As shown in the featured image, this tour considers two parts of 1 system that make up a small section of the foodscape of Hong Kong’s food-insecure elderly-citizens.

“Food-security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” [1]

It is designed for actors who are already involved in this system. Defetishizing the system will reveal the interconnections and vulnerabilities within the system. 

“there is a need to rehumanize these disembodied networks: to visualise the actual people behind [the system]” (source)

It will develop your understanding of your own organisations’ position within the broader foodscape.

The tour considers:

  • What are the components of this system, that ensure access to this meal? How are these interconnected?
  • What vulnerabilities challenge the viability of the system?

The tour incorporates: Part A- individual provision in an informal economy and grassroots business support and Part B- corporate sponsorship and voluntary and charitable organisations. Therefore, if you are a charity within this foodscape you may have an understanding of the landscape of charitable provision tackling elderly food insecurity, but might not fully understand the complexities of the individual and grassroot system or how these interconnect. Developing this understanding is something this tour hopes to provide.

The tour is designed to be interactive. Critical questions and activities are posed throughout the tour (in blue) to encourage you to develop an alternative understanding of the system.

Background to the tour

As an actor in this system you are probably aware, Hong Kong adopts a neoliberal governance strategy. This has created a significant income differential. In 2016 the richest 10% of households- with a median monthly income of HK$112,450- earned 44 times more than the poorest 10%- making an average of HK$2,560. Resulting in a pronounced gap between the poorest and wealthiest members of society. [2]

Neoliberalism is characterised by limited social spending, as there is strong emphasis on an individual providing for themselves. A retirement fund was set up in 2000 but state support for elderly-citizens is not universal, and the strict eligibility criteria excludes many individuals. An aging population, rising living costs and challenges to children supporting their parents in old age, have resulted in the development of system outlined in this tour. [3]

Having the opportunity to select food which meets your dietary needs and is safe and nutritious, whilst being economically and socially accessible (FAO), is something people desire but not all achieve.

The Tour

The tour incorporates 7 sites in the districts of Kowloon, Wan Chai and Chek Lap Kok Island.

overall map with caption

It is advised you complete the tour over a couple of days, allowing time to reflect on the first part of the system rather than rushing to complete the second. Opening times are provided where appropriate. Travelling between sites will involve a mix of transport- walking, bus and MTR. Directions will be in italics.

camera iconEthical rules for photography vary between organisations, using the notes page on your phone or ideally taking a small notepad to scribble thoughts and diagrams is a useful memory jog and will prevent challenging ethical dilemmas. A small notepad and pen are necessary to complete some of the interactive activities.

Prior to starting the tour take a few minutes to think about the different systems you are aware of that elderly, food-insecure people engage with to access food. Who are the actors in this system? What vulnerabilities challenge this system?

Part A

part a sketchThrough engaging in the tour of part A, you will begin to recognise how some people complete a task which enables them to follow social norms and expectations in accessing food, such as maintaining independence through direct engagement with the capitalist system. Some individuals refuse charity [4]

For those unfamiliar with the working-class area of Sham Shui Po, the tour is mainly conducted here because of it’s characteristics of having a high concentration of elderly residents. It is also Hong Kong’s poorest district, with a poverty rate of 24.6% [5]. Therefore many of the sites food-insecure elderly citizens engage with, are located here. Obviously not all elderly-citizens are food-insecure in Hong Kong, but because of the reasons outlined previously food insecurity is prevalent in this social group.

Site 1- Pei Ho Food Market (6.00am-8.00pm) Cardboard Piles

Map 1 with caption

Take the MTR Tsuen Wan Line to Sham Shui Po station. Exit at C2 onto Kweilin Street. Turn left walk to the crossroads with Apliu Street. Cross the road and continue along Kweilin Street, until you reach a crossroads with Ki Lung Street. Turn left onto Ki Lung Street and Pei Ho market is number 333.

Walking from the MTR Station to the Market, look around you. Even if you have done this walk before, do you see particular signs of elderly residents in this space? On my first visit to Sham Shui Po I noticed the significant prevalence of elderly ‘cardboard collectors’ and trolleys – something I had not seen to the same extent in other parts of Hong Kong.

cardboard piles with caption

Cardboard boxes from food produce form the object in the chain in Part A. One place cardboard is collected from is Pei Ho Market. Market stall-holders place the cardboard from their produce in certain locations in the market, this is collected by individuals (predominantly elderly citizens) and transported via trolleys to a recycling plant. On entering each floor of the Market, look out for the piles of cardboard. Cardboard is most abundant at 6am but as produce is unpacked throughout the day, collection is a continuous process.

