Chinese diets have undergone a remarkable transformation over the past four decades. Chinese food culture is rich, offering a diverse variety of vegetables and plant-based proteins. Chinese diets have historically been predominantly grain-based, combined with plant-based protein such as soybeans and tofu, which originated in China thousands of years ago. Spurred by market liberalization, rising affluence, and a flourishing food services industry, food in China today caters to more diverse tastes and has become more accessible and convenient. These developments have driven many people to shift to diets often heavier in animal-based proteins, with consequences for health, the environment, and climate change.
China’s rich and diverse food heritage and commitment to ecological civilization create a strong foundation for healthy and sustainable diets. There is significant potential to increase consumption of ‘traditional’ healthy and sustainable foods such as tofu, legumes, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. China is also well positioned to become a global leader in production and consumption of new and innovative food products, including new proteins. It benefits from local ingredients, e.g., mycelium and mushrooms, and traditional processes, e.g., fermentation, that have a longstanding history in Chinese culinary traditions and are well suited for development of such protein products.
Accelerating the transition to healthy and sustainable diets will require a combination of enabling policies, regulations, strategies based on robust scientific data and research, and bottom-up campaigns focused on education and awareness for businesses and consumers. This scoping study describes the necessary policy shifts and specific actions that policymakers and government agencies, researchers and academics, businesses and investors, and civil society actors can take to engender a transition to healthy and sustainable diets in China. Government ministries and their affiliated research institutes will be key actors for providing enabling policies and evidence-based research and analysis. Businesses can contribute through investment in rural agriculture and innovation, including digital technology, rural infrastructure and development and consumer education. Collective impact organizations, initiatives and action hubs coordinated by civil society can play a key role in building cross-sectoral consensus, bridging gaps for public benefit research, nurturing pilots, conducting targeted strategic communications with consumers, industry, and government and facilitating incubation of innovative products and services. This study makes recommendations to key stakeholders in China for bringing about this transitions.