‘Don’t eat meat’

The Chinese love meat. Can a vegetarian campaign succeed?

‘Don’t eat meat’

A fine advertisement for the vegetarian diet. Barbie Hsu

The Chinese have always had a pragmatically unsentimental attitude to animals. As the old saying goes, anything with four legs, except a table, can be eaten.

So has animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) undertaken mission impossible? It wants to convert the meat-loving country to vegetarianism.

PETA recently unveiled a campaign fronted by popular Taiwanese singer and actress Barbie Hsu, to promote vegetarianism in China, where meat consumption is growing. Her message: vegetarianism is sexy.

A poster of Hsu surfacing in the China Daily shows the actress holding a little yellow chick up to her face above the slogan “Vegetarians make chicks happy”.

Hsu was voted as Asia’s “Sexist Vegetarian Alive” as part of PETA’s efforts to promote vegetarianism involving celebrities. Last year, similar awards were given to British pop-star Leona Lewis and Anthony Kiedis, lead singer in the rock band Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

“My health has improved a lot since I became a vegetarian,” says Hsu. “I want to tell this good news to all of my friends, to tell them the advantages… so this campaig­n is perfect for me.”

PETA is hoping that Hsu will appeal to younger Chinese, who are becoming more health and body conscious.

Healthy vegetarian diets not only support a lifetime of good health, they are also the easiest way to stay slim and sexy, says PETA.

However, a meat-free diet remains an unpopular concept in China. Until fairly recently many people suffered from malnutrition. The majority of vegetarians in the country remain Buddhist adherents.

A quick scan of the menu at your local Chinese restaurant (or a look back at our Fast Food columns) and you’re apt to find dozens of meat-centred dishes – like Lion’s Head, Beggar’s Chicken and Twice-Cooked Pork.

But the Chinese used to be primarily vegetarian, argue animal-rights activists. Meat used to be a rare commodity – something that the commoners could only afford on special occasions. It is only more recently that better economic times have seen meat consumption soar.

It is precisely for this reason that many people in China feel that meat should be consumed to the fullest, says Simon Chau, a commentator for the China Daily. Meat was a luxury denied during earlier hardships.

But campaigners are not discouraged. Recently in Chengdu, a group of young women walked through the streets of the capital city of Sichuan, wearing nothing but tree leaves to promote vegetarianism.

Naturally, they attracted some attention. But not perhaps for the right reasons.

“People may remember their sexy outfits, but they won’t remember why they did it,” one resident told the Chongqing Morning News.

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