Last month, a groundbreaking summit dedicated to the sustainability of school meals took place in Hong Kong, led by school students and The Alliance for Sustainable Schools (TASS).
The event, which coincided with Earth Day, was organized by Drop In The Ocean (DITO), a student environmental group at Chinese International School, TASS, and Grassroots Initiatives, a consultancy focused on sustainable food. The Sustainable School Food Summit was the first of its kind.
Bringing sustainability to schools
More than 100 students, teachers, and sustainability practitioners from 20 schools in Hong Kong convened at the summit, discussing sustainability challenges related to school meals. The objective was to devise long-term, effective strategies to facilitate change within schools, covering topics such as sustainable seafood, the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet, plastic packaging, and food waste.
Diets significantly impact climate change and biodiversity loss, with a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions originating from food and agriculture. The world’s leading climate experts agree that diets need to shift toward reducing these environmental impacts by promoting sustainable eating practices, particularly in heavy meat-consuming regions like Hong Kong, where daily meat consumption per capita is among the highest globally.
“School food is an untapped opportunity to introduce meaningful sustainable practices,” said Anthony Dixon, Chairman of TASS. “This innovative event demonstrates the power of school students working together with suppliers to accelerate change towards a sustainable future. Our hope is that it will be replicated hundreds of times over by schools around the world.”
Until recently, the subject of sustainable school food hasn’t received sufficient attention, according to the event organizers. This pioneering summit aimed to shift this narrative by debunking myths hindering the widespread acceptance of sustainable school food and highlighting the urgency of sustainable food practices.
Proof of concept
Attendees were treated to a culinary experience created by three local chefs renowned for their sustainable food ethos — Chef Marc Briol from Kin Food Halls, Chef Michael Smith from Moxie by the Arcane Collective, and Chef Tina Barrat, formerly of Ma Seeds of Life. Attendees tasted and voted on the chefs’ sustainable dishes, suitable for school lunch menus. The offerings were also assessed by an expert panel, considering sustainability factors, flavor, and affordability.
“The chefs worked to ensure their dishes met a litany of criteria: they had to be tasty with a low-carbon footprint, cost less than 13 HKD per serve, be nutritionally balanced, ethically sourced, and contain local and regenerative ingredients where possible. They also had to appeal to students – perhaps the toughest audience of all…and incredibly they all did!” said Sonalie Figueiras, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Green Queen Media and keynote speaker of the summit.
Peggy Chan, Founder of Grassroots Initiatives said that while chefs are often too busy stuck in the kitchen doing their routine work, but when they’re able to reflect on their role in human health and the health of our planet, “it opens their minds to the possibilities of all the good they can generate.”
The day concluded with a panel discussion led by students and featuring senior executives from school food catering companies, examining the challenges of providing sustainable food in schools. The impact of the summit promises to be lasting, with school lunch caterers pledging to introduce sustainable, low-carbon dishes to their menus in the coming academic year.
Reflecting on the summit, student organizer Jade remarked, “The most remarkable aspect of the event was that we didn’t just talk about sustainability: we put our ideas into practice. The chef’s dishes introduced us to exciting flavors we had never tried before and will definitely be a hit when they appear in school canteens.”