When she tried to cook another meal, he refused to participate, insisting that no Dutchman has a big lunch every day. Instead, he had bread, although he bought Cai a very exciting local delicacy: buttered bread with chocolate sprinkles, or Hagelslag.
For years, Cai thought she was the only one to disparage the bland cured meats, lukewarm salads and microwaved soups that are the staples of contemporary Western urban life. Then, earlier this year, she saw a widely circulated video on Chinese lifestyle app Xiaohongshu that depicted a passenger on a Swiss train putting mustard on lettuce leaves before stuffing them into his mouth with cured meats.
A new low for white food, graduate student Huang Jinglan wrote in the caption of the clip she filmed.
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Mocking white people’s food is all the rage on the heavily censored internet in China. Tens of thousands of people, many of them Chinese nationals living overseas, have joined Huang in the social media trend of sharing their bland daily meals under the hashtag #WhitePeopleFood. Photos of unseasoned chicken breast, poached eggs, celery sticks, baked beans, and dry crackers abound.
Eating these foods for lunch is learning what it feels like to be dead, joked one user on the Weibo microblogging service.
In China, office workers often visit nearby Chinese restaurants and food outlets for an inexpensive midday meal or bring lunchboxes home prepared the night before. For reasons of cost and convenience, that’s usually not an option for Chinese living abroad, like Huang, a 29-year-old student in St. Gallen, Switzerland.
But having too much can drain the soul and warmth from you, said Huang, who tries to make up for the lack of flavor with hot sauces.
It also obeys the unspoken rule that white people’s food shouldn’t be shared, because we won’t punish others with our self-torture.
Cultural observers in China say the mockery of #WhitePeopleFood is innocent and that many Chinese who use the term enjoy living or working in the West.
Most Chinese use it as a [form of] self-deprecation, with no ill intent or awareness of racial sensitivities in the United States, said current affairs commentator Hong Guangyu, who studies social media trends.
China’s rising middle classes have been consuming Western food on a regular basis since the late 1990s, as international travel took off and people began to take pride in being worldly. But more and more Chinese are often swapping soups and noodle dishes for salads and sandwiches as the country urbanizes and growing numbers find work in the private sector. (Large state-affiliated businesses often have staff canteens.)
Unlike those early adopters, younger converts see white food as an easily accessible sustenance, not a status symbol. A love and appreciation for food has served as a meaningful cultural identity and means of social bonding for people with Chinese backgrounds, said Wei Shuihua, a food writer based in Hangzhou, a southern city -east which is the home of the slow-cooked beggar chicken.
For jaded urban professionals, the removal of pleasure from a business lunch symbolizes how they eat simply to work, she said.
The reactions around white food are in part reminiscent of the stigma most Asian cuisine has long faced in the United States. Korean American chef and YouTube star Maangchi, for example, wrote about boiling soy sauce soup outside her home where no one will complain.
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The lingering stigma against Chinese food was closely tied to stories of anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States, said Chinese-American TikToker Lisa Li, a social activist who co-founded a trade journal for Chinese restaurants in New York City .
Chinese food has often been labeled unhealthy and Chinese restaurants unsanitary, he said a perception that has changed over the decades with the rise of famous Chinese American chefs and writers. Li added that the evaporation of prestige associated with American food matches the Chinese public’s growing disillusionment with the United States in an era of intense geopolitical and economic rivalry.
White food has its Chinese defenders, including people who say low-carb meals help them avoid postprandial food comas and stay awake for work in the afternoon. Others say it has helped them lose weight. Some have also used the time saved from minimal cooking and washing dishes for leisure.
Chinese state media also chimed in, quoting dietitians who argue such meals aren’t for everyone.
This unbalanced diet does little to satiate hunger — it may not meet your daily needs, Sun Yuanyuan, head of the clinical nutrition department at Hefei No. 2 Peoples Hospital, told China Food News.
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