A school principal in central China revealed this week that he has been eating students’ leftovers from the school cafeteria to warn them against food waste.
The stunt by Wang Yongxin, the head of a private secondary school in Qiyang, Hunan province, sparked debate in China about the balance between proving a point and maintaining public hygiene.
A viral video from Tuesday showed Wang standing near the cafeteria waste bin, stopping children from throwing out their meals, and eating the leftovers. Some students watched him eat with embarrassed smiles while others started eating their food again after he stopped them from tossing it.
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Wang, 58, told local newspaper Xiaoxiang Morning Post that, starting last week, he has been having his three meals this way. He said that he ate unfinished meals from about six or seven kids during a lunch period last week.
“I want to set an example for the kids, letting them know that it’s wrong to waste food. My behaviour has not only surprised the children but also teachers,” he was quoted as saying.
“Some children finished their food when they saw me eating their classmates’ leftovers. Now some of them voluntarily tell the staff how much food they need, which helps reduce waste,” he said.
While some people online praised Wang as a good role model amid rampant squandering of food in Chinese society, others said it was a publicity stunt and expressed concerns about health risks.
“It’s good to be frugal, but eating others’ leftovers is a bad example for epidemic control. Maybe they should think of other ways to educate the students,” one Weibo user said.
But it was not an issue for Wang. “It’s all from the same kitchen. All the students and teachers eat here. I regard the kids as my own, so there is no boundary in my mind,” he said.
China’s central government has focused on cutting down on food waste over the past year, highlighted by a law passed in April that would fine restaurants and their patrons for excessive leftovers. It also banned people from performing in binge-eating live-streaming shows.
Restaurant goers wasted, on average, 11.7 per cent of their meals, according to a report co-authored by the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research under the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2018.
In large gatherings, the rate rose to 38 per cent, while students threw away a third of the contents in their school lunchboxes, the 2018 study said.
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