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"InnoFriday" Workshop #8 Review: Go Veggie to Save Our Planet!

In recent years, Hong Kong has witnessed a sweeping wave of vegetarianism, as more and more vegetarian specialty restaurants and vegan clubs mushroomed.  Can vegetarian diets really become a new culinary fashion that will help combat climate change? In this InnoFriday Workshop captioned ‘Go Veggie to Save Our Planet’ held on 22 January, Ms Tai Sau Wai, an eco art and education worker, was invited to be our special host. The workshop began with a discussion on how people perceived food, followed by an exploration on the links between food and environmental justice. 

Ms Tai Sau Wai started the workshop by sharing with the audience how she became a vegetarian herself. She recalled her diet habits as no different from ordinary people’s when she was a youngster. Yet after she started her career in poverty relief and humanitarian aid, she found that many natural disasters, like flooding and droughts, were closely related to environmental problems such as deforestation and soil degradation. One of the major causes for these problems was animal husbandry. Then while she studied environmental art in Canada, she felt sorry for those animals that were brutally treated. Eventually, she became a vegan. Nevertheless, she agreed that it would be challenging for Hong Kong people to shift to vegetarianism, as veggies only account for 3% of the entire population. Meanwhile, Hong Kong ranks world No.1 in meat consumption per capita. The major obstacles for Hong Kong people to go veggie, she believed, do not only rest on family background factors, but also on social education, advertising and mainstream culture. Consequently, the myth that meat-eating is a human norm was created.

In a short video and a slideshow of photos, Sau Wai gave the participants an idea of the entire meat production process from farm to table. In the sharing session followed, many participants agreed that modern meat production has treated animals in an inhumane way and with great brutality. Sau Wai stressed that eating meat does not only alienate people from animals,  it is also a kind of social oppression. Using the US as an example, she pointed out that most of the slaughterhouse workers are colour people from the poorest sector of the society and they work in dangerous conditions every day; whereas meat producers are rich and powerful enough to exert their influence in world politics. Sau Wai regarded a shift to meat-free diet as a ‘revolution’: it helps to protect animals from being abused and liberates them from the very bottom of the social order; it also protects the underprivileged classes of our society.

Sau Wai also explored the issue of meat production from the perspective of environmental justice. There is, firstly, a close relationship between meat production and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, producing beef releases large quantities of methane, which is more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Secondly, animal husbandry often leads to forest destruction. An example can be found in the Amazon, where large plots of the rainforest are cleared to make way for animal feeds and ranches. Towards the end of the workshop, Sau Wai devised a role-play session to encourage participants to find out how meat-eating has led to environmental damages. Participants were asked to play the role of forest inhabitants to better understand the changes and impacts brought by deforestation. Damage on the ecosystem and indigenous communities were then explained in detail.  Participants were shocked as they realized the negative impacts arisen from meat-eating. 

Just as what UN proposed in 2006 -- save the world by going veggie, Sau Wai encouraged all participants to ponder over how diet habits could affect the environment and the animals. Tips were given on how to promote vegetarianism, such as joining groups for animal rights, operating animal story corners, and educating the public through installation art. Anyone who has got innovative ideas is welcomed to join us as an InnoTeam member and contribute to further discussions. Those interested please leave your personal particulars here. Let’s work together and launch a revolution on the dinner table!