Whilst at this site think about the limits/vulnerabilities to cardboard collection as a means of accessing food e.g. what happens when an individual is ill and cannot collect cardboard?

The action of collecting the cardboard and earning money from this process is a time-consuming, individual action and relies on the support of business owners, who make the decision not take the cardboard to the recycling plant themselves. Although Pei Ho market is an FEHD market, LINK (a real estate company) planned to purchase many markets, this action has been stalled for the time being. But, if the market is bought by LINK this will result in increased rent, stall holders may not continue to operate in the space, as is the case in other LINK markets? [6]  How will this affect cardboard supply? Failure to collect enough cardboard inhibits access to the next stage, that of earning money to purchase commodities such as food. Cardboard collection does not provide a guaranteed income.

Site 2- Recycling Centre, 9 Yiu Tung Street

map showing the route from the market to the recycling centreTurn right on exiting the market. Continue to Nam Cheong Street.Turn left onto Nam Cheong Street, passing the park on your right walk to the crossroads with Cheung Sha Wan Road. Cross directly over to Nam Cheong Street. Continue ahead to its crossroads with Tai Po Road. Head straight ahead onto Nam Cheong Street and take 1st right onto Yui Tung Street. The recycling centre is opposite a bike sharing station.

While walking to the recycling centre, look out for elderly citizens transporting the cardboard on trolleys or carrying it. Do you think you would have the energy for this intensive, physically demanding work?

Especially as ageing is synonymous with deterioration in health. Inevitably, following a deterioration in health, an elderly individual will be unable to continue to engage with this to earn money to establish some degree of food security. Health determines level of engagement in this system.

If you don’t have family or state support and are too ill to collect cardboard, where would you go to access food? (Part B will explain an alternative part to this system that is often used when individuals have no other means of accessing food).

CAUTION: As you approach the recycling centre watch out for reversing lorries. Imagine negotiating this space with a trolley heavily laden with cardboard!

recylcing centre with captionYou probably didn’t expect to be visiting a recycling plant on a tour about food security. But, this recycling plant, one of many, forms part of a broader system across Hong Kong. Look for the cubes of compacted cardboard, these will be shipped to mainland China. You may recall media coverage (see the infographic, below) of the waste paper exporters strike in September 2017. [7]

infographic cardboardThe cardboard ban has since been lifted. But, this exposed the insecurity of this system. Many recycling plants refused to buy cardboard and for those that did, the price fell by half. As this is an individual solution to food insecurity, the changes to the broader system require the individual to adapt themselves. For example, some elderly citizens may have completed more runs of cardboard to earn sufficient money to purchase a meal. Or, they may have been forced to attempt to engage in Part B of this system- as outlined in the second half of this tour. Because there is no social security net in the form of a universal pension scheme, for over 65s, slight changes significantly directly affect the individual and their food in/security. The future of the recycling agreement is insecure, with the paper-waste embargo being renegotiated. [8]

If mainlaind China enforce an embargo on importing cardboard in the long-term, How do you think this will impact individuals that are reliant on this part of the system for food? If you are an actor in Part B, would you cope with a significant increase in demand from elderly food-insecure citizens, for example, can you logistically provide more food or serve more meals?

This part of the system is a means of an individual earning money for a meal. Some individuals do not want to engage in charity but to remain independent. But as this tour has shown, so far, this is insecure and threatened by challenges that create vulnerabilities to this part of the system.

If you have lived in Hong Kong for some time, you may have noticed a decrease in the number of elderly ‘carboard-collectors’. This was observed by Hong Kong residents I spoke to. Perhaps vulnerabilities evident in this system are already challenging it as a means of providing food-security? As it is an informal system, the number of those involved in this system is unknown. But despite a decrease in observed cardboard collected, Hong Kong’s elderly population has risen [9] What are individuals doing instead to maintain food security?

The next section of the tour explores a site that offers cheap food and is frequented by elderly ‘cardboard collectors’. (Not all ‘cardboard collectors’ spend the money earned on food and not all visit this site, but the important aspect to this system is individuals have choice).

