Editor's Note: Deniz has spoken in length about the meat and dairy industry's footprint and has examined the case of Hong Kong in her previous articles. She spoke with Priscilla - the co-founder of The Shared Meal - over zoom a few weeks ago. Here's their conversation.
Hello Priscilla, first of all, we want to thank you for doing this interview with us. Could you please tell us about yourself and describe your background regarding environmentalism and sustainability?
I am Priscilla, and I am here today with Cindy. We are co-founders of The Shared Meal.
I am currently based in Hong Kong, working as a Sustainability Consultant to provide sustainability solutions to corporations. Previously, I worked for Oxfam HK on global citizenship education, which involved linking the climate crisis with developmental issues such as inequality and poverty. Last year, I joined Climate Advocacy for Youth Programme and launched an initiative to promote community solar in Hong Kong. This engagement landed me the opportunity to join COP26 as a youth delegate. I hope to drive more climate action in diverse channels.
You don’t have to be a sustainability professional to make a difference. Hailing from Hong Kong as well, Cindy is now a primary classroom teacher in London. She is an avid home cook, loves reading about food ethics, and has been meat-free for ten years.
We believe that eating plant-based is one of the most impactful actions an individual can take to combat the climate crisis - especially in the Hong Kong context. Therefore, the Shared Meal was founded to make plant-based eating easier, more fun, diverse, and even culturally appropriate for East Asian families (and eventually beyond!).
The Shared Meal crowdsources meatless home-cooked recipes and the memories behind the dishes. Launched in July 2020, we have since collected, translated, and crafted over 50 recipes and stories - each a testament to our love for the environment and people at our table.
What was your purpose in founding The Shared Meal, and who was your target audience?
The Shared Meal is anchored in 3 pillars:
Food: Crowdsource recipes that are culturally appropriate, diverse, and creative recipes for the multigenerational households of Hong Kong and beyond.
Memory: Rebuild our emotional connection with climate facts and plant-based eating.
Climate: Create a community of everyday people taking action through everyday meals.
Our audience started with the multigenerational families in Hong Kong who may find it difficult to find suitable plant-based recipes online that grandma can also enjoy. It has since extended beyond borders to include readers cooking recipes from Armenia, Bulgaria, Palestine and more. This is a powerful message showing us that people do want to make a difference when they can, and food is one very important way of doing so.
Food is communal. Responding to the climate crisis requires communal action, which begins with our meals with family and friends. The shared meal is no small thing.
What was the reaction you got after the launch of The Shared Meal? Have any negative returns been made?
We have been incredibly lucky to receive lots of support from home cooks in Hong Kong and beyond. The ever-growing Instagram community has also been a source of inspiration and motivation, so full as it is of everyday advocates driving impact in their own communities.
So often, our food memories carry the most precious sentiments in our lives. So, lucky for us, it’s been a huge blessing to have these conversations with people as we grow our collection of recipes and memories.
From a more technical angle, we were also humbled to have gotten positive feedback from a marketing professional on our Instagram presentation and endorsement from a professional translator, who said The Shared Meal was her favourite Instagram page and plant-based site! We are trying our best in these areas and are learning new things every day.
Are there any interesting stories and traditional recipes you have never encountered before through The Shared Meal?
Tons! Here are a few:
Hong Kong-style french toast is a classic in local diners and cafes. The trouble is, it’s based heavily on dairy. This home cook has managed to veganise the dish (using pumpkin mash!) while maintaining its sweetness and thickness. She was motivated to do so because it reminded her carpenter father, who would always have these toasts for tea at 3:15 pm every day.
Lotus root pancakes are a family table favourite. This is a recipe from one of our feature interviewees Eliza Cheung, and as with many great things in life, came straight from her mother’s cookbook. We liked how becoming vegetarian was a gift Eliza gave herself on her 18th birthday - a moving reminder on how living consciously can be a gift that keeps giving.
Priscilla: The sour lentil and aubergine stew (Rumaniyya) is one of my favourite traditional recipes. I like the chance to cook Palestinian dishes, which brings me back to my time in West Bank.
