Eating out Ethically: An Analysis of the Influence of Ethical Food Consumption in a Vegetarian Restaurant in Guangzhou, China

By Liu, Chen; Cai, Xiaomei et al. | The Geographical Review, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Eating out Ethically: An Analysis of the Influence of Ethical Food Consumption in a Vegetarian Restaurant in Guangzhou, China


Liu, Chen, Cai, Xiaomei, Zhu, Hong, The Geographical Review


INTRODUCTION

Rather than a dichotomy of vegetarian consumption between the "voluntary" and "modern" forms in the West, and the "involuntary" and "traditional" forms found elsewhere, vegetarianism in China is a combination of the traditional and the modern, as well as a connection of local and foreign cultures (Klein 2008). Therefore, traditional Chinese ideologies of vegetarianism (such as Confucian and Taoist ideologies that define the vegetarian lifestyle as a way of expressing a lofty personality; powers that forbid people to eat meat during the worship of ancestors; and the traditional beliefs that people can make their dreams come true by vowing to avoid meat) and foreign religious and ethical ideas about caring for others (including Buddhism from India and modern ethical consumption ideas from the West) are mingled through vegetarian consumption in Chinese society (Simoons 1991).

To explore vegetarian consumption in contemporary Guangzhou, we employ the concept of 'ethical eating' which combines ethics and food consumption to examine vegetarian consumption in a typical vegetarian restaurant: Refreshing Vegetarian Food (Yixin Su Shi) in Guangzhou. Questions of how the restaurant creates an ethic for vegetarian eating, and how the consumers reproduce such ethics and reshape the restaurant, will be discussed. We assume that ethical eating is not only shaped by the ethics imbued by the restaurant, but also has the capability to reproduce and reshape the restaurant as an ethical food space. As this article focuses on the practices of ethical eating in a restaurant, it might also be read as a contribution to the wider literature on the practice of ethical food consumption.

Guangzhou is the provincial capital city of Guangdong province, the southernmost province in mainland China. According to a map of vegetarian eating establishments supplied by Refreshing Vegetarian Food, by the end of 2012, there were thirty-eight vegetarian restaurants in Guangzhou. These restaurants are located around Buddhist temples or in the city center. Refreshing Vegetarian Food is high-profile vegetarian restaurant. It was the first vegetarian restaurant in Guangzhou, and now has two branches located in central Guangzhou. We selected the original Refreshing Vegetarian Food in the Tianhe district, one of the central districts of Guangzhou, near Guangzhou East railway station as our study case, as it is the oldest and most typical vegetarian restaurant in Guangzhou. When Refreshing Vegetarian Food was established in 2007, it was a Buddhist restaurant. Now, it has become a commercial restaurant for all people who prefer a vegetarian diet. Neither meat and nor alcohol are supplied or allowed in Refreshing Vegetarian Food. For religious reasons, garlic, onions, peppers and other spices are also banned in the restaurant.

This article is comprised of four sections. It starts with an evaluation of the current literature on ethical food consumption to provide a theoretical background for this research. We follow with a section that introduces the research methods of the study. The third section analyzes how restaurants and social identities/relations are made and remade through ethical eating via the restaurant dimension and the consumer dimension. The insights obtained from our empirical research are then h discussed in the last section.

EATING AND ETHICS

Recently, the burgeoning interdisciplinary studies have highlighted the connection between ethics and consumption. Ethical consumption is engaged with right versus wrong, good versus bad, and ethical versus unethical (Starr 2009). Such consumption can be considered as a set of social practices that mobilize a diverse range of motivations, incentives, and desires in developing large-scale forms of collective actions. These, in turn, induce meaningful change in the conduct of powerful economic and bureaucratic systems (Barnett and others 2005a). Moreover, ethical consumption might reshape everyday consumption into a citizenly act (Clarke and others 2007; Barnett and others 2011), compelling individuals to find solutions for social and environmental problems (Barnett and others 2005b; Johnston and others 2011). …

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