In August 2017 the population of Hong Kong exceeded 7.3 million , with 1 in 5 of its citizens classed as living below the poverty line . The release of these recent statistics, has bought to light the extent of this problem and highlighted just how many Hong Kong residents that face the issue of food insecurity on a daily basis. Simultaneously, Hong Kong is currently in the midst of a huge waste problem, due to the islands mountainous terrain there are limited sites available for landfill, which are estimated to be exhausted by 2020 . Coupled with increased municipal waste from a growing population, the Hong Kong Government is facing increasing pressure to take responsibility and find a solution. Like many western households, a large percentage of municipal waste in Hong Kong is categorized as food waste , often including produce still fit for consumption. That being so, could the redistribution of this unused food be the solution to both problems?
For the purpose of this tour, it is important to note that there is a distinct difference between food waste and food surplus, food waste is produce that is inedible and can no longer be safely consumed, while food surplus is food that is still fit for human consumption.
On this tour we will explore the Hong Kong foodscape, shaped by an absence of food and established through the actions of three main actors: benefactors, redistributors and charities. The benefactors that donate their surplus stock, the redistribution agents working hard to relocate the surplus food, and finally the charities; the people who are then able to access this surplus food through the good-hearted efforts of those working in the sector. So, if you’re planning a visit to Hong Kong and are interested in learning more about the issues of food surplus and food poverty on the Islands, then this is the tour for you!
Let me show you the journey…
The majority of sites on this tour are situated on Hong Kong Island, with one site located across the bay in Yau Tong. Our tour begins in the old neighbourhood of Sheung Wan (see map 1), situated just west of Central on Hong Kong Island, the area is well known for its dried food stalls, the Western Market and its range of curiosity shops.
1. Hong Kong Eco Shop
The first stop on our tour is at Hong Kong Eco Shop, as the name suggests the store specialises in organic, environmentally friendly produce and is located on the first floor of the Welland Plaza on Queens Road Central (see map 2). The shop first opened its doors in 2009, after the owner graduated from the University of Toronto with the intention of opening a shop with environmental values. On first look it may not seem like much, but don’t let its small appearance deceive you, the shop stocks a huge amount of products ranging from organic rice and grains to ‘urban farming’ supplies, in addition to its online shop.
For the past 2 years, Hong Kong Eco Shop has been working in partnership with Foodlink Foundation (a redistribution program, which we will visit later on in the tour). The owner of the Eco Shop discovered the organisation collecting surplus food from a shop donating produce nearby resulting in the current collaboration. The shop now donates produce in a week of its expiry date to Foodlink, who collect the surplus on a weekly basis and distribute it to charities, these donations consist mainly of staples such as quinoa, pulses, cereals and rice. Interestingly, Eco Shop is one of the few retailers that distribute their surplus with such a long shelf life left, in addition to reducing the cost of produce when it nears the end of its shelf-life, to minimise the shops total waste.
After speaking to the owner, I discovered that her customers had been known to buy items from the store and then request for the goods to be donated to Foodlink foundation. The owner stated that many of her customers are aware of the issues of food poverty and food waste within Hong Kong, however they are unsure as to how they can help. What is most interesting about this stores involvement in the redistribution chain, is that more often than not redistributed food tends to be of a low quality and rarely healthy. So, in the case of Hong Kong Eco Shop, by donating their surplus they are ultimately providing those on lower incomes access to not only healthy but organic produce from sustainable sources, something that would be very difficult for some families to access without their donations.
2. Maxims Cakes
Our next stop is at Maxims Cakes, part of a Hong Kong food and beverage company specialising in European, Cantonese and Asian cuisine. At this point it is important to note that not all of the Maxims Cakes stores donate their food surplus, so for the purpose of this tour I have directed you to the Maxims that is involved in the ‘Bread Run’ with Feeding Hong Kong. At the end of the working day, volunteers from Feeding Hong Kong visit the store and collect any unsold cakes to be redistributed to different charities. Unfortunately, due to strict food hygiene Feeding Hong Kong are unable to accept cakes containing cream or savoury produce which includes meat. Though they are a source of joy for many, cakes are not the most ideal produce to redistribute. Pastries and cakes can be awkward due to their limited uses, for instance cakes go stale quick and cannot be donated to charities that do community cooking classes or any charities who focus on healthy eating.
3. Pret-A-Manger (Admiralty)
The next stop is a store you may be familiar with: Pret-A-Manger. Arriving in Hong Kong in 2002 , Pret-A-Manger’s positive reception resulted in the business rapidly spreading across the Islands, with the company now having 20 eateries in Hong Kong. Similar to its UK counterparts, Pret-A-Manger prides itself on its food waste surplus policies, openly advertising their work redirecting their surplus sandwiches with Feeding Hong Kong. The Pret-A-Manger I have directed you to is located in Admiralty, as this store openly advertises its involvement in the ‘Feeding Hong Kong Bread Run’ donating its surplus at the end of the day. Interestingly, any surplus food collected from Pret-A-Manger during the bread run needs to be done last, as donations are required to be at the food bank within 45 minutes of collection, due to food safety issues.
