Meat Production and Consumption in China and the United States

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by Citlali Blanco
The US-China Strong Foundation's mission is to increase the number of Americans studying Mandarin and studying abroad in China.


This article is a part of the East-West Center - US-China Strong Foundation Guest Contributor Program, which shares the experiences of American students currently or previously studying in China.

According to statistics by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, China and the US took first and second place respectively in 2008 as the most meat-producing countries in the world. Considering that animal agriculture is the second leading human-induced source of greenhouse gas emissions, these rankings are not to be taken lightly.

In some respects, Chinese cities are well aware of their environmental impact. During my stay in China, through the CPS CSLCTI study-abroad program, I learned about and witnessed some of the country’s green-energy initiatives resulting from such awareness. Among such environmentally-conscious efforts was Hainan’s first ever transcontinental flight from Beijing to Chicago, powered by 15% waste cooking fuel left over from restaurants. I learned as well that over 30 pilot cities in Eastern China utilize 10% ethanol fuel which, similar to waste cooking oil, is made from biomass (such as corn), and is a cleaner-burning alternative to traditional fuel. Furthermore, China’s thirteenth five-year plan contained the direct intent to develop its environmental technology industry. Both inside and outside of the classroom, I observed China’s green efforts. Although the progress toward environmental sustainability is commendable, I now wonder: when will the cuisine follow suit?

For some insight into the experience of having a meat-restrictive diet in China, I contacted a fellow participant of the CPS CSLCTI program, Claire Fuschi (12th grade, Walter Payton High School). Claire, a pescetarian, could not eat red meat during our one-month stay in China. Asked her to comment on the dining experience: Claire had to offer, “sometimes dishes were unlabeled or mislabeled, and I had to guess if they contained meat or not.” She also added, “Tofu, vegetables, and rice was what my diet mainly consisted of in China, and although I could usually find plenty to eat, there were instances in which if I didn’t eat fish or animal products, I wouldn’t have had an option at all at meal time.” While Claire notes that the food she ate at her host-family’s home (as opposed to group meals at restaurants) was more vegetarian-based, her experiences give insight into the room for improvement that exists around meat-restrictive dining options in China.

Alongside the gravity of the environmental issue of meat-consumption, there is certainly optimism. The South China Morning Post believes that, from 2005 to 2020, China’s vegan market will have risen by an internationally unprecedented 17%! However, the time to celebrate is far from near. China, the US, and other developed countries for that matter, find themselves in a similar predicament of voracious meat production, and we should strive to live and eat responsibly for the sustainability of our planet.

Citlali Blanco is part of the US-China Strong Foundation Student Ambassador Program.