EAS 344 H1 S
Prof. Meng Yue
The Chinese Meat Fetish: A socio-cultural enquiry
Meat consumption patterns in China have risen dramatically in the past 30 years, which various implications for different groups worldwide. I propose that the current emphasis on meat consumption in China is weakly justified, thus I call a “meat fetish”. This essay focuses on the sociological and cultural factors in China that contribute to this underlying attitudinal change. Moreover, I propose this fetish has negatively affected all interests globally and is paradoxical because it ultimately harms those who fetishize it. As such, increased meat consumption is an overall costly burden rather than an enrichment of lifestyle or liberation for the Chinese society. A commodity fetish occurs when humans ascribe subjective positive values to an object which by itself is devoid of meaning. The underlying cause to the marked rise in Chinese meat consumption is the general Chinese attitude towards meat as a food source. It is indeed a fetish because values and meaning are overemphasized on its necessity in the human diet, where unwarranted assumptions are made. Naturalization, a process of fetishization, occurs as these beliefs remain unchallenged and simply accepted. As a result, the current meat consumption has shifted the Chinese diet completely. Not long ago in 1950s, non-animal foods made up 97% of the Chinese diet. An average Chinese today eats 5 kg more pork than an American annually (Brown). While meat consumption increased across all groups, food choices are still limited by income. As purchasing power increased, meat has replaced vegetarian foods (Harris). Chinese food culture as the root of fetishization
Food is arguably the fundamental root of Chinese culture with different cultural roles. There are several general assumptions to justify meat consumption in China, which is intertwined with these values towards food. First, food is central to many social activities. Celebrations often consist of meticulously planned feasts, where the abundance and variety of food indicates the hosts’ hospitality. On special occasions such as births and festivals, special foods symbolize auspicious meanings and bring good fortune. Different types of meat are still symbolic and used to celebrate occasions (Li). Second, food is instrumental to attaining health. It is consumed to achieve physical and emotional wellbeing, prevent as well as cure diseases. Meat is considered more “nourishing” than vegetarian foods. Finally, the previous two aspects mentioned agree with the most significant aspect of food as a manifestation of values and meanings. Because food is the basic means of survival, it has become a synonymous symbol of fortune, prosperity and other favorable qualities. In the meat fetish perspective, meat is superior to vegetarian foods because of its higher cost. Moreover, a fear of hunger and scarcity arose from the famines that plagued China throughout history. The Chinese therefore emphasize the abundance of food to the point where it is sometimes hedonistic. Globalization has aggravated the Chinese meat fetish as it imported several things. Western-dominated popular culture inevitably brought its meat-emphasized diet with the robust fast food and marketing industry that capitalize on the demands of a modern lifestyle marked by convenience, branding and consumer choice. Advertisements of new food products by international and local quick service restaurant chains emerged in the Chinese market which also supported the appeal of meat consumption. The apparent lack of rationale to support the popularization of meat consumption also makes this trend a fetish. As meat is much more assessable to the Chinese population with lower price and greater supply, these factors resulted in comparatively high meat consumption in China. Adversaries
Meat fetishization obscures the detriment that all processes of meat production undeniably...