Bok choy emojis, clips of Gucci gift bags stuffed with celery and video of drones delivering broccoli – vegetable memes are the new currency in Shanghai’s sardonic social media scene, with the city locked down and pining for greens.
Those navigating the city’s thicket of Covid-19 restrictions to go shopping this week found long queues and empty shelves as panic-buying outpaced re-supply.
The online market was a little better stocked, with fresh food apps Hema and Ele.me crashing as early risers refreshed pages the moment stores opened.
The vegetable hysteria was picked up by meme-makers who tickled image-conscious Shanghai with videos of Louis Vuitton boxes holding bok choy instead of luxury items, and clips on Douyin – China’s TikTok – showing lettuce, cucumber and celery in Gucci gift bags.
Another unverified but widely shared video shows a man delivering a bag of broccoli via drone to a grateful neighbour.
Shanghai authorities have recognised that patience is running thin after three weeks of scattergun lockdowns and restrictions, promising people will have fresh food packages.
State media on Thursday moved to reassure the public that fresh produce would not run out, showing photos of “vegetable planting bases” in the Shanghai suburbs running “round-the-clock” to meet the demand spike.
Fresh food costs tripled in some markets due to panic buying and a lack of delivery drivers.
Residents are growing weary and frustrated at the failure to control the virus outbreak, in which city authorities have warned cases are “rapidly rising”.
“It’s been much more difficult to buy groceries on Hema,” a 42-year-old locked-down Shanghai resident, who gave her name only as Tang, told AFP.
“Some of the things I wanted were not there, and of course the delivery times are much, much longer.”
Lockdowns have extended beyond their initial periods and many residents are concerned a positive test could see them swept into state quarantine.
“Our compound had around 20 confirmed cases… We can’t go downstairs of our building,” said a finance worker locked down in Pudong.
The man, who declined to give his name, said he had received a “package of vegetables, so we don’t lack any now”.
As the city entered a period of anxiety and confusion over the lattice of lockdown rules, AFP reporters saw people surreptitiously buying vegetables through a gate sealed by police tape, and people hauling groceries up to a balcony on a string.
A stream of the Miami Ultra Music Festival, hosted by Chinese platform TudiMusic, was blitzed with vegetable emojis from Shanghai viewers during replays this week.
TudiMusic said hundreds of thousands of viewers from the city tuned in.