I have been a vegetarian my whole life, and, because of this, I can still remember feeling shocked and baffled when I first saw the menu of the University canteens during my early days in Hong Kong. There were so few vegetarian options! In my first year, survival here was difficult and finding food to eat used to be a herculean task. However, now, after two years, things have become significantly better. Many of my friends are vegetarians, and I have no trouble finding vegetarian food in Hong Kong. I have even organised a vegetarian festival – an event that took place in the Student Residence that featured vegetarian food from all around the world! But, before getting to that, let me walk you through my two-year journey.
People in Hong Kong are brought up with meat as their primary source of food and eat meat at almost every meal of the day. I found this very strange because in India, meat is considered a luxury and even the non-vegetarians eat it no more than a few times a week. But here, it seems like meat is a necessity. The difference, I realised, lies in the societal mindset. It appears to me as though the society here views animals as food, rather than living creatures. Take “vegetarian fish cutlet” for example, a bean curd cutlet served in Homey Kitchen at the Student Residence. I have often wondered, why it has “fish” in its name – and why can’t they just call it “vegetarian cutlet”?
Over the first year, I often hunted for the food in school canteens and after having a closer look, I found there were various vegetarian options for me. I was happy, I could finally survive. But going forward, I realised it was time for me to really “live”, so I began learning to cook. For many of us, cooking might seem a complex and ethereal art, as it certainly did for me – though, in reality, I realised it is simply the art of mixing the right ingredients at the right time. I taught myself how to cook some Indian dishes I grew up with, and utilised online resources to learn further. By the end of first year, I was a pretty good cook. In fact, I was so decent that months after that I taught a sophisticated “Shahi Paneer”, a dish containing cottage cheese in buttery Indian curry, in the “Cooking Mama” event organised at the Student Residence.
Then, I decided it was time for me to spread the message of vegetarianism. So, I decided to organise a vegetarian festival or “Veggie Fest”, as it came to be known. The Veggie Fest took place in Alumni Civility Hall (Hall 3) in the Student Residence last Fall and was a blend of delightful food, art, music and education. 12 volunteers worked hard to make this event a success, compiling vegetarian food from five different cuisines. These delicacies were of course the highlight, and it was so good that at the end of the event, you could see a wide smile on the faces of all participants. The event also had face paint and a musical performance as entertainment, and posters all around to demonstrate various fun facts about the vegetarian tradition.
The primary motive behind this vegetarian event was to promote the vegetarian lifestyle in the residence community and Hong Kong, as well as to get all the vegetarianism enthusiasts under one roof to have some fun. With events like these, the residence community is forced to think about subjects which they would have never had thought about before, like global water shortage and malnutrition in Africa. Even if they don’t become vegetarians, at least they will become more open-minded towards this alternate way of life.
Many studies have shown that by going vegetarian, we can reduce the impact of climate change, rainforest destruction and pollution whilst also saving the water and other precious resources. In fact, raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, planes, and other forms of transportation combined. There has never been a better time to go green by eating green. Also, a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer, and is an overall healthier food source.
For me however, the ethical reasons to follow such a diet matter most. Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everybody would have been a vegetarian…” – and he was right, animals can experience pain and feel negative emotion like fear and grief, just as human do. We should rethink about our choice of diet.
It is understandable that going vegetarian instantly is nearly impossible. If you are curious as to how you can make a difference this way, you can start off by reducing your meat consumption. For example, have one meat-free day every week, then add one more meat-free meal every month and so on. A change, no matter how small it is, will make a difference.