More Chinese, especially young people, are choosing light meals with less carbohydrates and more vegetables. This trend, observers say, reflects the fact that anxiety over appearance is increasing in society, but if also shows increased interest in healthier lifestyles amid reports that China accounts for almost half of global gastric cancer cases.
Jokingly referred to by young people as “chewing grass,” the light meals are a healthy alternative to the more common dietary habits in some parts of China, such as spicy hotpot in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province using red chili oil as a soup base.
Lighter food has become a well-known concept in the country over the past few years, with people preferring food with less sugar, oil and salt, as well as a larger amount of vegetables. It also focuses on restoring the original taste of the ingredients through much simpler cooking.
A report in Euromonitor predicted the market volume for light meals in China will reach around 120 billion yuan in 2022. “It’s an industry with fierce competition and good opportunities at the same time,” said one online observer. Many top companies in China have joined the market to get a share of the pie.
KFC opened its first health-conscious eatery, KPRO, in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang Province in 2017, and Japanese restaurant chain Yoshinoya also opened a “light meal” concept store in Chengdu, Sichuan in the same year. The Chinese retailer Luckin Coffee also announced it was entering the light meal industry in 2018, rolling out a series of products including sandwiches and salads.
Statistics from Meituan, China’s largest online food delivery platform, show that orders for light meals exceeded 26 million in 2018.
“If you come to where I work at noon, you will see a large number of my colleagues, including myself, coming in and out with salad takeaways, or light meals packed in paper boxes,” a member of staff at an international consulting company in Beijing told the Global Times on Tuesday.
“Everyone wants to keep fit and look good. It’s like an invisible competition,” she added, “and light meals for lunch is only part of the competition. You can also see my colleagues on treadmills in a gym near our company at 11 pm after work.”
People also know that a healthier diet can reduce the risk of gastric cancer. China accounts for about 40 percent of all cases of gastric cancer in the world, according to statistics from China’s National Health Commission in 2018.
The topic of “light meals” was the second-hottest topic on Sina Weibo at noon on Tuesday, as netizens shared their light meal photos on social media. Some showed steamed and sliced purple sweet potato and pumpkin to replace rice, and others had chicken and fish instead of pork, which is considered to be healthier even though the amount of calories is similar.
A college student surnamed Chen, who comes from Beijing, told the Global Times that healthier food is a popular choice when going out with friends. “We have changed our dinner choice from hotpot and barbecue to restaurants with lighter food. Sometimes we just go to a café for brunch or afternoon tea instead of midnight dinner.”