The UN estimates 690 million people globally deal with hunger and malnourishment. Meanwhile, 1.3 billion tons of perfectly good food is wasted a year. Last week, the government of China—a nation that, over the past 35 years, has made astounding progress in reducing food insecurity—announced a new initiative to combat food waste: the “Clean Plate Campaign.” As part of this initiative, food service organizations have been urging restaurants to reduce the amount of food served to diners. One restaurant chain in Changsha tried to achieve this goal by weighing customers to determine each diner’s ideal portion size, which went over about as well as you can imagine.
The BBC reports that Chuiyan Fried Beef installed two large scales by its front doors, along with signs promoting the Clean Plate Campaign. Customers were asked to weigh themselves, then input their measurements into an app that determined what menu items were “acceptable” for a person of their size to enjoy. For example, women who weighed less than 88 pounds were recommended the chain’s signature beef dish and a fish head; men who weighed more than 175 pounds were recommended dishes containing more calories, such as braised pork belly. The policy quickly made Chuiyan Fried Beef (in)famous; on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, hashtags about the restaurant and its tragically misguided policy have been viewed more than 300 million times.
On Saturday, Chuiyan Fried Beef issued an apology and clarified that customers were not required to weigh themselves before ordering. However, the chain said that it would not be removing the scales, reiterating that the intention was not meant to shame people, but rather to encourage customers to consider the issue of food waste before ordering.
While Chuiyan Fried Beef is putting the onus of portion control on the customer, in other parts of China, the decision might be made by the restaurants themselves. The Wuhan Catering Industry Association has urged all restaurants in the city to implement a system where groups of diners can only order one fewer dish than the number of people in the party.