China’s rise may have overlooked the importance of upgrading its chopstick culture, one so close to its core identity. Perhaps it is time to catch up.
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Time to put chopsticks on the chopping block?
By Wang Wenwen
Source – Global Times, published March 22, 2013
To foreigners, chopsticks may bring to mind ideas of yummy Chinese food and distinct Chinese identity. Some even see the utensils as graceful extensions of their fingers, but for Chinese, they can mean terrible toxins.
On Sunday, famous actor Huang Bo posted a message on Weibo that caught people’s attention. He said when he was dining at a restaurant and wanted to wash the disposable chopsticks provided by the restaurant, he was astonished to find that after soaking the chopsticks in the cup of hot water, the water turned yellow and gave off a pungent smell.
Following the post, a fresh round of debate emerged over the usage of disposable chopsticks in China.
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Some have raised concerns about the national standards for disposable chopsticks; others question whether China should wean itself off this product to protect its environment. A few even said that the issue is not only about environment protection, but is a matter of possible life and death.
According to Bai Guangxin, chairman of the Jilin Forestry Industry Group, China produces 80 billion disposable chopsticks per year, which means 20 million 20-year-old trees have to be cut to meet such demand.
It was reported that China planned to increase its forest coverage by 40 million hectares by 2020 compared with 2005, but the deforestation caused by China’s surprisingly large chopstick production will put a halt on that goal.
China has been embracing sustainable development at the lowest cost to its resources. It wants to distinguish itself from the development model of the US, which is based on its comprehensive national strength and resources and does not apply to populous China.
China also wants to dispense with the European style of overconsumption of resources, which environmentalists say is out of control.
However, if China’s chopstick production rate continues on this trajectory, let alone its waste of other resources, China’s development will be far from sustainable.
China used to curb the usage of disposable chopsticks by taxing them, which appears to not have curbed usage but rather push consumers to pay more.
Now that disposable chopsticks have even proved to be toxic, it is time that we abandon them, though not the use of chopsticks themselves.
When I was traveling in European countries, most restaurants I went to provided stainless steel knives and forks. Even in overseas Chinese restaurants, they never provided disposable chopsticks like restaurants in China do, while Chinese guests accepted them with pleasure.
There have been discussions of whether Western forks can conquer Chinese chopsticks. Putting aside Chinese people’s age-old habit of using chopsticks, the utensil has already become as quintessential to China’s identity as Peking Opera or dumplings.
I remember when my Italian friend strove to learn to use chopsticks. Every time he failed to pick up his food, he was even more amazed at how Chinese people use them gracefully, while knives and forks are so easy to use.
Even the Guardian’s Audra Ang wrote in a column Monday that chopsticks are so integral to China’s identity that it would be a shame if they disappeared.
Then the solution may be to encourage Chinese people to bring their own chopsticks with them when they go to restaurants. Then they can keep China’s traditions and protect their health.
The author is a reporter with the Global Times. email@example.com