Albert Einstein once said: 'Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.'
Today, perceptions about intensive agriculture and its impact on the environment and human health motivate many people to become vegetarian. But do most give up meat or dairy products simply because they believe it is healthier? Eric Brent thinks so.
'Religion used to be the major motivator for someone to become vegetarian, but there is now a movement towards a plant-based diet for health reasons. Former president Bill Clinton, for example, has done so because he wants to live longer,' says Brent, whose Happy Cow site (www.happycow.net) lists over 100 'compassionate' dining choices in Hong Kong.
'Movies like Forks Over Knives have educated people about the dangers of consuming meat and dairy, and there has been more attention paid to the cost of farm animals on the environment of late.
'Al Gore used to get away with speaking on going green without talking about it, but now few environmentalists belittle the effects of farm animals on the environment, and most agree one can't be green and still consume animal-based products.'
This meat-free message is spread annually on World Vegetarian Day on October 1, which kicks off Vegetarian Awareness Month. Founded by the North American Vegetarian Society in 1977 and endorsed by the International Vegetarian Union in 1978, the day is marked around the world with a series of events.
This year's include World Veg Festival Weekend in San Francisco on Saturday and Sunday, with cooking demonstrations and seminars, and the Christchurch Vegetarian Expo on October 9 in New Zealand, which will host workshops, free tastings and films about animal welfare.
But it's not all about large-scale happenings: the event encourages vegetarians to spread the word by simply hosting a meat-free meal for family and friends, or asking school and workplace cafeterias to go vegetarian for a day, or improve their meat-free options.
Brent hopes that the event will not only highlight what he believes are the benefits of vegetarianism for health, animals and the environment, but also encourage those who are already vegetarian to go further - by cutting out dairy, eggs and other products that some might consider uncompassionate.
If a life without meat seems too extreme, several restaurants in Hong Kong are making it possible to at least try it for a day on Saturday.
At The Luxe Manor Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, all menus will be vegetarian - from white foamy tomato soup and wild mushroom risotto at Finds to dashi-maki egg omelette and Japanese cabbage salad with sesame dressing at Robata Zawazawa.
'Chinese vegetarian places are pretty common in Hong Kong, but decent Western vegetarian or vegan food is hard to come by,' says the hotel's new branding and communications director, Angie Palmer. 'All our restaurants are very good at adapting menu items, but we want to take it one step further by being able to call ourselves vegan- and vegetarian-friendly with more meat-free choices during October and beyond that, too.'
Palmer became vegan herself three years ago for health reasons and says she dodged surgery as a result. She is now keen to smash misconceptions about veganism.
'We don't eat tree bark; we eat good and healthy. One question that I always get asked is: 'Where do you get your protein?' But it's in tofu, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, peanut butter, peas, quinoa, beans, gluten and soy milk. You don't need meat for protein. There are bodybuilders and triathletes who are vegan. Muscles don't need to be built on steak and milkshakes,' she says.
On Hong Kong Island, chic hotspot Sevva is also adding new meat-free dishes to its menu for World Vegetarian Day. Its new vegetarian afternoon tea set, 'We Love Vegetables', has nine savoury and six sweet options including golden crumpet with chive cream cheese and cucumber, truffled scrambled egg on toasted Poilane sourdough bread and pineapple carrot cake.
New dishes on the regular menu, meanwhile, include Mediterranean-style dosas with fillings such as ratatouille, mozzarella and caramelised onions, and Japanese herb kampo and white truffle oil angel hair pasta.
Sevva owner and founder Bonnie Gokson says she has always appreciated good, wholesome eating. She notes that it's important to get the mix of different food groups right for vegetarian dishes.
'When I created the Sevva salad, one of our most popular menu items, I had to think of proteins that balance well with just vegetables, so I added tea-smoked quail eggs and salt-and-pepper tofu to the dish.'
Whether you're contemplating going vegetarian for good or just once in a while, Meat Free Hong Kong (www.meetup.com/Meat-Free-Hong-Kong) will introduce you to the city's vegetarian and vegan restaurants at its Monday meet-ups.
'Meat Free Hong Kong serves as a platform of information exchange for people who want to change their lifestyle by following a healthy diet,' says founder Shara Ng, a vegetarian for more than 20 years.
'We have over 500 members and around 30 join the gathering each time. We also organise seaside barbecues, vegan workshops and seminars on the weekend.'
Tranquil settings and price are the most important factors for Ng, and to that end she recommends LockCha teahouse in Hong Kong Park for vegetarian dim sum, and Chi Lin Vegetarian in the serene surrounds of Nan Lian Garden in Diamond Hill as top veggie eats.
Another restaurant with spiritual overtones is the World Peace Cafe in Wan Chai, which has a Vajradhara Buddhist Meditation Centre upstairs and tomes on finding enlightenment downstairs. Lunch sets range from HK$68 to HK$128 - with the net profit donated to the building of Kadampa Buddhist temples around the world. And it's good for smoothies, salads and its tofu cheesecake.
Decorated with framed photographs of famous vegetarians including Natalie Portman and Paul McCartney, Loving Hut is a vegan/vegetarian chain from the US and with a fast-food set-up echoing Maxim's, it's ideal for a quick, cheap and filling lunch. With five locations including Wan Chai, the fare is mostly Chinese such as barbecue soya slices char siu-style with rice, and it also has the best banana muffins in town since, being dairy-free, they're packed with fruit.
Keeping with the fast-food theme is Harvester, a self-serve restaurant in Sheung Wan where you weigh and pay for your meal (minimum charge HK$30), which encourages customers not to waste food. Every day there are 12 dishes to choose from, with egg and tomato, steamed tofu and choi sum among the selections. Soup, red rice, congee, dessert and Chinese tea are free.
Americans craving a slice of home will warm to Veggie SF, a 36-seat space decked out like a San Franciscan diner with memorabilia from the '50s including posters and car number plates crammed into every corner.
Chow down on the Oakland Breeze, a Vietnamese-style mix of cold vermicelli with fried tofu skewers, then finish with a vanilla sundae topped with San Fran's famous Ghirardelli fudge.
For those with partners or friends who don't want to go meat-free, O Green in Sheung Wan is a good compromise. The menu is mostly vegetarian, but it specialises in gluten-free, sugar-free and low-fat dishes. There are chicken Caesar salads and braised beef brisket with red rice (both using organic meat) for die-hard carnivores, and organic tofu cakes or pasta with vegan pesto for those eschewing dairy.
The cafe also makes its own low-sugar organic cookies and vegan-friendly muffins whipped up with dairy substitutes.
Elite no-meat eats
Buddhist - World Peace Cafe, 21-23 Tai Wong Street East, Wan Chai, tel: 2527 5870, www.worldpeacecafe.hk
Budget - Loving Hut, shops B and C, G/F, The Hennessy, 256 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, tel: 2574 3248, www.lovinghut.com
Self-service - Harvester, shops A and B, G/F, Yardley Commercial Building, 3 Connaught Road West, Sheung Wan, tel: 2542 4788, www.harvester.com.hk
Hotel - The Luxe Manor, 39 Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 3763 8888, www.theluxemanor.com
Indulgent - Sevva, 25/F, Prince's Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, tel: 2537 1388, www.sevva.hk
Retro - Veggie SF, 10/F, Stanley 11, 11 Stanley Street, Central, tel: 3902 3902, www.veggiesf.com
Rustic - O Green: shop E, G/F, Fu Fai Commercial Centre, 27 Hillier Street, Sheung Wan, tel: 2850 6996, www.ogreencafe.com