The next part of the tour focuses on two food redistribution charities, Foodlink Foundation and Feeding Hong Kong. While the two share similar goals, they both function differently. Foodlink works primarily with hotels, clubs and restaurants collecting mainly cooked produce, whereas Feeding Hong Kong collaborates more with manufactures, distributors and retailers collecting dry, fresh and chilled food .
4. Foodlink Foundation
As aforementioned, FoodLink Foundation is a registered Hong Kong Charity specialising in the redistribution of surplus food. The charity was first established in 2001, when the founder (Mrs Hwang) witnessed a large amount of edible food being thrown away at a hotel buffet, upon seeing this she asked if she could take the surplus food, and deliver it, in person, to local charities, thus Foodlink Foundation was founded. Though some charities approach the organisation directly asking for help, many of the charities Foodlink works with are approached by one of the Foodlink team, who then initiate a working partnership, in which they link retailers with nearby charities, ensuring that the food does not need to travel far, thus reducing transportation and refrigeration costs.
The organisation operates on a fixed van schedule to deliver the surplus food, with the drivers calling ahead to confirm prior to delivery, as they deliver to districts across Hong Kong, this ensuring the process is efficient. Donations tend to be from hotels, canteens and caterers, who donate a variety of staple products. The success of FoodLink Foundation is reflected through the amount of collaborations they have established with beneficiaries and donor businesses, they now save an average of 15 tonnes of food per week, providing more than 36,000 meals for those in need , and work with a variety of charities from children and the elderly, to refugee and correction facilities. Due to food scares, FoodLink have chosen to restrict the collection of certain foods, any produce considered ‘high risk’: salad with dressing, raw meat, sashimi, cream cake, and any desserts containing dairy. Its also important to note that many of the charities in Hong Kong do not have access to refrigerating systems or the cooking facilities to reheat the food, therefore this limits the types of food they can receive.
5. Feeding Hong Kong
Similar to the previous organisation, Feeding Hong Kong is a registered charity with the goal of reducing food poverty through the redirection of food surplus. Working with over 80 charities across Hong Kong, they transport surplus straight from the donors to the beneficiaries, to be used in central kitchens. crisis shelters and community food banks . As many charities do not have the money or facilities to transport or refrigerate the produce, the organisation uses two of its own vans (one refrigerated) and a large truck to shift the produce to the charities. Feeding Hong Kong runs the aforementioned ‘Bread run’, in which they organize food collections twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The event is advertised through the events website ‘eventbrite.hk’, and requires volunteers to choose a pickup store location, phone them an hour before closing to confirm if there will be any food surplus to donate and then deliver the surplus to the Feeding Hong Kong drop-off points. The donated food is then redistributed the same night or following morning to local charities.
Unlike FoodLink Foundation, Feeding Hong Kong accepts donations of both cupboard staples, dairy produce and meat, this is due to them having access to large refrigeration facilities. The charity also organises education days with schools, bread runs and food drives, in which it helps to build community partnerships and raise public awareness.
6. Chicken Soup Foundation
The first charity on this tour we visit is the Chicken Soup Foundation, a privately funded charity founded in 2013 with the sole aim to “provide all-rounded development to students in Hong Kong who are most deprived and living under extreme poverty” . The foundation works with multiple charities in nine different areas across Hong Kong, giving food provision to over 1,300 children between the ages of 5 and 18. Working with over 100 partners, Chicken Soup has established links with multiple schools, businesses and non-profit organisations in order to develop a program that empowers underprivileged children in Hong Kong. Chicken Soup acts as an umbrella charity of sorts, redirecting food surplus they receive to charities they work with in various locations across Hong Kong, including Tin Shui Wai, Tuen Mun, Tung Chung, Tsing Yi, Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon City, Kowloon Bay, Tseung Kwan O, and Chai Wan.
7. St Barnabas Society and Home
Our final stop is at St Barnabus Society and Home, located in Sai Wan on the western side of Hong Kong Island. Founded in 1987, the charity works in partnership with organisations and churches to provide an outreach program for those living on the streets in Hong Kong. In 2012 the charity launched a ‘Sunday dinner programme’ in which people where free to join in with the preparation, cooking, serving and of course eating of the meals. In addition, those involved receive a payment towards training opportunities. The dinner program is heavily reliant on surplus food donations from organisations and cash contributions from the public. As of winter 2017, the program has been very well received and feeds around 86 service users every Sunday. Though with all this in mind, it is important to consider that charities operating with religious motives can often be seen as inaccessible to those who do not share the same beliefs. Which brings forward the question, should the church be allowed to use charities as a way of preaching their beliefs to societies most vulnerable? and does this isolate certain communities from accessing these services?
And so our tour concludes, I hope the tour has provided you with a clear understanding of the current situation of food insecurity faced by many Hong Kong locals on a regular basis, in addition to the food redistribution systems running to mitigate this. If you would like any further information on the charities included in this tour, or any upcoming events please see the following links: