Canadians typically eat raw vegetables in salads, and so lean to softer, leafier vegetables, they explain.
“But in China, vegetables are mainly cooked, like stir fries. So we have many vegetables that are not good for salads, because they are hard and can be fibrous,” Zhenzhong said.
“When I came to Canada I found it difficult to cook, because I knew nothing about the Canadian vegetables.” He turned to YouTube videos to figure out Canadian cooking.
Chinese prize freshness. This typically means shopping more frequently for foods that are stored less and cooked more quickly.
The Canadian appetite for frozen fruits and vegetables baffles these scholars. They are also puzzled by supersized Canadian refrigerators.
“I have a habit of just buying food and cooking it that day, and eating it that day. So I appreciate the freshness of vegetables,” said Ning Dai, who came to Waterloo three years ago to pursue a PhD.
Danshu Qi grew up in a family that visited food markets together. Their practice was to check each fruit for freshness rather than buy bags of them. Her family experienced food shopping as valued family time.
“Coming to Canada, Chinese people will experience a culture shock,” said Danshu, who arrived four years ago to pursue a PhD.
Zhenzhong grew up in an agricultural village where many farms have been consumed in recent years by homes and factories.
The transformation got him thinking about how China’s farmers are adapting to rapid urbanization. This led him to UW where he earned his PhD and has stayed on as a scholar.
Zhenzhong is curious about organic farming in China and co-authored a book on it. Organic food is still a niche market there in part because it costs more, as it does here.
He argues that organic farming can better handle extreme weather caused by climate change, saying soil that’s properly managed for organic farming absorbs more rain.
Ning chose to study agriculture in part because he saw Chinese people spending less time on food as the country industrialized.
He figures he can use food as a lens to study how China is changing, building on his background in urban planning.
“I’ve always been obsessed with food,” he said. “It’s a big part of my life.”