China and changing food trends: A sustainability transition perspective

Dora Marinova, Diana Bogueva, Yanrui Wu, Xiumei Guo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Introduction. Global population has witnessed significant changes in the way food is produced and consumed. Although this has benefitted population health, it has also contributed to climate change and unsustainable use of natural resources. Materials and methods. Сomprehensive literature review. Results and discussion. The characteristics of four transition theories related to food are outlined to help explain population behaviour, namely demographic, nutrition/protein, food and sustainability transition. This is followed by a further desktop analysis of the changes occurring in China, the world's largest demography, and this country's contribution to a most-needed global sustainability transition. The theoretical framework of transition theories used since the mid-20th century outlines changes in population behaviour impacting relationships between people and more recently with the natural environment. As a multidisciplinary field describing fundamental shifts in human societies, transition theories are very insightful in relation to food and nutrition. The demographic transition links industrialisation with fertility and mortality rates but also with food availability. During the nutrition transition, a change occurs in people's calorie intakes from different food groups. While the share of protein remains relatively stable, the initial transition from plant- to animal-based foods now changes in reverse with increasing ecological and health awareness. This nutrition/protein transition can result in a better dietary behaviour with reduction in over-consumption, losses and waste. The food transition explains the transformations on the supply side - how food is produced, processed and distributed, reflecting changes in agricultural methods, use of land, soil, water, fertilisers and chemicals, supply and distribution chains. More sustainable farming methods are currently being introduced in response to ecologically threatening trends as a result of land-use changes and use of chemicals. As distinct from the other concepts, sustainability transition does not describe an evolutionary pattern of changes but only the current most necessary transformation in development. It requires radical transformation and action towards reduced environmental footprints of all human activities, including food. China's development has experienced similar transitions although with unique features. Its demographic transition has been influenced by the “one child policy” while the nutrition/protein transition has been fuelled by increasing income levels. Industrialisation of food production with application of chemicals is widespread but more recently, organic methods of farming are gaining momentum. Food security and production are recognised as a challenge and opportunity in China's sustainability transition with state-driven dietary efforts to contain domestic meat consumption. Conclusion. China has the opportunity to play a prominent role in the global transition to improved food choices, as required by the current environment and climate emergency, by shifting its own eating habits and also contributing to the burgeoning field of new alternatives to livestock products.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)126-147
Number of pages22
JournalUkrainian Food Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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