s openness has led to the growth of foreign fast food chains in China. Coca-cola, Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Häagen-Daz, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, Pepsi, DQ, Pizzahut, Papa John’s and Mcdonald’s can be found almost everywhere in China (Popkin). According to Wen Dale, a member of the International Forum on Globalization, McDonald’s alone has opened up to at least 235 restaurants in China, excluding 158 Mcdonald’s franchises in Hong Kong.
Every time when I go by McDonald’s in China, I can see the long lines of people, waiting for their turn to purchase the high-caloric food. When I visited Hangzhou (a city next to Shanghai) at the age of six, I already saw many KFCs around Hangzhou. Today’s Hangzhou is way different compared to twelve years ago, it is more modernized, and at the same time, it is crowded with fast food restaurants. In the shopping district of Hangzhou, there are not only Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton but also McDonald’s, Pizzahut, Häagen-Dazs, Dunkin’ Donuts, Baskin-Robbins, Papa John’s, Starbucks and many other fast food chains. Globalization brought westernization, prosperity into China as well as fast food chains.
According to A.Michelle Mendez, a nutritional epidemiologist who received her master’s in epidemiology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, supermarkets, for example, have “accounted for 48 percent of the urban food markets in China, an increase beyond the 30 percent level in 1999”. With this increase of urban food markets in China, the traditional markets that provide fresh and unprocessed products has started to decline, leading to a higher consumption of processed food. Furthermore, these urban food markets are not only found in large cities but also in poorer areas. (Mendez) The growing presence of Carrefour and Metro that imports foreign products brought giant stores that offer a wide variety of high caloric snacks and soft drinks, increasing the availability of unhealthy products. For example, the direct imports of French fries from the United States has increased tenfold between 1995 and 1999 (Mendez). Food globalization that increased the number of foreign investments produces negative changes to the Chinese Cultures (Dale). Globalization has brought large foreign supermarket firms and fast food chains into China. All of these has resulted in lifestyle changes which include a shift from natural-homemade food and beverages consumed to processed ones, a higher consumption of foreign food, a driving dietary change, an increase intake of caloric sweeteners, a reduced food preparation time and an increase in intake of pre-cooked foods. These led to an increase in obesity rate in China.
For foreign food chains to produce large amount of ingredients and products and ship them all the way across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, unhealthy chemicals are often added during production. The contemporary world is characterized by “an intense, continuous, comprehensive interplay between the indigenous and the imported”. (Jackson) This is demonstrated through the importing and exporting of fast food ingredients. According to John Andrew, a citizen journalist, these chemicals are sometimes known as “food additives” and not all food additives used are foods. Instead, they are “chemical that are generally recognized as safe” (Andrew).
Almost all of these additives are nowhere to be found in a local supermarket, instead, some are found in “inedible products like tox antifreeze, silicone caulk, soap, sunscreen and play sand” (Andrew). As reported by Riddhi Shah, a writer for the website Salon, Sally Davies, a New York photographer started a “part-art, part-food” science experiment. Davies documented a McDonald’s Happy Meal every few days until it spoiled. Even at day 137, “the meal still looks pretty great” (Shah). After reading this experiment, how would people still feel safe and happy consuming these “Happy Meals”? Consuming foods with chemicals or food additives may damage long-term health.
Globalization brought changes that I have personally encountered. In 2007, the number of foreign franchises in China could be counted with ten fingers. There were only a few Starbucks and McDonald’s opened their first outlet near the downtown Wulin Square, the shopping district in Hangzhou. However, after only three years, the number of Starbucks has quadrupled. Today, there are at least eight Starbucks in Hangzhou compared to the only one less than five years ago.
Because Starbucks is present everywhere, it is easy for individuals to grab a cup of Caramel Frappuccino (which is about 430 calories) whenever passing by. This availability has brought about a rush of coffee addicts in China as well as weight gains. Likewise, the newly opened Starbucks near Hangzhou International School where I attended high school attracts many students and faculty daily. This situation also happens to the McDonald’s near the school. The increase in availability has caused a tremendous increase in junk food consumption among the staff and students. It is easy for students and faculty to grab a coffee, or a muffin before or after school.
