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Freshness as a social construct in Chinese markets (Chengdu)


As the Covid-19 pandemic leads the Chinese authorities to forbid the sale of wildlife and live poultry in wetmarkets, the construction of the cold chain in China meets ordinary standards of food safety and freshness among Chinese citizens in their daily acts of consumption. “Wetmarkets” – markets where animals are sold alive and which must be cleaned with water regularly, a term invented in Singapore in the 1970’s – are popular in China because they guarantees “freshness”, which is mentioned in recent surveys as the main motivation of customers before low price, proximity and conviviality. It has been estimated that in China’s main cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou), between 30 and 50% of the food is bought in wetmarkets, and this proportion has hardly been reduced in Chinese territories such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore where supermarkets propose “fresh” products. The Chinese term for “fresh” (xinxian) doesn’t mean cold but rather new and savory. To avoid refrigeration in their home, customers in Hong Kong go shopping in these markets 2 to 3 times a week. To avoid long-term transportation of food products, urban planners in Hainan estimate that a wetmarket should serve a population of 20 000 to 30 000 persons in a 2-km radius. Paradoxically, wetmarkets are considered as “fresh” precisely because they lack the cold chain of supermarkets: the production of freshness is delegated to human actors rather than to a standardized machine. In May-June 2021, Nan Nan and Tang Yun are describing the social construction of freshness in daily interactions between customers, retailers, supervisors and urban planners in contemporary Chinese cities, where the pressure to introduce standardized cold chains is increasing.


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