Site 3- Pei Ho Street Market Sham Shui Po – Food Court and Cooked Food Centre (Top Floor) 6.00am- 2.00am

journey back to market with captionRetrace your route to Nam Cheong Street, turn left. Continue straight ahead crossing Cheung Sha Wan Road. Stay on Nam Cheong Street until you pass the park located between Yu Chau Street and Ki Lung Street. Turn onto Ki Lung Street where you will recognise the market and starting point of this tour.

market floorplan showing brailleEnter through the main entrance. If you have not visited this Cooked food centre before, note the adaptations (Braille and tactile floor plan) which allow people with visual impairments- a common health deterioration in elderly individuals, [10] to access the centre and negotiate the space. Take the escalator to the top floor. It is a popular place to eat for elderly citizens, due to the cheapness of the food. For approximately HK$10 you can purchase a meal of rice, vegetables and meat. You are spoilt for choice here!

I recommend you purchase a meal and if you can speak Cantonese maybe chat with others. Or just enjoy your meal and take in the surroundings. What are the demographics of the clientele and what activities are they engaged in?

cooked food centre with captionMany elderly citizens eat, talk and play games together at shared tables. The presence of families and groups of youths creates opportunities for engagement with the wider community. Those from across society visit the market. The independent engagement in the ‘normal activities’ of the capitalist system and the pride associated with this are the key characteristics of this part of the system.

Remember not all elderly citizens eating here are ‘cardboard collectors’, but it’s important to recognise that earning money, through cardboard collection, gives them the ability to access the space. They can choose to eat in a group or alone. But, commensality is an important part of the eating process. [11]  Loneliness is a well-recognised problem amongst elderly citizens. [12] Engaging in these socially accepted and normalised practices and the conviviality associated with this, is an important part of maintaining self-worth, independence and establishing food security as well as enabling access to food that you like.

Leave the cooked food floor via the lift, (which is in the back left-hand corner) there isn’t a ‘down’ escalator. If you are unfamiliar with the signage follow others leaving the space.

Money is what enabled the elderly ‘cardboard collector’ to move to this final site. Individual choice determines how an individual engages with the system, it is dependent on where they want to eat, this may be influenced by the amount of money earned from cardboard collecting. To some extent the cooked food centre offers food security to elderly people, but for those individuals who do not have the physical ability to collect cardboard, these spaces are inaccessible and they are reliant on ‘bridging’ organisations, which Part B of the tour explains.

This concludes part A of the tour.

Prior to taking the next part of the tour, take the time to reflect in your notebook on Part A.

How are the sites interconnected in this system?
What potential vulnerabilities are evident in Part A? (which may force an elderly citizen into part B of the system?)
How will this affect your organisations role in this system?
Is there anything you can do to mitigate against this and be better prepared?

Part Bpartb

This part of the tour explores an alternative to the individual system outlined in Part A. In Part B, elderly food insecurity is addressed through an engagement with a charity and food is received on a charitable basis, rather than through engagement with an informal economy and the wider capitalist system.

It is an individuals’ choice if they engage with this support. Staff at Food Angel, the charity Part B concludes with, recognise one of the reasons many elderly citizens turn to them when their health has deteriorated and they are no longer able to engage in Part A.

Reflect on the notes you made at the end of the tour of Part A. Consider the vulnerabilities identified in Part A, why might individuals no longer be able to engage in Part A of the system to access food?

As previously identified, deteriorating physical health challenges the ability to engage with the informal economy- cardboard collecting. [13]  and the vulnerabilities in the cardboard recycling market may affect food security for an elderly person engaged in Part A.

An alternative to engagement with the informal-economy are the charitable organisations that repurpose food surplus to cook a nutritious, hot, traditional meal for “underprivileged communities in Hong Kong” [14]  including food-insecure, elderly citizens. Food Angel is the charitable organisation identified in this tour. This part of the tour considers what inputs are required for this meal. It will begin with a source of surplus food- Cathay Pacific.

Site 4- Cathay Pacific Office, ‘Cathay City’

map showing the joruney from central to athay cityFrom Hong Kong city centre take MTR Tung Chung line to Tung Chung Railway station. Exit MTR and walk to the bus terminal adjacent to the station. Board Long Win Bus route S64, 2nd stop is Cathay City. (Bus operating hours- 09.08-24.00(Mon-Sat) 08.15-24.00(Sun&PHs))

cathay cityOn the bus driving around the airport complex (left-source) note the quantity of large corporate offices. Food Angel are reliant on a range of corporations donating their surplus food. You can disembark from the bus directly outside Cathay City. Food Angel collect surplus food from across Cathay City, predominantly from the crew hotel and canteen. Without corporations and businesses such as Cathay Pacific donating this surplus food, Food Angel would be limited in its provision of service. Since 2013, Cathay Pacific have donated 3,655kg of food [15]

So why does the tour include a trek across the city to a food donation point? Were you aware of Cathay Pacific’s role in providing this provision?

