Reasons For a Green Diet in 2013

Regarded as the food paradise of Asia, it is certainly true that Hong Kong has some of the best dining in the world. But we’re actually behind other gourmet capitals such as New York, Paris and London when it comes to embracing vegetarianism. We can see countless award-winning chefs and restaurants around the world, such as L’Arpège in Paris, that have shown support to vegetarianism by offering delicious and creative recipes that will beat a meat-dominated menu. It’s examples like these that prove giving up meat doesn’t mean giving up good food.

Back in Hong Kong, we are living in a culture where meat eating is the norm, where our meat consumption per capita is among the highest in the world, and where vegetarians are in the minority. However, things are beginning to change. A new force, driven by an increased awareness of the benefits of a green diet, the love of our planet, and the pursuit of harmony in life, has been unleashed. Below we talk to the people behind the Green Monday initiative to find out more about this citywide environmental movement, and discover their tips on how to go green and eat healthy.

Green Monday

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“Once the seeds are planted in people’s awareness, they will grow and flourish on their own,” says David Yeung, co-founder of Green Monday. He conveys his belief with confidence sparkling from his eyes. Established since April 22, 2012, Green Monday is a group of Hong Kong-based organisations and individuals committed to doing their part to reduce carbon emissions and lessen our individual impact on the environment. Their first step in promoting an earth-friendly lifestyle is through tackling one of the fundamental aspects of daily life – our diet.

As the name suggests, Green Monday invites people to do without meat every Monday, which symbolises a wholesome start to the week, revitalising our minds and bodies. It is not about converting people to vegetarianism, nor does it require a dramatic lifestyle change or a huge time commitment. A Buddhist since his younger years and a vegetarian for the past 12, Yeung is someone who has sublimated his passion into insight. “In Hong Kong, everyone craves for convenience. If something that is too out of their way in terms of their lifestyle, they won’t adopt it,” he says. “But we’re not talking about diet, we’re just talking about giving up one day of meat per week, which is totally doable.”

“We focus on baby steps to go green,” adds local celebrity and TV host Janis Chan, who is now the executive director and ambassador for Green Monday. Chan was shocked after witnessing the melting glaciers during her honeymoon trip to Iceland last year, and decided to contribute her utmost efforts in mitigating global warming. According to Chan, the next steps after promoting awareness of a green diet to the public, are to expand the vegetarian dining scene, and make going meatless a more convenient and practical option for everyone.

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Vegetarian Dining in Hong Kong

“Due to the limited vegetarian options, many people [in Hong Kong] become afraid of affecting their social lives, and thus dare not to commit to a green diet,” says Chan, who was originally a vegetarian back when she was living in Vancouver. Upon returning to Hong Kong, she went through a hard time adjusting to the city’s predominantly omnivorous dining culture, which has shrouded the viability of going completely vegetarian. It is, therefore, Green Monday’s mission to bring this “hidden” culture, as described by Chan, into the light.

Compared to the rest of the world, Hong Kong has a much smaller vegetarian population, and David explains that there are three main reasons behind the figures. The first is misperception, with many thinking that vegetarian diets cannot provide adequate nutrition; the second is limited choice – there are few vegetarian restaurants or vegetarian options on menus; and, finally, there is a lack of awareness of the benefits of a vegetarian diet.

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But even in this so-called “vegetarian desert”, there are still many restaurants, and certain types of cuisine that are friendlier to vegetarians. “Italian is my favourite cuisine as there are always plenty of vegetarian options for risotto, pasta and pizza,” says Chan, “Not to mention, there is a tremendous variety of vegetable-based antipasti.”

Yeung, on the other hand, looks to India for inspiration. “The Indian population is predominantly vegetarian, so they always offer a good range of vegetarian dishes,” he explains. “The flavoursome curries in Indian cuisine are often served with spinach, cauliflower, potatoes and other healthy vegetables that offer a good source of nutrition.”

One of Yeung’s best-kept secrets, and where he visits from time to time, is Fan Tang in Causeway Bay. This Cantonese restaurant in Causeway Bay is famous for delicacies such as abalone and fish maw, but at the same time it provides one-of-a-kind vegetarian creations, including a meat-free version of mapo tofu, Sichuan-style vegetables in chilli broth, stir-fried black fungus with marinated eggs, and the very delicious braised pomelo skin. Yeung is also a fan of Harakan at Lee Gardens, which he says has a well-constructed vegetarian menu. “I’m particularly fond of their grilled ginko appetiser and udon noodles.”

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To help expand the city’s existing vegetarian dining options, Green Monday is working on getting more non-vegetarian restaurants to offer a green menu – not the same old boring selections with just beancurd and boiled vegetables, but with plentiful choices that are fun, tasteful, and delicious. Current participants include FINDS, Grassroots Pantry, Mango Tree, 1968 Indonesian, Piccolo Pizza, Pizza Express, Taco Truck, Caffè Habitu, and the list will continue to expand. With the support from these modern eateries, it won’t take long to convert the misperception that vegetarian dining is old-fashioned and boring into one that views them as truly practical, tasteful and an exciting new trend.

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