On the 5th of May 2021, Youth With You, a trendy talent show where over 100 trainees compete with each other to win positions in an idol music band is suspended because of the milk-wasting controversy.
Fans who are encouraged to support beloved idols have been impelled to buy box milk only to get the QR code to vote for their favorite contestants. Tons of milk ended up wasted and poured into sewers.
The format of this variety show is an adaptation of Japanese and Korean pop culture. Viewers' vote replaces celebrity judges which can be found in traditional talent shows and becomes the new and sole criteria for selecting winners. The mechanism is proved to be effective in increasing audience participation but can also be a stimulus to irrational behaviors of young viewers.
According to the demographics data by Guduomedia, females contribute to 64% of the show's total viewership. Post-90s and generation Z account for 45% and 19,6% of its global audience. As the first generations to grow up with the internet, the majority of the fans have been actively supporting their chosen trainees through various digital channels, voting through official websites, social media, and purchasing the products of the show's sponsor.
However, criticism online also pointed out that the crazed fans are not the only ones to be blamed for the milk-waste scandal. Multiple stakeholders behind the voting mechanisms have taken advantage of fans' affection for idols. They attached the QR code, with ulterior motives, inside the milk bottle caps as a way to boost sales and profits.
Source: screenshot of thetape online showing people pouring mild into a sewer.
Ironically, the footage of workers helping to pour buckets of milk into sewers was released and went viral on social media almost at the same time when the new anti-food law in China is in effect. The show was quickly suspended by the demand of the Beijing Municipal Radio and Television Bureau.
The suspension of the show comes as no surprises concerning popular anger among netizens and the nation's determination to tackle the problem of food waste.
Back in August 2020, Chinese President Xi stressed the necessity of a stringent regulation on food waste. The statement quickly caused ripples in the entertainment industry. Major short-video platforms and streaming websites such as Douyin, Kwai, and Bilibili all responded by strengthening their content censorship, giving more constraints to live streaming eating shows also known as Mukbang, binge eating, and eating competitions.
For example, if one types the keyword "Binge eater" in the search box on Bilibili, which is a famous streaming website loved by youngsters and once filled with food sharing content, the only results shown now are videos about anti-food waste campaigns and food security.
A video of a Japanese bingereater has received over 2 million viewership on Bilibili
The 32-clause law is approved officially by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on the 29th of April this year. It contains regulations not just on vloggers and video websites, but also on restaurants and enterprises including food delivery platforms and state-own corporations.
Production and display of video promoting binge-eating can lead to fines up to 10,000 Yuan according to the law. Meanwhile, restaurants could be fined 10,000 to 50,000 Yuan if found misleading customers to order excessively.
Moreover, restaurants that offer take-out services should give extra information to customers about the portion size of food and the suggested number of people to dine. Online delivery companies are also required to provide suggestions to remind users to order a proper amount of food.
At the same time, the law calls for an improvement in food supply management and canteen service for schools and enterprises to fight food waste. Gaining momentum from the newly launched law, a long-lasting campaign "Clean Plate" is receiving more support across the nation. Signs and slogans are posted on the wall in many canteens and restaurants. Joined efforts are taken aiming to reshape people's consumption habits.
Contrary to a few irrational fans in the abovementioned milk-waste incident, the younger generation actually plays a leading role in shifting public mindset towards anti-food waste actions.
The law on food waste draws attention to the purchase of almost-expired food which has a growing trend among college students and young workers. People have formed online communities sharing shopping tips and introducing such consumption concepts to their friends and family.
As buying close-to-expiration products is getting accepted by the public, nowadays it has been considered as a personal choice to live a low-carbon and frugal lifestyle. Foods are normally sold at a reduced or half the original price while flavors and quality remain almost the same which seems like a great deal for consumers and a smart solution to food waste.
Another way to prevent unnecessary food waste is through the establishment of food banks. As non-profit organizations, food banks receive almost expired products from companies and provide food packs to families in need. One recent practice of such a model is the charity pilot project initiated by KFC in several cities in China. Several freezers with frozen meat are placed outside the restaurants and open to neighborhood residents who could enjoy a nice meal.
The practice can be a starting point for a wider food bank practice at a national level, and a demonstration of social responsibility taken by corporations.
Now looking at the milk-waste scandal in retrospect, we can see it as a valuable lesson for all of us. It has highlighted the importance of celebrities and corporations being role models to guide the public towards a more environmentally conscious behavior, and the crucial role of each individual to take on responsibility in fighting food waste.