In most countries, especially the United States, Asians are often stereotyped as skinny. However, this perception will have to be altered in the coming decade. In the past, malnutrition has been the main health problem in China. According to James. A Levine, a professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, more than 60 million people have become obese in China (Levine). The data presents 23 percent of Chinese population is overweight. 12 percent adults and 8 percent children have obesity (Levine).
The more serious problem is that Levine has predicted by 2020, the obesity population in China will exceed that of the United States. The Chinese population is one of the largest in the world and if as predicted by Levine, the Chinese obesity rate rises, the whole world will be affected by this change. Misra points out “that the obesity and the metabolic syndrome are immediate cursors of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease”, thus as China’s obesity rate increases, the well being of the Chinese population is evidently threatened. The increase in obesity rate will lead to maladaptive consequences such as an increase in other illnesses, and these studies provide a strong correlation with the growing of foreign fast food chains.
Consequently, the increase of foreign fast food chains has affected everyone living in China. Easy accessibility to these restaurants and supermarkets reduces Chinese’s physical activity and labor intensity in both the urban and rural areas (Jackson). This increase number of foreign supermarkets has also resulted in a rise in the average intake of vegetable oil from “14.8 grams per person in 1989 to 35.1 grams per person in 2004, adding an extra 183 kcal to the population’s daily diet” (Popkin) (see table 1). In table 1, the availability for consumption of total calories has been going upslope since the 1961 and has no inclination of slowing down. Thus, these changes result in an increase in Chinese adults’ consumption on high-fat which rose from 33 percent to 60.8 percent in urban areas and 13.5 percent to 29.3 percent in rural areas (Mendez).
Table 1 Regional Trends in Availability for Consumption of Total Calories, 1961-2000 Source: Misra, Anoop and Lokesh Khurana. “Obesity and the Metabolic Syndrome in Developing Countries”. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2008. Web. 8 November 2011.
By switching from Chinese traditional diet to a Western diet, Chinese are consuming goods that are much higher in calories. In a Chinese traditional family, a dinner often included a few dishes of vegetables, a few dishes of meat (normally less than the number of vegetable dishes), a soup, and lastly a bowl of rice for each family member. One or two of the family members freshly cooked all of the food. This kind of traditional dinner included all components of a healthy meal for a well-balanced diet.
For centuries, the only beverages Chinese consumed were tea, water, and breast milk after birth. “Because water has no calories, the human body did not evolve to reduce food intake to compensate for beverage consumption”, thus, adding sugar into new beverages will increase the caloric intake of an individual. (Popkin) Table 2 displays the short history of caloric beverage for humans. From breast milk, water consumption, the human as evolved to consume soda, coffee, juice, liquor and other beverages that contain sugar. Thereby, when people consume any beverage other than water, their total calorie consumption increase (Popkin).
Table 2 Remarkably Short History for Caloric Beverages: Might the Absence of Compensation Relate to This Historical Revolution?
Source: Popkin, Barry M. “The World is Fat.” The World is Fat (2008): n. pag. Web. 8 December 2011. The increase in availability of foreign food restaurants has led to a significant decrease of home-prepared food according to Popkin, an “obvious shift in home-prepared food and home-based meals to ready-to eat meals, often consumed away from home. With this consumption, Chinese are spending less time with their family members and more time outside of their homes. Even though families may eat out at a fast food restaurant together, as the food is served “fast”,, the social time that an individual spend with his family is still decreased.
It is true that food globalization has presented positive effects on Chinese culture, such as the bringing a diverse of cuisines into China, satisfying the Chinese’s curiosity, the increase in their pace of life and the step of taking Chinese a leap forward into the understanding of the outside world. However, the negative consequences, such as the increase in health risks, and the diminishment of traditional culture that come together with food globalization are inevitable and are worth much more of the attention. These negative consequences may not seem worthwhile at this moment but when they do become serious problems, it will be too late to ameliorate. The question that is left for everyone to ponder is that do a higher standard of living, a higher pace of life worth the sacrifice?
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