I am a huge advocate of minimising food and packaging wastage. I try to eat locally sourced, organic food where possible; and I can’t describe how much it pains me that here in Bangkok I’m unable to recycle properly. Although I do sort my waste, there is simply no guarantee that it won’t end up in a landfill.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Thailand overuses plastic.
7/11 convenience stores give you straws and often try to double-bag beverages purchased. I just bought a pomegranate that was coated in cellophane, then wrapped in foam padding, within an overly labelled plastic bag – this was before it was bagged at the check-out. By stark contrast, I was overjoyed when in Hong Kong last week the cashier wanted to charge me for a bag – I could have reached over the counter and given her a hug!
I was incredibly impressed by Hong Kong’s abundance of health and environment-conscious eateries. I read that in 2016, Hong Kong averaged over one addition per month to its all-vegan restaurant list. To give you a sense of scale: it is a city of 7 million people with 362 listings on its Happy Cow page (the vegetarian and vegan restaurant online directory) compared to the measly entry of 113 listings for London, which has a population of 8.5 million.
Sadly without enough time to visit over 300 cafes in such a short trip, I managed to narrow it down to three of the most famous on Hong Kong Island: Home Eat to Live , Grassroots Pantry, and MANA! Fast Slow Food.
Home opened in 2016 and provides a peaceful retreat for friends to share good, wholesome, responsibly produced food. Most of their menu items are named after endangered species and emphasise the need to make a difference collectively by eating more plant-based meals, as highlighted on its About page:
‘The interaction between animals & their environments is the engine that keeps our planet healthy for all of us.’
Grassroots Pantry’s food and décor was exquisite, reflective of its philosophy that healthy food doesn’t have to mean a compromise in taste or appearance. It aims to set a standard that ‘promotes local, farm-to-table and sustainable food practices while serving each table a delectable meal.’ It prides itself on being an eco-conscious eatery catering to all types of dietary requirements.
But my absolute favourite was Mana! Fast Slow Food. Not only as the teff veggie wrap and superfood salad I devoured were bursting with colour, flavour and goodness, but also because it is the only restaurant in Hong Kong (out of the 70,000!) that are ‘zero food waste’, composting all food leftovers. It offers a discount to all customers who bring their own Tupperware, and pride themselves on being a platform to educate the community, to engender ‘a quiet revolution in consumer awareness’ spurred on by their motto ‘Eat like it matters.’
Founded by the inspirational Eco-entrepreneur Bobsy Gaia, they operate under 12 principles such as ‘live simply’ and ‘free water for all’. Bobsy is, in fact, credited with being the pioneer of Hong Kong’s conscientious consumption movement:
‘Our company makes the choice for sustainable living and conscious consumption positively inevitable, by serving food that doesn’t cost the Earth and that inspires change.’
I also discovered that Hong Kong actually built an Eco-Park in 2007 as a part of a government initiative to reduce waste. The city’s first recycling-business park, specially constructed for recycling industry, it has 13 lots for the recycling of waste cooking oil, metals, wood, electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), plastics, batteries, glass, rubber tyres, food and PCB, as well as construction and demolition waste. With Asia’s powerful position at the forefront of the global economy, governments have a duty to educate their citizens and promote responsible sourcing, eating and disposal of all food.
With the already visible effects of climate change, we must work together to do our bit and make conscious choices wherever and whenever possible. In the wise words of Bobsy Gaia: ‘Diet change, not climate change.’
Bangkok could certainly learn a thing - or two!