Perhaps Chinese premier Xi Jinping has been reading the Taittriya Upanishad, which explains by incremental logic that when we waste a single grain of rice, we insult all of creation. Or perhaps, since China is now capitalist, materialistic forces are more compelling than the philosophy of the ancients. Thanks to a porkocalypse following the African swine fever of last year, widespread supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic and a steady decline in agricultural production due to rural-to-urban migration, China faces year-on-year food inflation of 13.2 per cent. Whatever the motivation, China is tightening its belt and licking its plate clean, as instructed by Xi.
The premier’s direction is being obeyed with the alacrity with which an earlier generation had welcomed Chairman’s Mao’s orders to exterminate creatures which decimate grain stocks, like sparrows and mice. In some provinces, excessive public enthusiasm had caused ecological imbalances and even now, some have taken Xi’s diktat a little too seriously. A restaurant in Hunan launched a “weight yourself before you order” campaign, which was unfortunately discriminatory, offering more food to overweight men than to underweight women. It apologised on the weekend. Other trivial fascisms include the algebraic (n – 1) formula, urging diners to order for one less than the number at the table. And the Indian mathematical innovation, the half-plate, is demoralising patrons of Chinese takeaways.
But it’s a progressive policy. China has a whole internet subculture of people eating like pigs, and now, their short videos, called mukbang, appear with injunctions not to waste. The People’s Liberation Army is modernising its kitchens to make the last calorie go further, perhaps even in Ladakh. In short, China has brought to nutritional efficiency the same implacable zeal that has made it the master of artificial intelligence, and the menace of the South China Sea.