Happy eating – how the Chinese find their balance in life with food

April 20, 2018

Did you think that we in the Nordics see food and nutrition as a comprehensive part of our health and wellbeing? Think again. We’ve taken only baby steps compared to the Chinese.


One thing the Kuudes team has discovered during the consumer insight project in Shanghai and Beijing is that the Chinese have a very holistic approach to food – they strongly emphasise the causality of how you eat and how you feel. Food has a significant impact on both mental and physical wellbeing, which is one of the reasons why the Chinese have a great appreciation for food.

It’s not only about the nutritional value, food is also seen as medicine. If a Chinese person is feeling uncomfortable (they never seem to admit being sick or ill, they are always uncomfortable), they turn to food. Or if they sense a sore throat, they will take care of the whole body, not just the throat, by using the Chinese medicine with a bunch of natural herbs and food products.

The idea is not to tackle the symptom but to address the root cause behind it. In our eyes, the length of the treatment can seem rather long, as the sore throat may be treated with a special herb tea for weeks, sometimes even months.

The western medicine is not particularly appreciated in China. The trust in occidental nutrition authorities might be questioned, while the faith in Chinese foods and medicine stays strong.

The locals truly believe that the food they eat has a strong connection to their inner wellbeing and also to their physical appearance. If you eat well, it will show on the outside. It could even be said that food is life itself: it’s a source of physical, mental and social wellbeing. And since the Chinese ideal is to seek balance in life, these three simply cannot be separated from each other.

The question is about ying and yang. There are many ways to seek for this balance, with each individual having their own method according to their situation. In general, the idea of this equilibrium comes from the ancient tradition of balancing the inner system of “cold“ and “fire”. Illness, for instance, is considered to stem from the imbalance of these two in one’s body. One practical way to balance is by concentrating on the food’s PH levels with an acidic/alkaline way to eat. Or simply, it could be about the balance of having fun and indulging, and then recovering from it by simplifying for a meal or two.

In general, Chinese people do not believe in slimming diets as a source of wellbeing. Diversity is key. Also, what is considered as food or generally edible, is very imaginative and versatile. They truly eat from head to tail. When we started talking about the perception of different ingredients with a Chinese consumer, we learned very quickly that people will most probably associate almost any food or ingredient with health. Nearly everything can be considered as good for you, as long as it is consumed with moderation.

All this leads to one distinctly joyful notion about the way Chinese people eat: food is always considered as a happy, positive thing. Sometimes, the western approach seems to lean to the opposite. We tend to categorize food and rank it from good to bad. And when it inevitably happens that we end up eating also the “bad foods”, we might double the misery with feeling guilt and shame. But looking from the Chinese perspective, there is really no point in doing so. If your next meal is not going to be the healthiest meal of the week, free yourself from the guilt: at least you will have fun eating it. And that, if something, is good for one’s health.

Petra Väänänen & Roosa Luukkanen, Insight Specialists

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