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    Tired of Cafeterias, Students Go for Lunch at Construction Sites

    School cafeterias have often been called out for substandard and drab meals.
    Mar 21, 2023#food

    Many students in southwestern China have found a new way to rebel against the expensive, unsavory food at their school cafeteria — by ditching them for the lunch boxes sold at construction sites.

    A video capturing dozens of university students queuing alongside workers for boxed lunches at a construction site in the city of Yibin, Sichuan province, has gone viral on social media platforms. Many said the food items sold on the site were better value for money and there were more options to choose from — the “site buffet” showed some 30 dishes that could be chosen from for 13 yuan ($2).

    On social media platforms, the video has become a symbol of the lack of appetite for school cafeterias that have long been mocked for their meals that lack in quantity and quality. Local governments have time and again called for school cafeterias to be investigated after complaints over substandard meals, with Sichuan province even prohibiting “high-risk” food items, including cold dishes, to prevent students from getting sick.

    “The main point of students buying boxed lunches on construction sites is to make the school canteen reflect,” one Weibo user said, echoing similar sentiments of others.

    Boxed lunches are popular in China, especially among blue-collar workers and office goers, due to their convenience. Their popularity has attracted several so-called online influencers, who film themselves cooking and preparing boxed meals and have accumulated thousands of followers on platforms such as Douyin and Bilibili. Some university students have tried following in their footsteps, documenting their efforts preparing boxed meals on lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, but not all have been successful.

    “You should prepare dishes that have more meat and color, and aren’t as dry, which would make them look more appetizing,” said one Xiaohongshu user under a related post, listing the recipe used by a successful box lunch business. “And it should be cheaper.”

    Hu Zuer, a 20-year-old university student, told Sixth Tone that she was tired of eating cafeteria food, especially after last year’s lockdown when choice was limited. There were complaints over students being served substandard meals during that time, which resulted in the vendors being fined by the authorities.

    “I’m fed up with the food provided by the school,” Hu said. “Though our cafeteria has been nominated by many as the best among all eastern universities, I still can’t take it any longer.”

    But some students have also supported their school cafteria online, saying they were "fans" of the food there.  

    Meanwhile, in Yibin, local authorities responded to the viral video Monday, saying they have started inspecting the food quality in the city’s universities, domestic media reported.

    “Students going out to eat doesn’t mean that there is a problem with school canteens,” the local government said. “It’s probably just because the meals at the construction site are cheaper.”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: College students purchase lunch boxes at construction sites. From Weibo)