Part B of the tour begins here to enable you to consider and reflect on the interconnections of this part of the system and also it’s vulnerabilities in relation to the logistics of transporting surplus food from the donation point to Food Angel- a journey you will embark on later. To provide a safe, nutritious meal Food Angel staff sort and check all donated food adhering to the food safety guidelines of the corporation, the charity and government. Hong Kong government food safety advice for transportation of surplus food is available here.

refrigerated vanHowever, corporate reputation is a factor to consider when exploring vulnerabilities in the system. This can be damaged by a failure to maintain food safety standards. An outbreak of food poisoning could result in the deaths of elderly service users and the food donor’s reputation will be tarnished- such a situation could result in no further donation of surplus food. At Food Angel, a sample of every component of the meal is sent to the lab to be tested every day. Keep an eye out for any refrigerated Food Angel vans (left-source) at the Cathay City site. Maintaining the cold chain is challenging, [16] especially in Hong Kong’s summer.

How would you maintain the logistics of this and uphold food safety regulations? On your return journey consider the length of time the food must travel and how a failure in refrigeration would make the system vulnerable as the surplus food could not be used for human consumption.

Site 5. Hong Kong Jockey Club, Happy Valley Racecourse.tojc.pngRetrace your journey from Cathay City to central Hong Kong. Take East Rail MTR line to Causeway Bay- 3 stops from Central. Use Exit A at Causeway Bay (follow the sign shown below) which leads directly to the basement of Times Square. Walk through Times Square.exit aWhilst walking through Times Square, consider how does the environment contrast with that of Sham Shui Po and what do the differences illustrate? Find somewhere to site down and draw a sketch map- what is particularly striking about this environment? (You may find it difficult to find somewhere to sit down. Time equals money in a place of consumption, the urban design is characterised to encourage people to continue shopping) [17]

times squareTimes Square shows an overt display of wealth. One reason for the existence of Times Square is people’s need to display wealth and the ability to engage in consumerism. (18) Times Square is a centre of consumerism. Note the presence of Western food outlets- it’s a popular tourist destination. In contrast, to the sites you have seen in Part A, in Sham Shui Po, where trolleys are ubiquitous and tourists are a rare sight.

From Times Square follow the pedestrian route to the racecourse, which is well signposted with the pink signs to ‘Happy Valley Racecourse‘ shown below.

singpostsKeep an eye out for the statue of horses and the Olympic rings (see below), when you see this, you have arrived at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Happy Valley Racecourse. horseThis is an elite, exclusive space in Hong Kong. On my initial visit to this site I was amazed by the fleet of chauffeur driven luxury cars. Activities revolve around wealth. Alongside the horse-racing, the clubhouse is a place for dining, drinking and corporate events. Just like Cathay City, you have to have a certain identity to enter the space. Perhaps you’re wondering why this site is included on a tour about the foodscape of elderly food insecure citizens and how this links to Food Angel? Would you be surprised to hear the Jockey Club donated the money to construct the kitchen. (donating HK$18.55 million).(19) 

Did you know Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of the biggest charity donors in the world? Over the past decade, the Club has donated an average of one billion Hong Kong dollars every year to hundreds of charities and community projects! [20]

Although some individuals involved in the provision of food for the elderly in Hong Kong may criticise this excess of wealth and consumption, participants on the tour are encouraged to acknowledge the Jockey Club have recognised their social responsibility to other citizens. They are using their elitist space to support non-elitist spaces and the running of organisations including Food Angel, establishing a degree of food-security for some elderly citizens.

The financial support of the Jockey Club enabled a kitchen to be built and maintained, ensuring donated food can be stored safely and meals can be prepared in hygienic conditions. This demonstrates the interconnections that ensure the elderly citizen receives a safe, nutritious meal.

What was your previous knowledge of the Jockey Club? Were you aware of the extent of their charitable support? Consider what will happen if this financial support reduces or stops. What would then happen if an oven breaks etc?

