SHANGHAI COULD BE SPICY
CITY RINGED BY FARMS
Small-scale agriculture has traditionally dominated the landscape in Shanghai. Today, the majority of vegetables sold in Shanghai are still grown in market gardens inside the city limits. The non-profit WWF reports that most vegetables are produced no more than 10 km from the point of sale, where they appear within a day of being harvested. However, local vegetable production has decreased 45 percent since the 1980s. The municipal government of Shanghai has made a renewed effort to safeguard food self-reliance since 2000 by regulating land use to preserve farmland and launching a number of programs to support farming in the city. Sometimes referred to as planning for a “green ring,” authorities see agriculture as a way of also preserving green space.
When these ingredients are brought from farm to table, many dishes have a mild taste. The city melded two of the eight culinary traditions of Chinese cuisine, Jiangsu and Zhejiang, to create a cuisine that is characterized as soft textured, mild, sweet tasting, and fresh with mellow fragrance. Shanghai Hairy Crab, Lion’s Head meatballs, and Xiaolongbao soup dumplings are some typical Shanghainese dishes.
SHANGHAI IS GETTING HOTTER
This past July, Shanghai registered its hottest day on record at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the past five years, eight of the 12 highest temperatures recorded over the past century have been set, according to the Shanghai Meteorological Bureau. The bureau also reported in 2007 that the bloom date for peach trees, important for the local Peach Blossom Festival, had advanced an average of 12 days since the 1990s from April 6th to March 25th. Shanghai is classified as having a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons—similar to the American Gulf and south Atlantic states. But over the past years, Shanghai has missed rain during the normal summer wet season. This July, the national Ministry of Agriculture reported that due to the persistent summer heat, many regions in China were plagued by drought.
MORE HEAT LOVING CROPS?
Farmers in Shanghai may soon have to shift from crops such as green leafy vegetables to heat-adapted crops such as hot chili peppers from the nightshade family. China is already producing a great variety of peppers—over 2,119 types. According to the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University, the most commonly grown types are Capsicum annuum ‘Cao Tian Jiao’ and the Capsicum frutescens varieties ‘Xiao Mi La,’ ‘Shuan La Jiao,’ and ‘Da Shu La Jiao.’ These could be what Shanghai grows. Some growers find that hot weather and less water produces a hotter pepper. That could mean also that pepper varieties planted in Shanghai would taste hotter than imports from cooler, wetter regions.
MORE SPICE PLEASE
Also, Shanghai is seeing a shift in taste. Sichuan and Hunan cuisines are becoming more popular in the city, both known for their hot and spicy flavors. Dishes can have a combination of numbing-spicy, dry-spicy, or sour-spicy flavors. Both cuisines share a love of chili peppers, an ingredient that migrated to the two provinces from the New World in the late 16th century. These foods are gaining fans with new cafes serving Mapo Tofu, Hunan Spicy Beef, and Dan Dan Noodles.
A shift in foodways and eating habits might come with health benefits for the Shanghainese. A 2015 study in the BMJ found a link between spicy food consumption and longer life expectancy. The study looked at the diet of over 400,000 people over an average of seven years and found those who ate spicy foods 3-7 times a week had a 14 percent relative risk reduction in total mortality. The study suggests spicy food may have health benefits ranging from boosting metabolism to reducing the risk of heart disease. If a spicier diet contributes to longevity, Shanghai could experience more development pressure as people live longer, adding to population increases from rural migrants and rising birth rates.
OR THE FUTURE OF SHANGHAI COULD BE MILD
An increase in smog in Shanghai has become a problem in recent years. While the visibility is not yet as poor as in Beijing, the city only had 37 percent “good” air days from 2013 to 2015, according to a Peking University Study. If air quality declines further there could be a different crop shift. In a smog-laden environment, shade loving plants might be better adapted to grow in Shanghai’s patchily urbanized “green ring.” Leafy crops such as bok choy and mustard greens, along with celery, beans, peas, and onions, might thrive better than crops from the sun-loving nightshade family. That could mean more plates of stir-fried Shanghai greens and green onion pancakes.
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