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How to eat well and sustainably at Chinese New Year

By Wendell Chan

It is that time of the year again. Chinese New Year is nearing, and that means spending time with your family and handing out red packets – or receiving them if you are unmarried.

The annual holiday is a rare opportunity for families to indulge and celebrate “surplus.” The centrepieces of this indulgence are the sumptuous dishes served to mark the start of the new year. Many of the food items eaten are for good fortunes, such as fish for prosperity and year cake – nian gao – for career development, better grades and whatnot.

poon choi

A poon choi. Photo: Apple Daily.

Chinese New year is also, unfortunately, a time when people overindulgence, leaving behind a surplus of food waste. It should come as no surprise, after all, the families hosting the banquet want to be seen as good hosts. It would be embarrassing if they did not prepare enough food, and thus they would end up making or ordering more food than their guests could finish.

Food waste is a severe problem in Hong Kong. Every day we throw out over 3,500 tonnes of food waste – or almost half a kilogram per person, according to the latest statistics.

Wasteful behaviour is particularly prevalent while eating out at restaurants, which is common for family reunion dinners. The average diner will leave behind between 79 to 95 grams of edible food, and as much as 130 grams in more luxurious restaurants.

Donating discarded food is out of the question and existing food recovery options in Hong Kong only diverts a tiny portion of this gargantuan volume. Most of this waste will end up in the city’s landfills.

It doesn’t end at food waste: village gatherings for poon choi – a large basin of food popular in Cantonese cuisine – can create tens of thousands of disposable dishes, utensils, and bottles.

landfill

A landfill. Photo: GovHK.

There is no need to dampen such auspicious occasions though.

Being more environmentally-conscious can be a simple matter of opting for reusable items, having fewer or smaller dishes, and boxing your leftovers – with a reusable container, if possible – to eat at a later date.

Don’t worry about losing face; the truth is your younger family members will probably thank you for not having to stuff themselves with unfinished food, leaving them worried about their waistlines afterwards.


Wendell Chan is the Programme Officer at Friends of the Earth (HK).

How to eat well and sustainably at Chinese New Year