Under a photo of processed cheese, ham and crackers packed neatly in plastic, a Weibo user writes that to eat this for lunch is to “learn what it feels like to be dead”.
The post is part of a trend among Chinese social media users who are recreating “báirén fàn” or “white people food” to better understand – or poke fun at – western packed lunches made up of plain ingredients such as raw vegetables and sliced meats.
The social media platforms Weibo and Xiaohongshu have been inundated with photos and reviews of cold sandwiches, raw carrots and canned tuna. Many are Chinese international students surprised by the simple lunches eaten by their peers overseas.
The trend has also been pushed along by a viral video of a woman in Switzerland on a train eating a bag of lettuce with ham and a packet of mustard.
In response, hundreds of commenters shared stories of the low-effort lunches of their own colleagues in Europe, the US and Australia.
“When I first came to Australia, I saw a woman who bought … raw sliced ??mushrooms in the supermarket and sat down to eat it. I was dumbfounded,” one writes.
The TikTok user @li2dog breaks down “white people food” into three parts. First, it has no spices (“zero feeling to your food”) because it does not prioritise enjoyment. Second, it involves as little preparation as possible: “Eat it raw, eat is as a whole piece.” And third, it is eaten at work or school. “The idea is when you get off work, you go back to eat your normal food and you feel the life back.”
Marcelo Wang explains that the fascination with these meals comes from that fact that many Chinese people are used to cooking with a lot of different ingredients.
But to some Chinese netizens, this kind of food is the “lunch of suffering”, as put by blogger Shanyoule, who bought a pack of string beans and a tomato to see what it was like to eat them raw: “It’s so lawless and outrageous.”
Another blogger opined that these lunches are “not for enjoyment, but to find guilt”.
“In this way, I can always remind myself that I am here to work.”
Another user shared a photo of their colleague’s packed lunch of baby carrots on top of some spinach, inspiring the question: “Can they generate their own energy without eating?”
Chinese people in Europe have shared similar assessments, with one person in Germany saying they have a colleague whose lunch has not changed for 10 years.
“It is a handful of oatmeal mixed with low-fat yoghurt, with half an apple and a carrot. If such a meal is to extend life, what is the meaning of life?”