Panic buying after China’s Covid-19 cases continue to surge
China food security: Beijing residents stock up on cabbages for winter after warning triggers panic buying
- A government notice last week advised households to stock up on daily necessities and a snow forecast reinforced the rush this year
- Long early morning queues formed outside supermarkets in downtown Beijing last week
Older residents in Beijing recently stocked up on cabbage, giving a tradition a new lease of life after the government advised people to keep enough basic goods at home in case of emergencies.
People have for years bought dozens of large cabbages, which can be kept fresh for months and are widely used in local cuisine, in early November to see them through freezing winters.
“Every year at this time the [cabbage] sales volume is high. But after the report came out, everyone rushed to buy even more,” said Jia Jinzhi, a grower who sells cabbage at Beijing’s Xinfadi wholesale market.
China urges citizens to stockpile ‘daily necessities’, sparking fears of food shortages
Supermarkets capped sales at three cabbages per person, but even then, shoppers arriving after 9am left empty-handed.
The bright green cabbages, known as Chinese cabbage or Napa cabbage, used to be piled high in backyards, in block of flats hallways or even in home-made shelters dug underground, with neighbours striving to outdo each other on the size of their cabbage stocks.
Freezing temperatures and the tough outer leaves kept the 2kg brassicas fresh for months.
The cabbage piles have shrunk over the years as sophisticated logistics transport fresh vegetables across China all-year round and as families increasingly live in small high-rise flats rather than houses, but the tradition lives on.
“This is a Beijing custom,” said a woman surnamed Zhao, leaving a Wumart supermarket with three cabbages.
Wumart customers said they were paying about three times what they paid last year, or 1 yuan (16 US cents) per half kilo.
But if they did not buy now, prices would double further into winter, said another shopper surnamed Sun.
“You can keep it for two or three months. You put it outside, find a cotton blanket to cover it,” he said.
Wrapping the cabbage in newspaper also helps to keep it fresh, said Zhao, who stores it on her balcony.
It was part of a seasonal notice put out by the Ministry of Commerce encouraging authorities to secure food supplies and stable prices ahead of winter, following a recent spike in vegetable prices and a growing coronavirus outbreak.
Retirees, who do not use China’s ubiquitous shopping apps, were the ones predominantly willing to stand in line for the cabbages.
“If it rains or snows and you can’t go out, you have some vegetables at home,” said a 62-year-old woman, waiting in a long line outside Wumart. “Anyway, what else am I doing?”