From vegetable vending machines to edible insects: searching for sustainable food in China

I have just returned from a two week trip to China where I shared my time between scouting new food trends in Shanghai, presenting at the 2nd International Conference on Insects to Feed the World and promoting the Solutions Menu: A Nordic Guide to Sustainable Food Policy to representatives from the Nordic Consulates.

Food trends in China

Here are some examples of some interesting food trends that I found in Shanghai:

  • Natural wine – While natural wine (wine made with minimal intervention and without all the nasty stuff) is a common sight in Copenhagen, other places in the world have been slower to embrace natural wine. But natural wine has now hit Shanghai and can only grow in popularity.
  • Growth in vegetarian/vegan restaurants – When it comes to Chinese cities Shanghai is the real frontrunner. Over the past year, it has been said that the number of vegan/vegetarian restaurants has doubled. While this is a relatively small drop in the bucket in relation to the number of restaurants found in Shanghai, it’s an interesting development that is mirroring some of the similar trends that we are seeing in Europe
  • Organic household delivery – A greater number of middle and upper-middle class households are demanding organic food, often due to a lack of trust in food safety. There are numerous organic delivery services throughout China.
  • Vending machines that sell fruit/vegetables – These machines are notoriously for selling highly processed foods, but in Shanghai I found vending machines selling fresh fruit and vegetables close to apartment blocks. Some of the options included packages of vegetables and spices that could be used to make a soup. Read more about AI and vending machine culture in China here.
  • Pesticide-free vegetables – Many successful restaurant chains in China can have well over 100 restaurants. With so many restaurants to supply, it is easier for restaurants to purchase a piece of land and farm their own organic produce. However, for smaller restaurant chains wishing to serve organic produce it is often too difficult, so they often have to opt for ‘pesticide-free’ produce if they are trying to limit the pesticides used to grow the food that they are serving.
A fruit and vegetable vending machine in the Jing’an neighbourhood of Shanghai

Insects to Feed the World

The 2nd Annual International Insects to Feed the World Conference was held this year in Wuhan, China. The conference addressed all aspects related to insects as food and feed, bringing together researchers, government officials, not-for-profit organizations and companies from both the Global South and Global North. The overall objective of the conference was to ignite a global multi-stakeholder dialogue to further explore the potential of edible insects for food and feed security.

A new addition to the conference this year was a panel debate on de-colonising research and business related to edible insects. I had the chance to speak on a panel of experts about my experience carrying out fieldwork in Thailand and Kenya. The panel discussion was followed by a session where over 20 people representing different regions of the world discussed practical ways in which we could tackle the overly colonial mentality that often appears when we talk about, research and start companies related to insects as food.

I’m proud to have been a part of a research team where over 50% of the researchers came from Sub-Saharan Africa (mainly Kenya). The Danish International Development Agency, which financed the GREEiNSECT research project under which I did my PhD research, was so happy with the outcomes of our research that they granted additional funding to bring our whole team to the conference. After all, if we are talking about insects for food and feed in Kenya it’s imperative that our Kenyan colleagues get to represent their own country!

The GREEiNSECT Research Group (we’re unfortunately missing some of our colleagues, but most of us are here)

The conference was also the perfect moment to launch our new book, Edible Insects in Sustainable Food Systems. The book is now available for purchase! Over 100+ authors from over 20 different countries have contributed to writing the 30 different chapters contained in the book. It’s an essential read for anyone interested in the multidisciplinary nature of the topic.


Solutions Menu: A Nordic Guide to Sustainable Food Policy

Towards the end of my trip, I had the opportunity of presenting the Nordic Food Policy Solutions Menu that will be launched at EAT Stockholm Food Forum in mid-June. The presentation was held at the Danish Consulate in Shanghai and representatives from the Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian Consulates were also in attendance.

My presentation focused on Nordic food policy related to public food and meals. I highlighted the following soft policy solutions coming out of the Nordic Region:

  • Universal school meal programmes: establishing nutritional equality
  • Public procurement of organic food: implementing the ‘Copenhagen model’
  • Organic strategies for public meals: setting ambitious goals
  • Public meal models: delivering on multiple societal goals
  • The Danish Meal Label: making meals eaten outside the home nutritious and delicious
  • Hospital meals: improving the patient experience

Stay tuned! You too can soon get a copy of the Solutions Menu.

At the Royal Danish Consulate in Shanghai

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s