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Climate Change

A New Way to Eat

by Jim Armstrong

How can the bite be taken out of the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions? Peggy Liu sets a sustainable table focused on children’s hunger for healthy food.

Editor's Note: Right now, individuals around the world are taking decisive action to address climate change. Through a collaboration with Climate Changers, Outrider is sharing examples of people stepping forward to make a difference. Their inspiring stories can ignite more of us to take meaningful action. In China, Peggy Liu is cooking up an inviting kid’s menu with real food for nearly 100 million. Her story serves the need for future personal and planetary health by changing agriculture’s key ingredients. Outrider invites you to get to know these Climate Changers and see how you can be part of the solution, too.

I have a passion for making the world a better place. I believe in the power of one person to inspire collaboration, that the most helpful skill is storytelling, that cultural translators will have the most important roles of the next generation, and that those who can create a better-shared future, should. 

The Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE) is an NGO accelerating the greening of China for a healthier world. I bring to JUCCCE expertise in convening multi-sector collaboration to create societal-scale change in the space where personal and planetary well-being meet. Key JUCCCE milestones include holding the first public dialogues between US & China on clean energy, introducing Smart Grid to China, educating about 1000 Chinese government leaders on how to build sustainable cities, creating the China Dream initiative to reimagine prosperity for sustainable consumerism and launching China's first comprehensive kids' healthy food curriculum.

Peggy Liu standing image

Through the EAT Forum, JUCCCE is combining planetary and personal health curriculum to change the diets of 94 million primary school children across China. In addition, the forum discusses how this curriculum can be localized for countries around the world. "A New Way To Eat" is China's first curriculum for primary school children teaching them how to eat in a way that is good for you and good for the planet. Moreover, we investigate how personal and planetary health can be addressed at the same time. We are exploring this question by finding the nexus between the rate at which obesity and diabetes are rising around the world with the knowledge that food is our number one source for greenhouse gas emissions.

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The goal is to see a significant shift in food preferences, as compared to the earlier generation. To do this, the curriculum teaches kids to enjoy real food and be smarter food consumers. The full set of activities is still being developed and field-tested with real kids, but the pilot has rapidly expanded with the help of channel partners. To change social norms of dietary behavior, food education must reach into every corner of a child’s universe.

Although China is only 15% of the global population of primary-school children, it is hardly alone in this perfect storm of dietary and planetary challenges. I’d like to share some principles I’ve learnt so far on how to engage children on sustainable diets.

I change the way China eats to reduce the single largest source of greenhouse gases—the food we eat.

Peggy Liu, Chairperson, Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE)

Turn jargon into “kidspeak.”

To design the new Food Hero Eating Framework, expert opinion was solicited from around the world. The complex jargon of nutrition, exercise, and sustainable-food systems was then translated into kidspeak and made actionable.

“Biodiversity” and “micronutrients” are tucked into a memorable meme of “Eat a Rainbow Every Day.” Planet-friendly adjectives such as “abundant” are added to seafood and “seasonal” to fruits and vegetables. “Don’t be Gross” covers food etiquette and hygiene.

Turn lectures into “playducation.”

All our activities are field-tested for fun to engage children’s short attention spans. Children may jump around, compete in games or sing a song during the activities. A successful activity is one that kids want to play over and over and over. Of course, there are certificates and lots and lots of stickers.

Turn concepts into actionable gems.

Be clear about the behavior changes kids should make. Don’t be shy in scaring kids with slaughterhouse images or rotten teeth, making them feel tricked by advertising or disgusting them with burp sounds. Link these changes to actionable steps kids can apply to everyday eating decisions.

Turn low-priority barriers into high-priority backdoors.

In China, where half the country is still worried about getting food on the table, quality food is a low priority. But every parent wants their kid to learn English because it could triple their salary potential. We use bilingual flashcards as a backdoor to teach food literacy. Food safety is the number one concern in families, and a backdoor to teaching about sustainable food-supply chains.

China’s health crisis is also a planetary one. Food is the single biggest source (30%) of greenhouse-gas emissions responsible for climate change. China’s rising middle class is straining China’s food system with overconsumption, waste, and an increasing demand for meat and dairy.

The good news is that, if children simply eat healthier, they can reduce their personal emissions significantly. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked into UK diets and found that healthier diets of fewer animal products and processed snacks, and more fruit and vegetables, can help reduce an astounding 40% of personal emissions.

Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School of Public Health, says that “A New Way to Eat” “is quite unique. No one else is linking food choices to sustainability at the elementary level.”

Chinese adults today were born into a vacuum of food knowledge and lack of food variety and then swamped with Western-style processed convenience foods. This generation of children has a choice to improve personal health and planetary wealth with smarter food choices. By eating better, kids around the world can be food heroes as they can tackle both health threats and climate change through their stomachs—all while having fun.

Peggy Liu is the chairperson of JUCCCE and a board member of Project Drawdown.

This story was produced in collaboration with Climate Changers, a project of the Center for Transformative Action.

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