‘White People Food’: The Latest Trend Is Not Simply About Food

A trending hashtag on Chinese social media is mocking Westerners and their fixation on dieting and “healthy food”, which is usually anything but. The term used is báirén fàn 白人饭, which literally means “white people’s food”.

Apparently, posts by Chinese Gen Zs, influenced by Western food fads, in which they complain about the sadness of the food that foreigners bring to work, or that they themselves have chosen to eat by following the fad, calling it "white people's food", are blowing up on social media. It might sound a bit racist as a trend, but it is actually – rather – innocent. Now Chinese social media platforms are inundated with users amused and bemused by raw vegetables and cold sandwiches.

The trend among Chinese social media users started with the objective of recreating white people’s food to better understand or poke fun at western packed lunches made up of plain ingredients such as raw vegetables and sliced meats. The trend has also been pushed along by a viral video of a woman in Switzerland on a train eating a bag of lettuce with ham and a packet of mustard.

Even pigs don’t eat it, but workers do

At first glance, the so-called “White People Food” might not be the best choice for Asian stomachs. After all, one of the basic criteria on which China judges food is how good it has been cooked in the wok: if the food has not been touched by flames or a blazing pot it is deemed soulless! But people change and so does their taste, especially when spending a lot of time on social media following trends. And that’s how “White People Food” became a catch also in China. According to this trend, the solutions available for lunch for workers are just three: company canteen, take-out, and bringing your own meals.

The social media platforms Weibo and Xiaohongshu have been inundated with photos and reviews of cold sandwiches, raw carrots, and canned tuna. Many are from Chinese international students surprised by the simple lunches eaten by their peers overseas. In response, hundreds of commenters shared stories of the low-effort lunches of their own colleagues in Europe, the US, and Australia, while the trend is spreading in China not only by sharing pictures of someone else’s food but also sharing the ‘White People Food’ users made themselves. Few companies have a canteen, and take-out not only is usually full of oil and salt, but it can become pricy. So, many people are trying to bring their own food.