preferences in China are changing rapidly. Today, people not only eat much more meat than
two decades ago, but there is also a trend toward a more diverse diet. Consumption of
vegetables, fruit, alcohol, sugar, eggs, and dairy products has increased rapidly, while
the consumption of pulses, roots, and tubers has declined. With increased affluence we can
expect that China's average diet will change further, becoming similar to that of other
developed Asian countries.
|In the mid-1960,
before China started its great economic reforms, on average, people lived on a diet of
rice, wheat, and starchy roots, with rare servings of vegetables and meat or fish.
According to estimates from the FAO, meat contributed just 77 kcal (or 3.9%) to the
average daily per capita calorie supply in 1964-1966. Cereals such as rice or wheat, on
the other hand, contributed 1,299 kcal (or almost 67%). Starchy roots such as potatoes
provided 269 kcal per person per day (or almost 14%). (See Tables 1 to 5).
Sweet foods were extremely rare in the mid-1960s. Sweeteners, such as sugar, contributed
just 26 kcal per day (or 1.3%) to the average diet; the diet was also not very rich in
vitamins. On average, people had a supply of just 47.4 kg of vegetables and only 12.4 kg
of fruit per year. This was equivalent to a daily calorie supply of 38 kcal from
vegetables and 9 kcal from fruits - or just 1.9% and 0.5% of the total calorie supply per
person per day, respectively. Stimulants (tea, coffee), spices, and alcoholic beverages
combined contributed just 12 kcal, or 0.6%, to the average diet.
All this has changed dramatically. Food production in China has
increased massively between the mid-1960s and the early 1990s (see the in-depth analysis
of China's grain production). The overall calorie supply, for instance, has increased from
1,953 to 2,766 kcal per person per day. The per capita supply of meat has quadrupled,
growing from 77 kcal per person per day in the mid-1960s to 320 kcal per person per day in
the mid-1990s (see Figure 1). While the Chinese population had a higher per capita supply
of rice in the mid-1990s (923 kcal, up from 733 kcal in the 1960s), the share of rice in
the overall calorie supply declined: in 1964-1966, rice contributed 37.5% of the calorie
supply; in 1994-1996, its share was only 27.7%. Starchy roots are no longer a major food
commodity: in the mid-1960s the average per capita supply was 102 kg per year; in the
mid-1990s, it was only 60.5 kg per year.
Today, the Chinese population has a much richer, more diverse diet. Vegetables and fruit,
for instance, now contribute some 5% to the average calorie supply. In 1994-1996 each
person in China, on average, had a supply of 135 kg of vegetables and 48 kg of fruit per
year. The supply of alcoholic beverages increased almost 15-fold - from 1.5 to 21.9 kg per
person per year (however, it is still much lower than in many developed Asian countries).
The supply of sweeteners, such as sugar, almost tripled, as did the supply of animal fats
and milk. Today, people in China eat about six times as many eggs as in the mid-1960s. The
supply of fish has more than quadrupled from 4.4 to 18.3 kg per person per year. On
balance, animal products contributed 114 kcal (or 5.8%) to the diet in 1964-1966; in the
mid-1990s, they supplied 461 kcal (or 16.7%) per person per day.
For a detailed discussion of the changes in China's food supply see the in-depth
analysis of China's food balance and the tables below (Tables 2 to 5).
China's Food Balance