Cindy: I talked to a friend and her parents to craft the food memory story behind these delicious Bulgarian stuffed peppers and tomatoes. Behind the dish are memories of family lunches, parent courtships, and local ingredients from their grandparents’ farm that kept food on the table during the post-Communist instabilities. A truly cross-generational affair that The Shared Meal has had the privilege of helping to preserve and share with others.
This question will be personal: What's your favourite plant-based meal in traditional Hong Kong cuisine? We would be delighted if you could share your recipe with us.
Soup is a big thing in Cantonese food culture, but not many are vegan-friendly. This coconut soup satisfies our drive for both tradition and impact.
The UN estimates it makes up more than 14% of all artificial greenhouse gases, including methane. But, of course, the impact of livestock on emissions varies between countries. Could you please give information regarding the rates of greenhouse gases in Hong Kong?
90% of the total food supply in Hong Kong is imported food. However, this consumption-based emission is not included in Hong Kong’s Climate Plan.
We usually think of carbon dioxide (CO2) when talking about emissions. But, according to the UN, livestock emissions also include methane, up to 34 times more damaging to the environment over 100 years than CO2. As reported, beef produces the most greenhouse gases, including methane. A global average of 110lb (50kg) of greenhouse gases is released per 3.5oz of protein. Concerning this, can you inform us about meat production and consumption in Hong Kong?
Research from HKU in 2018 shows Hong Kong as the seventh-highest emitter per capita when comparing consumption emissions among 113 regions. The research also used this alternative calculation method to estimate Hong Kong’s carbon emissions to be 109Mt CO2-e, more than double that of the government’s estimation. In addition, emissions in international imports contributed to 62% of the total emissions, which mainly comes from meat and dairy products consumption (57.5 Mt CO2-e).
In addition to the previous question, is it possible to say that plant-based and vegan diets are on the rise, especially among Hong Kong youth?
Perhaps our community on Instagram is predominantly youth-based; we have noticed that students usually lead plant-based food advocacy. However, the biannual Hong Kong Vegetarian Habit Survey conducted by Green Monday in 2019 shows that the age range of 50-64 has the highest percentage of people being full-time vegetarian/vegan.
Could you briefly tell us about the future plans of The Shared Meal?
At the moment, we are in different time zones working very demanding jobs, but that doesn’t stop us from growing The Shared Meal! We are working on collaborations mostly within the Instagram community in the short term. We’ve co-developed content on plant-based eating and local ingredients with platforms from India and Singapore. In the medium term, we hope to develop memory-writing workshops to guide people to reflect on their food experiences. In the longer run, we are keen to impact climate education and contribute to food-related policymaking, e.g. food security. We hope the collection of personal narratives we bring to the table can add some fresh and urgent perspectives on how pertinent climate issues are and how, when we act together, we are that much more likely to make an impact.
When we look at humanity in general, what should be done to switch to a plant-based diet collaboratively?
It is important to recognise the level of carbon emissions and impact from developed and developing countries for collaboratively switching to a plant-based diet. Research from Nature Food in 2022 shows how 54 high-income countries could cut their agricultural emissions by almost two-thirds through dietary change, as their diets are more meat-oriented. While animal-derived products drive 70% of food-system emissions in high-income countries, they are only accountable for 22% in low- to middle-income countries. Food is highly cultural, as each country eats differently. One good reference would be adopting a planetary health diet, proposed by EAT-Lancet Commission, which is a universal diet that is healthy and sustainable for all. To approach this diet transformation in a comprehensive manner, EAT-Lancet Commission has outlined five key strategies:
seek international and local commitment to shift towards healthy diets;
reorient agricultural priorities to produce healthy food instead of high quantity food;
sustainably intensify food productions for high-quality output;
strong and coordinated governance to conserve land and manage the world’s oceans;
at least halve food losses at the production side and food waste at the consumption side.
Lastly, but most importantly, could you please tell us your favourite plant-based milk? (It’s a tradition😊)
Pris: Coconut milk - it is versatile and tastes so good.
Cindy: Oat milk all the way