Video of teacher eating students’ leftovers raises concerns about anti-food-waste campaign going too far

Society & Culture

A Chinese teacher who posted a video of herself eating leftovers off some fifth graders’ plates — after giving them a lecture on the scourge of food waste — said that potential hygiene problems were not her concern because she loved her students just like her own kids.

chinese teacher eating leftovers food waste

A Chinese teacher who posted a video of herself eating leftovers off some fifth graders’ plates — after giving them a lecture on the scourge of food waste — said that potential hygiene problems were not her concern because she loved her students just like her own kids.

“My goal was to make them realize that the amount of food wasted by about 30 children could make an adult like myself totally stuffed,” she said in an interview (in Chinese) after the clip went viral. “My sole intention was to educate students, not attract attention on the internet.”

In the video (in Chinese) taken earlier this week, the woman, a deputy principal of a primary school in Jiangxi Province, can be seen finishing off a few bites of yóutiáo 油條 — a deep-fried dough stick — left on her students’ breakfast plates. The children can be seen standing in a circle around her, silently watching her finish their leftovers.

The footage, originally uploaded to the video-sharing platform Miaopai, was quickly picked up by several news outlets. In one video re-edited and shared by the Beijing Youth Daily, the caption reads, “Setting a good example. Being a model of virtue. She has won tons of praise online.”

But on Weibo, the vast majority of responses to the video were actually negative. Saying they were “grossed out” by the teacher’s behavior, many critics raised questions about her hygiene practices in the post-COVID-19 world, where sharing food is still considered a high-risk activity.

“I think this is a pretty heinous act of ignorance and stupidity. Who the hell praised this?” a Weibo user commented. Another wrote, “Among millions of ways to educate students about the importance of cutting down on waste, she adopted the most unhygienic and grotesque one. I’m profoundly baffled.”

According to the teacher, her eating students’ leftovers was inspired by Operation Empty Plate (光盘行动 guāng pán xíngdòng), an ongoing nationwide campaign that aims to curb food waste. Calling her controversial behavior a “carefully designed lesson” to help students become aware of food waste, the teacher said that she decided on this method because it is “creative and easy for children to understand.”

Since the anti-food-waste campaign kicked off last month, a number of organizations, companies, and individuals have rolled out aggressive, and sometimes intrusive, measures. Some observers commented that the “bizarre lesson” given by the teacher was just the latest example of people trying to capitalize on the initiative for internet fame and personal gains. “I don’t think the authorities who launched the campaign would approve of what she did. She thought she was reinforcing the government’s resolve to curb food waste, but she ended up making a fool of herself and undermining the effectiveness of the whole campaign,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).