Why is ‘White People Food’ Trending in China?

The younger generation of China’s workforce is doing some soul-searching. Now, they turn to something identified as ‘White People Food.’

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Hayley Zhao
8:06 AM HKT, Fri June 2, 2023 2 mins read

Recently, China’s internet has been buzzing with a new trend — so-called ‘White People Food.’

Simple prepped lunches, inspired by the perception of lunches at offices and schools in the US and Europe, have suddenly started to make waves.

Results, however, may vary.

lunch box

A typical White People Food lunch box prepared by an office worker. Image via Xiaohongshu

The term was first coined by Chinese international students studying overseas, who were bewildered by the unconventional lunches they saw their classmates eating. These lunches sometimes consisted of plain vegetables, like green beans, carrots, baby spinach, and celery, or other items like slices of bread and boiled eggs.

One famous clip showed a woman on a train in Switzerland, wrapping pieces of ham in lettuce and dipping them in mustard.

These meals seemed absurd to Chinese onlookers. Little did they know, the trend was poised to catch on in their home country, with a fanbase of defeated-feeling office workers.

meal prep

A Chinese netizen in Denmark posting an image of her Danish colleague’s lunch. Image via Xiaohongshu

The appeal of White People Food lies in its simplicity, in a work culture that’s increasingly embracing an attitude of doing the bare minimum.

Instead of spending hours cooking the night before, tired office workers are taking inspiration from these kinds of meals, packing carrots, cucumbers, and raw bell peppers in their lunch boxes. They’re replacing flavorful dishes with unassuming breads and raw vegetables, and finding an unexpected satisfaction in the seemingly bland fare.

It’s a big change for officer workers in China, where cuisine is usually elaborate, sprawlingly diverse, and packed with flavor. But it turns out that a minimalist approach to lunch has its own perks.

bell pepper

Taking the concept of a simple lunch to a new level. Image via Xiaohongshu

For one, these lunches align well with weight-loss goals, as the ingredients in these meals are often low in calories.

There’s also the convenience factor, for people who want to quickly throw together a wrap or a sandwich rather than spend precious time cooking.

But perhaps the most surprising benefit of “White People Food” is its ability to keep you focused throughout the day. Unlike traditional Chinese food, whose carbs and proteins can sometimes induce drowsiness, this vegetable-heavy meal can help you stay awake and alert.

“The key is to put it all in a sandwich bag in under five minutes, without turning on the stove,” reads one report.

light lunch

Of course, not everyone is on board with the trend, and some people couldn’t bear the thought of foregoing flavor and variety. But others found a strange sense of comfort in the blandness of these meals, calling it a reflection of their work experience, and a reminder that the office isn’t a place for enjoying life.

China is notorious for its increasingly “involuted” work culture. Many entry-level employees in China are working the 996 schedule, and are simply too busy to prepare meals. At the same time, ordering takeout every day can get pricy.

These are the circumstance that have led to the glorious rise of White People Food.

The craze around simple lunch boxes can also be traced back to the larger “lying flat” and “let it rot” trends, where young people are choosing to do the bare minimum at work, embracing undesirable situations rather than trying to change them.

White People Food may fade as a fad, but the new generation of China’s workforce does not look ready to reverse its sustained, low-energy rebellion against an increasingly exploitive work culture.

RADII believes in the importance of transparency in our changing world. AI-powered tools were used by our editors in the research or production of this post. All content is composed, fact-checked, and edited by our in-house editorial staff.

Images via Xiaohongshu

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