“What are you taking with you to eat?”
This was not the question I was expecting from April, my editor here at The Plate, when I told her I’d be reporting in China this month.
Starting Tuesday, I’ll be travelling around China for National Geographic magazine for three weeks, researching the pressing food questions that have emerged in the country over the last few decades.
The research will take me from Shanghai to Xi’an, where I’ll talk to farmers and factory workers.
I know precious little about China. But the one thing I do know is that I will be surrounded by food, and one of the world’s great cuisines, the entire time. So why would I take food with me?
April rummaged around her desk and handed me a shiny gold plastic envelope.
“Here, take this!” she said. “It’s vacuum-packed salmon. You might need it!”
I’m not too keen on the salmon. But April’s gift—and my initial recoil at it, generosity and kindness aside—reminded me that one of the fundamental ways to learn about a country and a people is to simply eat their food.
So that’s my challenge for the next three weeks: To learn about Chinese food and agriculture, not least of all by eating what’s on the plates of the people I meet.
As I do, I’ll share those experiences on the blog, mixing in some of the more interesting facts I’m learning about how food and ag really work in China. (And, of course, there’ll be the requisite food pics on my Instagram account.) I’ll look into the globalization of Chinese breakfast, and what the country’s shift from a nation of backyard hog farms to big, modern ones means for China’s meals.
In the process, I’m determined to learn about and eat everything that crosses my path—everything that is, except the emergency salmon ration.
Stay tuned for regular posts on my food adventures in China.