24 October 2016
Farmers work at a sustainable agriculture project in Lai Chi Wo, a Hakka village near Sha Tau Kok. Photo: Vimeo/Lego Ho
Farmers work at a sustainable agriculture project in Lai Chi Wo, a Hakka village near Sha Tau Kok. Photo: Vimeo/Lego Ho

Food and politics

The movie Ten Years stirred up much controversy after it was voted best film at the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards this month.

Some commentators complained that politics had hijacked Hong Kong’s movie industry.

Well, politics does affect pretty much every aspect of our life.

During the 1950s, mainland China prohibited the supply of live pigs to Hong Kong, causing prices of pork, fish and vegetables to skyrocket.

Renowned food critic Chan Mun-yan commented that while it looked like a business dispute on the surface, politics must be behind it.

“It’s no use for people to claim they have nothing to do with politics,” Chan wrote in his column.

“Every now and then, no one can get away from politics. It just turns up uninvited.”

Our ancestors lived self-sufficiently in their own neighborhoods, helping themselves to food or other supplies from the mountains or the sea.

However, nowadays, thanks to the division of labor, whether it is clothes, housing, daily necessities or food, what has not been outsourced?

We needn’t have to farm, forage or cook for ourselves, since we can have all that done by professionals in their fields.

Government statistics show that Hongkongers eat out an average of 7.5 times a week.

Letting the chefs of restaurants take care of our diets can save us time for rest or work.

Inevitably we are losing our say in food issues.

For instance, has it ever occurred to you that the corn in fried fish fillets with creamy corn sauce might have been genetically modified?

That the chicken you are chewing might retain excessive hormones?

That the production of coffee and chocolate involve child labor or even victims of human trafficking?

And would you dare to imagine how much food additives, preservatives and monosodium glutamate (MSG) you have consumed in the past year?

Hong Kong largely depends on imports for its food supply.

Yet, Hongkongers are indifferent about the sources and background of those imports.

Most of the budget restaurants in the city serve meat from Brazil. Sadly, how many of us care that the Brazilians are engaging in massive deforestation of the Amazon jungle to free the land for livestock farming?

Hongkongers are fond of fresh seafood, as well.

Many fishermen take the risk of entering restricted zones and conducting illegal fishing to yield bigger harvests. Quite a few geopolitical disputes have arisen as a result.

This affluent city is enjoying food supplied from all over the world, indirectly creating an enormous impact on the livelihoods of many.

We tend to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the truth.

In the last decade, conflicts broke out between the government and young Hongkongers over urban development and conservation – such as at Tsoi Yuen Tsuen (菜園村), Queen’s Pier (皇后碼頭) and “Wedding Card Street” (officially Lee Tung Street, 利東街).

Since then, some activists have been promoting local agriculture and started rehabilitating farmland for growing crops.

In my opinion, this is the best way to develop our sense of belonging to the city.

Again, who thinks he or she can get away from politics?

The choice of your next meal could already be a political choice.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 12.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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