Site 6. Optional Site- Kowloon Harbour ‘Symphony of Lights’ show. 8pm every evening

(Visiting this site is dependent on the time of day) You may prefer to return to this site in the evening

bay to harbourRetrace your journey to Causeway Bay MTR. Take the Island Line-Admiralty Station-Tsuen Wan Line – Yau Ma Tei Station and Kwun Tong Line to Whampoa Station. Exit the station at C2 and follow the signs to Harbour Grand Kowloon,(5 mins walk)

lightsThis site is included in the tour as the HSBC building is prominent in the light show, – a visible display of wealth created through capital accumulation- a vast disparity to the elderly citizens who use the services of Food Angel. However, HSBC staff are actors in part B of the system, because Food Angel relies on volunteers. As part of HSBC’s corporate responsibility, implemented through a community programme, [21]  they fulfil roles ranging from drivers to kitchen staff and servers in the dining room. Therefore, consider that although engaging in the capitalist system is a factor in the creation of Hong Kong’s inequalities, it is through corporate responsibility actions the elderly of Hong Kong, who visit Food Angel, are to some degree taken out of food insecurity and elite and non-elite spaces are joined.

Consider what will happen if the volunteer workforce is lost. What would be the implications in elderly otherwise food insecure citizens accessing food? Logistics are equally as important as the food itself.

Site 7. Food Angel, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, Monday – Friday 11am-1pm and 4.30pm-6pm

harbour to angelRetrace your steps to Causeway Bay MTR, return to the city centre. Take the Tsuen Wan Line to Sham Shui Po station exiting at C2, Kweilin Street. Continue on this street, you will pass Pei Ho market on your left. Continue straight ahead crossing Lai Chi Kok Rd, pass Yee Kuk street. Food Angel is on the corner of Hai Tan street. Food Angel is the final site of this tour

Food Angel is the site where all the previously explored inputs (surplus food, volunteers, charitable support) of part B of the system come together and create a system to deliver a safe, nutritious meal to the elderly, food-insecure who choose to engage with the charity and meet the outlines for support, namely being an elderly citizen (over 65), with limited state and family support [22]  Which are outlined on posters around the building, such as the one on below.poster with captioncamera iconEthical point- Don’t take photographs of individuals attending Food Angel’s service. This is a policy of the organisation. This is not a public space, so before entering please introduce yourself to a member of staff/volunteer- who wear pink t-shirts.

I suggest you ask to visit the kitchen first.

kitchen with captionYou will note food safety, mentioned earlier, in action as all prepared food is monitored by thermometer. Next walk round the corner of the building to the main entrance.stairsTake the lift or walk up the stairs to the second or third floor, it is in this space (on both the floors) that the lunch club takes place. 340 people are served here Monday to Friday as a result of various inputs from the previous sites. You will hear the elderly diners before you reach the hall as this space is a social hub and individuals sit talking together round circular tables. Food is central to the space and is a key focus of the lunch club. Food choices are an important part of identity [23] so if you have the opportunity take a look at the meals on the table. Each elderly citizen is offered a choice between meat, fish or a vegetarian option, along with rice and vegetables. This choice is dependent on surplus food, thus emphasising the importance of food donations and safe storage to enable a nutritious meal to be produced and served by volunteers. Food is not treated just as sustenace. At Food Angel, they recognise food provides more than this, the Lunch Club celebrate key celebrations together, for example Chinese New Year and Birthdays.

Do you think the charity would be able to cope if demand for their services increased? (Would they have enough space, food, volunteers etc?) If you are an actor that supports an input in this system, would you be able to cope with an increase in demand from food angel for more food/ money/ volunteers?)

Not all elderly people in Hong Kong are food-insecure, but with a projected rise in the proportion of people aged 65 from 11.7% in 2003 to 27% in 2033 and increased life expectancy to 79.5 years [24] There are implications for elderly people engaged in both systems. More may be pushed in to part A of this system, as an increasing number of over 65s have to support themselves. But cardboard is finite and the Chinese government’s recent embargo on importation of waste goods could result in less cardboard being demanded at recycling centres. Consequently, more elderly people may be pushed to part B of the system.

As this tour draws to a close, take some time to reflect on what you have experienced. First reflect back on your initial thoughts at the start of this tour. What previously unknown interconnections are you now aware of in this system? How does your organisation rely on the support of other organisation to provide food-security to elderly citizens or how does your organisation support another organisation? This tour has also identified potential challenges to this system, how will these challenges create vulnerabilities in this system?

Whatever your role in this system, it is important to understand your place in the broader system and in having this understanding hopefully this will enable future planning to prepare for a change in context/ input, if the situation arises.

Ultimately, what is the future for part A and part B of this system?

The flowchart below provides a summary of everything discussed in this tour. The yellow boxes show each of the sites visited on this tour and the dashed orange line shows the potential vulnerabilities.