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'White people food' is trending on Chinese social media

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Go on Chinese social media sites, and you might find thousands of videos and images of, quote, "white people food." These photos show people eating spare, uncooked, simple lunches. The fad and the diet have caught on with millennials in China. NPR's Emily Feng looks into why.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Raw mushrooms and pepperoni, plain chicken breast - videos showing snacks like these have gone viral on Chinese internet in recent months about white people food, or bairen fan, people sharing pictures or videos of their minimalistic, uncooked lunches based on what they've seen in North America and Europe. In another video, a woman opens a plastic package of Schneider's cheese and ham crackers. "Classic white people food," she declares.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: She starts piecing her lunch together. A friend tries to add an extra slice of ham to her cracker.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: "I see white people only using one slice of each," she admonishes her friend. Because of the white people food trend, scroll through social media during mealtime in China, and you'll see pictures of celery sticks and hummus or a lonely boiled potato. Twenty-three-year-old Teresa Duan often shares such pictures of her white people meals from Shanghai.

TERESA DUAN: (Through interpreter) I did my undergraduate degree in the United Kingdom and discovered my classmates eating such minimalistic food. I was also changing my diet because I was studying. I had very little time. I was chasing deadlines. Then I came back to China and discovered this food was popular.

FENG: First, you have to understand why white people food is so exotic and bewildering to many people in China - because Chinese meals can be complex in flavor, using dozens of ingredients and spices and a balance of meat, vegetables and carbohydrates, often cooked or stewed for long periods of time. And a main meal like lunch would never be entirely cold. Duan likes how healthy a basic sandwich or salad can make her feel, but she admits there is a touch of sarcasm when you see the phrase white people food on social media.

DUAN: (Through interpreter) Chinese people don't understand how foreigners can fill themselves on such food. They might even think it's an insult to gastronomy.

FENG: But just like in the U.S., people in China work more and cook less at home. And a culture of frequently working overtime and a slowing economy means a whole lot of burnout. That's left people like 30-year-old Perry Liu in Beijing looking for something quick to make and a little more pared down.

PERRY LIU: (Through interpreter) For me, white people food is easy to digest because I have a bad stomach. And this uses less oil and spice, so I feel light even after eating. When you're under pressure at work, you tend to binge.

FENG: Liu has never worked or lived outside of China, but she first encountered what she now calls white people food at brunch restaurants with friends in the Chinese capital.

LIU: (Through interpreter) When I discovered the phrase white people food, I thought, this term is quite descriptive.

FENG: It described a lot of what she already liked to eat - vegetable- and fruit-heavy dishes, light sauces. She doesn't eat white people food every day, but sometimes eating it adds a touch of whimsy to the long week ahead. Emily Feng, NPR News, Taipei.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MATTSON 2 SONG, "SHELL BEACH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.
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