The “Meat World: China” film team’s last stop in Beijing was a visit to Beijing’s Vegan Hut, China’s first vegan restaurant where, we could see in the dailies (clips of the team’s footage, compressed and uploaded in China, and downloaded in New York), a healthy crop of wheatgrass and a number of customers. Jian Yi interviewed the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Yu, who opened the place after reading about the role of the meat industry in climate change in a 2006 United Nations report. Vegan Hut has become a gathering place for people in Beijing concerned about meat, global warming, and the environment writ large'”keen vegetarians” as Jian Yi described them. It was a lively evening. There was a showing of Meat the Truth, a Dutch documentary about the role of livestock in global warming (the English subtitled into Chinese). It riffs on U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s seminal climate doc, “An Inconvenient Truth,” specifically its lack of any mention of meat eating and global warming.
After the film, a small group of Vegan Hut patrons discussed the issues the film raised, and its approach, intensely. Among them: a government official who’s been a vegetarian for 20 years, and who is, Jian Yi writes, “very concerned with factory farming and public health.” He’s about to publish a book with the title, roughly translated into English, of Breaking People’s Myths About Meat. Some questioned the role of Western influence on the rise in China’s meat and dairy consumption; others begged to differ. The debate went on for quite some time.
Next time you’re in Beijing, you’ll have to eat at Vegan Hut, Jian Yi tells me and Brighter Green’s producing partners, Karin Chien of dGenerate Films and Susannah Ludwig of Flourish Films, who are also on the skype call. We readily agree. (The last time I was in Beijing, more than a decade ago, the one vegetarian restaurant my colleague and I tried to visit was closed. One dish I do recall eating in a non-descript conference center hotel was something like iceberg lettuce with brown sauce. It was not, needless to say, a meal memorable for its taste.)
There’s something else, Jian Yi says’something unexpected: the experience the shoot is having on the crew. They’re moving in a more vegetarian direction. “I think, ” he says, “I have become a vegan. So has Song [the sound editor].”
Next up: Jian Yi and his team head south, to Jiangxi province, to document a day in the life of a factory farm entrepreneur, the realities of smaller pig farms, the recollections of an older generation of Chinese farmers of the food cultures they grew up with, and to record lunch time at Donald Macky, a home-grown Chinese fast food outlet.