On the breakfast and dinner tables of the seven million people who live in Hong Kong you’ll scarcely find a single product grown locally. There are onions from the US, beef from Australia, kiwis from Chile and eggs plucked from just about anywhere but here. As Hong Kong imports over 95 per cent of its food it’s safe to assume that Hong Kong-ers rack up some of the highest food miles in the world.
The explanation that Hong Kong simply doesn’t have space to grow its own vegetables rings true. Walk down any street and you’ll feel hemmed in by people and buildings. The area of Mongkok is the densest in the world. It’s a city we all think is crammed, packed to the max.
It may seem that way but, in actual fact, 70 per cent of Hong Kong’s land area isn’t built up. While some of that is reserved as nature parks and other parts have terrain too challenging to tame, Hong Kong does have enough empty land on which it could create a thriving local produce industry.
A few people are trying to prove that it is indeed possible for Hong Kong-ers to have farm-fresh food on their plates. Homegrown Foods works with seven of the very few farms that remain operational in the city’s New Territories, delivering everything from Genovese basil to heirloom tomatoes to strawberries directly to people’s doors. Miss Xi serves up traditional Hong Kong dishes cooked with greens grown in her garden at her restaurant.
But for a city so proud of – and famous for – its food scene, and with so many foodies out to taste the best of what Hong Kong’s 20,000 restaurants have to offer, it’s odd that hardly anyone raises an eyebrow at the fact that the stuff we’re eating isn’t fresh. Let alone that almost every single bite we take represents a small dent in the environment.
Hong Kong’s food-import model is outdated and unsustainable. It’s a model gone wrong; here we have land that could be used to feed not just local mouths but an entire economy of farmers, food producers, delivery services and supermarkets heaving with the fruits and vegetables picked on the day.
A food exporter such as the US, which sent over US$3.3bn-worth (€2.7bn) of produce to Hong Kong in 2011, would obviously want this lucrative trade to continue unabated. But wouldn’t it be in the interest of the Hong Kong government to save some of that money by setting up this city’s own farm economy? Perhaps that way in the not too distant future we could see Hong Kong-ers tuck into dishes made with what’s growing in their own city – fresh as can be and not a single food mile spent.