This summer, Chinese citizens aroused high concerns over prepared dishes on the internet. It seems all of a sudden, we became  surrounded by prepared dishes: in restaurants, cafes, and even at school. Prepared dishes are not a fresh idea. At least ten years ago, restaurants in Shanghai started selling prepared dishes for making New Year’s Eve dinner at home. Why have prepared dishes suddenly become a target of all?

The major concern, especially by parents, is that prepared dishes are not fresh enough. Prepared dishes are made to be preserved for a relatively long period of time. Chinese people have a tradition of preserving meat or vegetables but eating adequate fresh fruits and vegetables is ironed in most Chinese people’s minds, and clearly, prepared dishes can’t satisfy this need. According to a parent’s complaint: “The meat in my child’s lunch is very salty, and the vegetables look almost yellow. The soybean products are sour.” Another parent from Dongguan said: “My child eats prepared dishes at school every day, it’s absolutely not acceptable that she will eat that for three years.”  Compared to fresh dishes, the prepared dishes were frozen and dried before getting on the table. There’s no doubt that the more food is processed, the more nutrition will go away, especially for vegetables. 

Prepared dishes also face the rejection of Chinese people because their expectation of restaurants fails. The Chinese city residents go to restaurants to have a decent meal mainly for hedonic consumption. That is to say, when they don’t cook at home, they expect the restaurants to cook far better than them and provide a joyful eating experience. Yet nowadays, it’s very common to see some chain restaurants using prepared dishes. In a lot of large newly-emerged malls, using gas stoves are not allowed, and restaurants can only use electric stoves for cooking, which is not suitable for Chinese dishes requiring high temperature and fierce flames. Prepared dishes that only require relatively simple cooking and less time become the better choice of restaurants. Citizens are highly concerned about whether they are eating something cooked from fresh food or not. Their main worry is that the purpose of a restaurant fails if it does not cook dishes from fresh ingredients and only uses prepared materials and simple cooking methods that make decent restaurants not different from fast food restaurants like KFCs. 

Yet the prepared dishes occupy the market, not only because of the restaurants’ needs but also meeting the necessities of households. The “old” style of prepared dishes often requires to be steamed or fried again when cooking to achieve the taste of a restaurant at home. Nowadays, the prepared dishes targeting households no longer require normal cooking procedures. Just putting it in the oven or microwave is fine. Under the social atmosphere of anxiety and competition, many workers now have no choice but to work overtime every day. With their energy drained out, the prepared dishes that don’t require complicated cooking now become their unwilling choice. 

So what’s the future of prepared dishes? Regulations made to clarify the usage of prepared dishes are already on the way. Under the fierce rejection of parents, some schools have already stopped supplying prepared dishes, and some local governments have already banned the supply of prepared dishes to students. For restaurants, an approach is to fully consent to the customers whether they are eating fresh dishes or something prepared. But for the time being, the products targeting households will obviously get a bigger share of the market under the exhausted social atmosphere. Perhaps only when we aren’t concerned about what we eat can we enjoy a pleasant life.