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Canteens set example in freeing seniors from burden of daily cooking

Pub Date:22-11-21 09:05 Source:China Daily

Editor's Note: The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has charted the course for the country on a new journey. In this series, China Daily looks at how people across the country, including delegates to the Party congress, are working hard to turn the blueprints into reality.

As buying groceries and cooking can be difficult for older people, authorities are finding ways to do some of the heavy lifting for them.

In a latest example, a county in Jilin province unveiled an affordable buffet early this month, in the hopes of helping older residents avoid the hassle of cooking and live more independent lives.

Huimin Cafeteria, the public eatery in question, debuted to great fanfare in the fast-aging Changbai Korean autonomous county.

Unlike other diners in the neighborhood, it only serves customers aged 60 and above, and offers three meals a day at a subsidized price.

Inside the brightly lit, 725-square-meter restaurant, a range of freshly cooked, low-salt dishes in small white bowls are up for grabs. The delicacies, which are lined up neatly on a long counter, include well-known dishes like shredded pork with sweet bean sauce and fermented vegetables, a local specialty.

Seniors have been lining up to choose their favorites.

"Buying groceries and cooking meals were a daily headache," said Huang Shuyu, who retired recently.

She was taking pictures of her lunch to send to her only daughter, who works out of town. "I hope my daughter will no longer worry about us."

First-time visitors need to bring their ID cards so that they can register for meal cards, which are then swiped at the entrance to pay for meals.

Canteen-goers in their 60s are charged 7 yuan ($1) per meal, and 70- and 80-somethings five yuan. Those aged 90 and above eat for free.

The facility is dotted with volunteers in red vests, ready to help seniors take their body temperature and scan their health codes in compliance with COVID-19 controls. They also help those who walk using a cane to fetch food from the counter.

The cafeteria is part of an effort by local authorities to promote community-based elderly care, a favored form of service among retirees in China, where nursing homes are still in short supply.

Sending parents to nursing homes is also somewhat stigmatized in a culture that prizes filial piety and the extended family.

According to local media, the county government has earmarked 1.7 million yuan to launch the canteen. The government-owned facility also receives public donations and is open to volunteers.

A group of local officials — including Han Yongzhe, the ethnic Korean head of the county — attended its opening ceremony on Nov 3. They gave congratulatory speeches before unveiling the canteen sign, on which Huimin Cafeteria is inscribed in both Chinese and Korean.

"A small bowl can cover an important issue," a summary of the speeches aired on the county's prime-time news show said.

In 2020, 18.7 percent of China's population, or some 264 million people, were aged 60 and above according to official data.

Demographers estimate that this figure will reach 520 million, or around 40 percent of the population, by midcentury, making China a heavily aging society.

Data from the National Development and Reform Commission shows that in the next five years, China aims to launch dining services for the elderly in over 80 percent of the communities in large cities, and extend them to smaller cities and rural areas as soon as possible.

Hefei, capital of Anhui province and a front-runner in the new trend, had 860 canteens by November, local media reported. A number of other regions, including the Inner Mongolia and Guangxi Zhuang autonomous regions, and Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces have unveiled similar services.

Editor:Zheng Chen

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