Let's have our mooncake and eat it, too

Mania for traditional symbol of Mid-Autumn Festival means many end up in the trash

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 4:41am

The Mid-Autumn Festival carries special meaning as a day for family reunions. A big dinner is one of its signatures, along with the taste of mooncake. But recent years have seen big festivals, including the celebration of the full moon, saddled with the negative association of food waste.

The latest survey by an environmental group shows that last year, on average, each family threw away 0.75 mooncakes, meaning two million cakes went into the rubbish, given that Hong Kong has 2.38 million families.

This phenomenal wastage has been the norm for years. Part of the problem is that not many of us, honestly, are big fans of the sweet festival treat, but it is a must for this special season.

It might be constructive to ponder a bit before we do our mooncake buying. Are they for our own consumption, or gifts for our loved ones? And how many can we, or our friends, really eat?

And it is not just mooncakes that Hongkongers have a reputation for wasting. It is interesting to note that mainland media have recently been pointing a finger at our habits when dining out. A People's Daily commentary last week criticised Hongkongers "with bigger eyes than appetites", saying we tend to order more than we need in restaurants, especially seafood.

The article noted that Hongkongers' annual consumption of seafood reached 43 tonnes last year, 3.6 times the world average, yet much of that ended up as waste. It then called on the city to "reflect" on its eating habits.

Of course, it is ironic to read this piece considering that the mainland is notorious for its waste of food at banquets, especially those paid for with public money. But that situation is changing under President Xi Jinping's new austerity rules for officials.

And it is also encouraging that Hongkongers' awareness of the food wastage problem seems to be growing.

Just a matter of days before the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Undersecretary for Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai warned that the government would roll out a detailed plan by the end of this year to deal with food waste, moving its target up three years from 2017 to next year. This is an ambitious but necessary measure the government has to take, and which the public needs to support for the sake of our environment.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is an advocate of eliminating food waste, showed the right spirit recently. He and his family celebrated the festival at the Government House with a group of mentally disabled children. Some of the gifts he prepared were not mooncakes, but crickets and mimosas for the children to care for.

This year has also seen groups distributing donated mooncakes to the needy, to reduce waste.

Hongkongers should follow this lead and bear in mind that while the full moon festival is a good occasion to send gifts to our loved ones and enjoy feasts with our families, we do not have to throw food away.