Legislators should care less about their stomach, more about public opinion

Albert Cheng says Legco's hiring of caterers from the elite Jockey Club and apparent inclusion of foie gras on the menu leave a bad taste

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 11:12pm

It's often said that Chinese culinary culture involves eating just about any creature from the ocean to the sky. But as we all know, not all delicious food is good for our health and some dishes are the product of the inhumane treatment of animals.

As Hong Kong society becomes more advanced and better educated, people have become more aware of the need to protect the environment and treat animals more humanely.

Our lawmakers enjoy the rights and privileges of office, but seem to forget the people who put them there in the first place

Hongkongers, especially the younger generations, are beginning to say "no" to traditional culinary habits that encourage animal cruelty. Many have taken practical action to boycott the consumption of shark's fin and foie gras, for example. Indeed, many animal rights groups are trying to put an end to the shark's fin trade worldwide.

The consumption of foie gras encourages the cruel treatment of birds, because its production involves the controversial force-feeding of birds, usually ducks or geese, with more food than they would normally eat, in order to fatten their livers.

Foie gras is a delicacy sought after by gastronomes the world over. But in recent years, due to the continued protests by international animal rights groups, there are movements in many countries against its consumption.

It goes to show that more people are waking up to the fact that cruel human behaviour and barbaric eating habits have no place in our modern, civilised society.

We call Hong Kong "Asia's world city", an international food capital that attracts tourists from around the world with its promise of some of the best food on earth. In recent years, the local community has finally responded to global calls to put a stop to the consumption of shark's fin and a movement to stop serving it at traditional Chinese banquets is gaining popular support. This will change the traditional eating habits of many local Chinese.

However, our politicians seem to have turned a blind eye to this world trend and would appear to have put foie gras on the menu.

They apparently have no problem taking pleasure at the expense of the welfare of animals. This is particularly disgusting when some have been vocal in promoting animal rights.

From this month, the catering services for official dining at the Legislative Council will include a French foie gras specialist. The new addition has apparently drawn a round of applause from many legislators.

Another interesting addition is the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Usually, the Jockey Club's catering services are for members. The service is not cheap. For a lunch gathering of 100 people, the minimum charge is HK$80,000; and at least HK$100,000 for a dinner. On top of that, there is a logistics surcharge of HK$20,000.

For Legco, the club is providing catering services for 100 people at a much-discounted price of less than HK$50,000. In other words, the club and its members are subsidising Legco.

The current secretary general of the Legco Secretariat, Kenneth Chen Wei-on, was a senior Jockey Club executive before being appointed a principal official in the education ministry and became Legco secretary general a week ago. This begs the question: is there a conflict of interest here?

Furthermore, the Legco home affairs panel is tasked with monitoring all the club's betting activities and operations. Yet, here we have Legco members accepting services from a private club they are supposed to monitor.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum seem to welcome the addition of this new caterer as well as the shameful inclusion of foie gras as a dining choice. This exposes how insensitive they are to public sentiment and world trends.

This mistake - worse than the recent debacle in which some lawmakers accepted a junket from Cathay Pacific - shouldn't be taken lightly.

They should be leading by example and boycotting shark's fin and foie gras, especially during official functions in the Legco dining room. And when it comes to catering, they should select local small and medium-sized caterers instead of elite high-society private clubs. It's all about perception and it certainly doesn't send out the right signals.

If our lawmakers really cared about their grass-root voters, they would be patronising the Sham Shui Po restaurant run by "Brother Ming" who gives out free lunchboxes to the poor. How about that for raising their popularity with the people?

Sadly, our lawmakers from across the political spectrum have no political alertness and don't practise what they preach. They enjoy the rights and privileges of office, but seem to forget the people who put them there in the first place.

We may expect such behaviour from the pro-government camp, but it's sickening to see the pan-democrats in the gutter as well.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk