Written by Wendy Tsai
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
One should cultivate good living and eating habits from an early age. Therefore, Tzu Chi Academy, Washington DC, organizes a month-long Healthy Eating Day program annually. While promoting vegetarianism, it also engages students through modules that introduce recipes and encourage them to be hands-on and assume the challenge of learning how to prepare vegetarian meals themselves. The underlying goals of the program are to teach students how to have a balanced diet, reduce meat consumption, and protect the environment.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was conducted virtually in 2021. As a result, more people could watch the live broadcast, thus expanding its reach. In actuality, the young Tzu Chi Academy students, innocent, cute, and industrious, act as the best spokespersons for promoting vegetarianism and healthy eating!
The “hands-on” unit gave children the opportunity to learn about different fruits and vegetables and try simple cooking by themselves to develop self-reliance and confidence. While the children were busy in the kitchen, they also needed to pay attention to the progress of other students. The joyful expressions on their young faces reflected the childrens’ happiness at being self-reliant. The warm interaction between the children and their parents, who were on the sidelines, was equally touching.
Their parents accompanied brothers Zachary and Logan Hou as the boys prepared a vegetarian fried rice omelet and potato salad. The younger Logan cut the potatoes and vegetables into moderately sized pieces. His mom let him complete all the procedures himself, only supervising and reporting on his progress to his online classmates and their parents without interfering. Meanwhile, under the watchful eyes of his dad, Zachary, nonchalantly wearing headphones, fried the rice effortlessly, showing an admirable calmness beyond his age.
Students in other classes made popular seaweed rice balls or chose to make curry vegetables or other dishes. Even the youngest children learned something, such as how to spread jam on bread themselves. No matter how simple or challenging the task or recipe, the children’s hard work made it possible. This activity helped the students recognize and appreciate their parent’s daily hard work. Thus, the children learned basic cooking as well as the importance of being grateful for their parents and their lives.
This year’s program also added a new component, challenging students to record and accumulate the number of vegetarian meals they ate during the month-long program. Everyone tried their best to eat the most vegetarian meals as a class and individually. However, winning or losing was not the aim of this vegetarian “contest.” The root significance of the competition was to repeatedly remind every family, each classmate and parent, of the importance of a balanced diet and protecting other lives on the planet through vegetarianism.
The program did impact the children’s awareness about what they’re eating. “The parents said that when their children eat, they have become more attentive and avoid eating meat,” Susan Chen, the principal of Tzu Chi Academy, Washington DC, shared.