Festival a time for simple pleasures

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 12:00am

The Mid-Autumn Festival traditions, as tonight's moon-gazing celebrations will demonstrate, have stood the test of time. But in this age of rampant consumerism, it is difficult to enjoy them with a completely clear conscience.

Mooncakes cannot be chomped without worrying about the adverse effects they might have on our health. The packaging they come in poses a threat to the environment. And the Consumer Council has warned about the dangers of substandard lanterns. All this angst might cause some to ponder on the wisdom of marking the occasion in the time-honoured fashion. Most, however, will not be deterred.

The commercial side of the festival is impossible to overlook. Mooncake sales in Hong Kong have boomed this year - a sign of our rebounding economy. And the number of different varieties available seems to grow with each festival.

No longer is it a matter of simply purchasing a traditionally wrapped box of cakes featuring a delicate blend of salted egg yolks, lotus-seed paste and rich, greasy pastry. Now these delicacies come in all shapes, sizes - and especially flavours. Fashionable options include those using decidedly untraditional ingredients such as chocolate, coffee, ice cream - and even curry.

Purists might be horrified. But at least some of the newer, trendy options might be a little healthier. One of the traditional double-yolk cakes can contain as much as four times the recommended daily intake of cholesterol. It is not surprising, then, that the government issues a health warning each year. Mooncakes should be consumed in moderation. And people with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, are advised to consult a doctor before tucking in.

The health-conscious, understandably, seem to prefer a mooncake-free festival. But this gives rise to another problem - waste. Mooncakes are bought in great numbers and given as gifts, but many of them go uneaten. A survey released this week suggested as many as 1.75 million are dumped each year in Hong Kong. Buying fewer mooncakes and giving unwanted ones to charitable foundations would help curb the waste.

Green groups have long been concerned about the elaborate packaging the cakes come in. An estimated 750 tonnes of metal, from discarded containers, is dumped in landfills each year. A recycling initiative - in which containers are collected at housing estates and schools - is deserving of support.

Mooncakes and lanterns make this one of our most colourful festivals. But they are not the essential ingredients for a memorable celebration. The festival's origins lie in the contemplation of the moon by two Tang dynasty lovers. Now, it is a time for families and friends to gather and to simply enjoy being together. That is the real meaning of the festival - and it does not have to be bought.




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