A Chinese restaurant that dared its customers to devour over 100 dumplings in exchange for a complimentary meal has drawn the attention of authorities investigating potential violations of the country’s anti-food waste regulations. Located in Yibin city, Sichuan province, the restaurant became the target of scrutiny after its “king of big stomach challenge” gained notoriety, as reported by state-affiliated news outlet The Cover.
The challenge entailed participants competing to consume 108 chaoshous, a type of spicy wonton dumpling, as quickly as possible to secure a free meal and additional rewards. The restaurant had employed social media advertising to attract customers, unaware that the State Administration for Market Regulation would initiate an inquiry into possible breaches of food waste laws.
While eating contests are prevalent in Western countries and often bring fame to their champions—such as Joey Chestnut, who recently triumphed in the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest by devouring 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes—they are approached more cautiously in China. The collective memory of the famine in the 1950s and 1960s, claiming the lives of an estimated 45 million people, continues to influence attitudes towards excessive food consumption.
The Cover disclosed that the restaurant, unnamed in the report, is one of several establishments currently being investigated for similar competitive eating events. Chinese President Xi Jinping has previously expressed concern about food waste, deeming it “shocking and distressing.” In March of this year, he emphasized the significance of agricultural supplies in terms of national security.
Enacted in 2021, the anti-food waste law was a direct response to government criticisms of online bloggers who live-streamed themselves binge eating in order to attract viewers. Many of these influencers had their accounts suspended by social media platforms. The legislation enables fines of up to 10,000 yuan ($1,400) for restaurant owners who “induce or mislead customers to order excessively and cause obvious waste.”
Radio and television stations, as well as online video and audio providers, face penalties up to ten times that amount if found involved in “producing, publishing, or promoting programs or content that encourage excessive eating and drinking.” The Yibin restaurant, according to The Cover, is accused of encouraging binge eating and inducing customers to order excessively, as highlighted by the local market regulator.
However, some Chinese internet users have criticized the authorities for perceived overreach. On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, one user questioned whether this constituted true food waste and suggested allowing people to compete for the title of “biggest eater.” Another user pointed out the country’s history of food safety concerns, encompassing incidents such as contaminated baby milk powder and the utilization of “gutter oil”—recycled oil tainted with food waste or sewage.
While opinions on the matter diverge, the case exemplifies the ongoing efforts to combat food waste and promote responsible consumption in China, where the memories of past hardships remain deeply ingrained.
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