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Smart guys know best about food

By Wang Jiabao | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-10-11 10:08
Primary students learn food safety during the 2019 National Food Safety Week in China. [Photo provided to China Daily]

China, known for its variety of cuisines, can illustrate the history of 5,000 years from food alone. And Beijing, the capital city of inclusiveness, gathers the unique tastes of different places.

Born in Beijing and studying in the United States, I cherish the taste of home. Though proud of China's food culture, I am also concerned about food safety. This summer, as a volunteer, I participated in the 2019 National Food Safety Week in China, which demonstrated the determination and outcomes of the government's efforts in regulating food safety.

I won't forget the scene when children from Beijing Huashi Primary School recited the three-character canon of food safety at the opening ceremony. Amid the warm applause from the audience, I became more aware of the significance of food education, because knowing how to eat is the greatest guarantee for health.

Food education in China is still in the initial stage of exploration. Studying and living abroad, I learned that the practices of food education are instructive.

For example, the US government developed supplementary courses and textbooks on food science for high school students, focusing on the knowledge of food safety in all links of the value chain, from farm to table and from food processing to consumption. It also guided the students to grow, identify and cook food; explore the role of bacteria in the development of food-borne diseases; and capture the approaches to prevent such diseases and minimize the effects of harmful factors on health.

Japan is the birthplace of the term "food education" and has formulated the first basic food law on food education in the world. The law states the target of food education is children and it is critical to empower learners with knowledge of food as well as how to choose food for a healthier lifestyle.

Food education in Japan covers a wide range of topics, including improving family and interpersonal relationships through food as well as teaching children to grow their own produce at school and create the right views about food, life and the world. Food education is a step-by-step process. The US and Japan share the same idea -- it is essential to start with children, because choosing the right food is not only an important skill, but also a foundation of intellectual, moral and physical education. Smart guys know best about food.

As the largest developing economy in the world, China boasts rapid growth and improved living quality, which are sometimes regrettably followed with health concerns, such as obesity and hypertension. "What and how to eat" has become the most visible question, which further projects the significance of food education.

During the National Food Safety Week, authorities partnered with Alipay and organized an interactive quiz on food safety and food science titled Planet Answers. In less than a month, the number of respondents exceeded 20 million, who answered 2.46 billion questions. The results showed that Chinese consumers still have plenty of misunderstandings in their basic knowledge of food safety.

Drawing on the lessons and practices of food education across the world, food education in China should cover a number of essential areas.

First, it should be designed to guide and drive children to establish correct values. Food is both the bounty of nature and the crystallization of labor. Food education should ignite their appreciation of the labor of others.

Second, it should show the inheritance of culture. Many traditional festivals are characterized by their own dishes, such as zongzi, a pyramidal glutinous rice dumpling for the Dragon Boat Festival; mooncakes on the Mid-Autumn Festival; and dumplings during Chinese New Year. The combination of food education and traditional Chinese culture enables students to "taste in their mouth and remember in their heart", thus passing on the tradition to the future generations.

Third, food helps to maintain and enhance relationships. Food is the paramount necessity of the people and Chinese culture has always valued "reunion dinners". Either a family dinner or casual lunch at school is a good way to reinforce communication and cohesion.

Lastly, food education should follow a step-by-step process. Though it begins with children, it should be properly designed by age and geography.

The Book of Rites: The Conveyance of Rites points out, "In the beginning, civilization started with food". And etiquette began with the norms of eating behavior. Today, let us start from food education, follow the food map in our minds and learn to eat happily and healthily.

The author is a Chinese student studying in USA. 

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