WEEKLY MESSAGE FROM HEAD OF SCHOOL 2021/09/20-2021/​09/​26

Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,

On Saturday, September 11, I participated with two Keystone colleagues and one student in the virtual Good Food Summit.  My three fellow contributors were Anna Hou, the Keystone Catering Manager, Elsa Liu, the Chartwells Onsite Unit Manager, and Cai Chenglin (Charlie), a Grade 10 student.

This is the second time that Keystone has participated in this important summit.   It is organized and hosted by The Good Food Fund, and the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation.  The stated theme is this: To define and develop practical solutions for China’s food systems and to share best practices with the rest of the world.

The organizer, Ouyang Huiyu, wrote this when he invited us to join in:

I'm writing this email to sincerely invite you to participate in our annual Good Food Summit and give a keynote speech to share your "Ecological Eating Day" practice in the Healthy Food Environment Sub-forum on 2:00-5:00 pm, 11 of Sept.

To be held one week ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit, our Good Food Summit aims to showcase practical solutions for China’s food systems and to share them with the rest of the world. And what you are piloting at Keystone Academy is indeed inspiring, which we believe would motivate many more organizations to follow - that really means a lot to fix our broken food system.

As a quartet, we spoke for about 15 minutes.  I opened the short session, and this is what I said, after introducing the group and saying what a privilege it was to be invited to participate again in such an important national forum. 

“Our theme is Ecological Eating at Keystone Academy, sometimes referred to as Meatless Mondays.  We began this experiment two and a half years ago, when I made the following announcement in April 2019 to all members of the Keystone community:

In the Keystone Mission, we make reference to our environment twice.  We say that one of the skills that our students will learn here is to be ‘stewards of the environment’.  And in the paragraph describing our graduates, and what qualities they will possess, we claim that they will have ‘ecological fluency’.  This claim is made in the context of saying that we want our graduates to ‘help develop and improve the communities in which they live’.

In that letter, I also referenced a presentation on this topic that had been made by students, as the original idea for a weekly vegetarian day came from some students:

In their presentation, our students claimed that it is perfectly possible to eat delicious and healthy vegetable meals.  We shall prove them right, and we shall start with our first one before the end of this academic year.  Although having an occasional lunch without meat is not going to change the world, it will have an impact on our attitudes, and it will make us think from time to time about giving up some things, and changing some habits, if we want to take our environmental education seriously.

Specifically, what I said about initiating a wholly vegetarian diet on Mondays was this:

On Mondays every week, starting next week, we shall ensure that all our meals contain no meat.  Some like to call such days ‘Meatless Mondays’; I prefer the more positive term ‘Ecological Eating’.  Every Monday, all meals served at the Academy will be vegetarian.  I ask for your support in this.  We have worked hard with our caterers to prepare menus that are nutritious, and delicious.  And we shall continue to work on the educational aspect to this decision, and to explain and educate our students and adults about the reasons for this small sacrifice.

I write ‘small sacrifice’ deliberately.  Some will come to see this as the opening up of a new eating experience.  Others might feel uneasy, perhaps a little irritated, about having to give up something that they like, or take for granted.  To both, and to others who might respond in different ways, I say enter this change in the right spirit.  If you find yourself in new culinary territory, that will be liberating.  If you reflect on the thought that to forgo a luxury like this is to become a better steward of the environment, that realization too will be liberating.

We should never underestimate the power of small actions to effect change, especially when the meaning and symbolism of these actions is imprinted on young hearts.

 In my view, the ‘small sacrifice’ has had some big outcomes.  As a community, we think more and talk more about the environmental impact of raising animals for human consumption.  We have been much more experimental, and wider ranging, in our menu development.  And we understand better and respect more those members of our community who have different eating habits, and sometimes restrictions, from ours.

Last year, students initiated a Food Waste campaign and designed some lovely and powerful posters to promote this.  Some of the winning designs were printed onto aprons which school leaders wear at lunch as they encourage diners not to waste food.  Our Food Waste ‘patrol’ will be extended this year to include student leaders as mentors and models.

Our eating habits as a community have definitely become more focused on good and sustained health.  What an essential part of an all-round education this is.  In the current school year, through the month of November, our Health Department headed by Dr. Ding will run special programs on Healthy Eating.  We are experimenting with plant-based meat.  We have improved the health quotient of the items for sale in the school store.  And we have significantly reduced our intake of potentially harmful sugars in our snack and dessert offerings.

All, or at least most, of us are more aware of what we eat, where it comes from, and what we waste, and so we appreciate more how we can be better ‘stewards of the environment’ in our daily lives.”

I ended by saying that there would be some degree of overlap in what each one of us would say.  In fact, there was little.   Anna Hou spoke about the logistical aspects of getting the program running, and persuading others of its worth; Elsa Liu spoke from the angle of the chefs and cooks, and the complex task of working up new recipes; and Charlie Cai gave a masterful short summary of the positives and the negatives from the student perspective. 

It was satisfying, and gratifying, to talk about such a substantial topic and to have our work in this area recognized as a possible example for others.


With warm regards, 

Malcolm McKenzie

Head of School