Why A Chinese Restaurant's Dumpling Challenge Sparked An Investigation

Public displays of excessive food consumption may not be unusual in the U.S., but that's not the case around the world. While the annual Nathan's hot dog eating contest may coincide with our nation's birth date every Fourth of July, in China, a 2021 law made food waste illegal and punishable by fines. A restaurant in the Chinese city of Yibin is currently under investigation for having violated the anti-food waste law with its "king of big stomach" challenge, according to CNN.

The restaurant, not named by Chinese authorities, is located in the province of Sichuan and reportedly challenged its customers to eat 108 choushous, or spicy wonton dumplings, awarding prizes to those customers who downed the dumplings the fastest. Should the restaurant be found to have encouraged wasteful consumption of food, the establishment could be fined up to 10,000 yuan, or roughly $1,400. In addition to fines for restaurants that encourage food waste, Chinese media outlets can face substantial fines for promoting wasteful or excessive consumption of food or drink.

Why does China prohibit wasteful food consumption?

Though the law prohibiting the promotion or publicizing of displays of wasteful consumption dates to 2021, its roots go much further back in Chinese history. It's been noted that some residents of China have vivid memories of the widespread famine in the '50s and '60s that killed roughly 45 million people. In light of historic deprivation, these recent events surrounding excessive food consumption for entertainment purposes can be seen as being in exceedingly poor taste.

On the other side, there has been criticism of Chinese authorities for prosecuting restaurants and the media, with some saying that there are more important issues like food safety that should be addressed first. However, President Xi Jinping refers to food waste as "shocking and distressing," and the Yibin restaurant with the dumpling challenge isn't the only restaurant under investigation for similarly wasteful spectacles.

There has been some discussion in the U.S. media about negative aspects of competitive eating, with professional opinions from health care providers and researchers about the dangers of the "sport." Meanwhile, George Shea, chairman of Major League Eating, told Daily Mail that he likens the discipline and training of competitive eaters like Joey Chestnut, who gained his 2023 victory by downing 62 Nathan's hot dogs, to that of mainstream sports figures. Shea speculates that competitive eating has the potential to gain a worldwide audience — though perhaps not in China.