A restaurant in China that challenged its customers to eat more than 100 dumplings in return for a free meal has fallen foul of authorities, who are investigating whether it has violated the country’s anti-food waste law.
Local authorities in Yibin City in the southwestern province of Sichuan swooped on the restaurant after hearing of its “king of big stomach challenge,” the state-affiliated news outlet The Cover reported this week.
The challenge reportedly involved patrons competing to eat 108 chaoshous, or spicy wonton dumplings, as quickly as possible to win a free meal and additional prizes.
To drum up interest, the restaurant had advertised the offer on social media to entice patrons only to find itself in the hot seat when the State Administration for Market Regulation said it would open an investigation into whether it had breached the law surrounding food waste.
While eating contests are relatively common in Western countries and can bring fame for their winners – like Joey Chestnut, who last week won Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island by downing 62 hot dogs in 10 minutes – they can be a sensitive matter in China.
Many in the country still have memories of the famine of the 1950s and 60s that killed an estimated 45 million people.
The Cover said the restaurant, which it did not name, was one of several being probed by the authorities over similar competitions.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping has in the past called food waste “shocking and distressing” and in March this year said agricultural supplies were like the foundation of national security.
The law against wasting food was enacted in 2021, following pointed government criticisms of online bloggers who live-streamed themselves binge eating to draw in viewers. Many of their accounts were subsequently suspended by the social media platforms.
Under the law, restaurant owners can be fined up to 10,000 yuan ($1,400) if their establishments “induce or mislead customers to order excessively to cause obvious waste.”
Radio and television stations, as well as online video and audio providers, face a maximum fine of 10 times that amount if they are found to be involved in “making, publishing, promoting programs or audio messages about eating excessively and binge eating and drinking.”
The restaurant in Yibin “demonstrates behaviors of binge eating and drinking and inducing customers to order excessively,” the Cover said, citing the local market regulator.
However, some Chinese internet users have criticized the authorities for overreaching.
“Is this counted as a waste? Why not let people compete for the biggest eater? Will the food not consumed there actually go to the poor?” wrote one user on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
Another user pointed to the country’s poor track record on food safety, which has included scandals ranging from contaminated baby milk powder to the use of “gutter oil” – recycled oil tainted with food waste or even sewage.
“You didn’t regulate food safety … but this?” the user said. (Excerpt from 'Authorities swoop on Chinese restaurant that challenged customers to eat 108 dumplings', cnn.com, 2023)
Why did the restaurant attract the attention of authorities?