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Having listened on many occasions to Peggy Liu (my partner in all things Dream In A Box and the powerhouse behind The China Dream) speak on the worrying nature of diet and the often questionable quality and provenance of food sold in some Chinese eateries, a small article in The Economist* last week made my heart give a little (non-ischaemic) jump.

Not only did the article report on the feel-good factor of a people-powered ‘first’: that of the president of the People’s Republic turning up unannounced in a local Beijing eatery. it may also potentially provide a playful answer to the huge challenges around regulating for better food and restaurant hygiene in China.

And that answer is? The Mystery Shopper. The one time secret-police of the Sales Promotion industry and their FMCG clients in the late ‘70s and ‘80s could just hold the key – especially if that Mystery Shopper is none other than Xi Jingping

That is an opportunity for a celebrity endorsement you wouldn’t want to screw up. A gift horse one would wish to neither look in the mouth nor find in one’s noodle soup.

The chance that you might still be peddling some old bits of shoe in batter just at the moment the esteemed leader enters your establishment would leave you with more than just Foo Yung egg slice on your face and a few apologies to make.

it would leave purveyors of such culinary delights as slow roasted ‘plucked floating from river’ foul in much the same circumstance as they found the bird in question; quite dead in the water – commercially, legally and personally. The loss of face that would accompany such an unmasking would be immeasurable in a culture that holds honour in such great esteem.

Whether the possibility of it would be enough to dissuade the many sellers of the likes of steamed dumplings stuffed with (used) newspaper soaked in a rather tasty rice vinegar; and pork buns filled with abstract species of every kind other than the porcine variety is uncertain.

But I imagine they would do more than think twice about serving up these mutant delicacies if they feared that Mr Xi might turn up in their lunch time queue unannounced any time soon.

Equally, the reverse impacts along their (loosely phrased) ‘supply chains’ would be of benefit to everyone in terms of eating experiences, food hygiene and a more regulated and heavily scrutinised food industry and culture generally.

To instil a blanket terror in every dodgy dumpling merchant would in fairness require little of the leader. He only need turn up once or twice in the four corners of the Republic: and ensure that the media cover following each appearance was massive.  After that he could simply hire 20 or so unnamed Look-a-likes who could pop up randomly in distant eateries while Xingping remained safely tucked away doing slightly more important things like running China.

There is also something quite apropos about a method once reserved for checking up on whether CTN owners, grocers and Wholesalers had put up snack and soft drink sales promotional literature potentially revolutionising food culture at a mass scale in such a high-profile culture.

That mystery Shopper could from such low beginnings rise to the challenge of solving one of the greatest food crimes ever knowingly undertaken by so few against so many, would indeed constitute a sublime example of conceptual social mobility in a culture once renowned for championing the rise of great leaders from humble beginnings.

So, here’s to the inception of Chinese Celebrity Mystery Shopper and a food revolution.

JUCCCE China Dream FOOTNOTE:

  • CLEAN & SERENE – To activate safe food, JUCCCE is working with Ecolab, a company that works in restaurant hygiene and clean water supply, and a local design firm called Impact Group to publish and distribute a guide for “Top 10 tips for Safe and Healthy Restaurants”.
  • YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT – created a New Way to Eat program – melds new nutritional guidelines with low impact foods – convening senior global coalition of nutritionalists and sustainable agricultural experts to develop new guidelines – create school curriculum in YK Pao and YCIS schools, and tasty, sustainable and nutritious school meals with Eurest.
  • JUCCE are developing a NWTE programme with WEFer David Agus (author of “End of Illness”) that is “Good for you, Good for the planet”.

* Original Economist Article – A New Flavour. Xi Jingping gets down with the people.

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