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City Weekend

No meat and greet: Hong Kong vegetarian and vegan society bringing people together ... and even omnivores are welcome

A meat-free diet, countryside outings, maybe even a little romance ... A social group promoting vegetarian and vegan lifestyles has more than just food on the menu

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 October, 2016, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 October, 2016, 2:02pm

Vegans Stevie Go and Carrie Chan will probably never eat meat again, but that doesn’t mean they will force others to do the same.

The couple, who met on dating app Tinder just under two years ago, are two of the main organisers of Meat Free Hong Kong, a society promoting the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets.

The group meets every week at one of the city’s 200 vegetarian restaurants, but those who come along do not have to live completely meat-free lifestyles.

Go, a 50-year-old retired information technology specialist from Scotland, said he hoped the group would help spark an interest in vegan and vegetarian food among Hongkongers.

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“It is a vegan food group, not a vegan group,” he said. “I would speculate that 50 per cent of people are on an omnivore diet. Everyone is welcome. We try to make it a social evening. What people speak about is up to them. If people want to talk about veganism and vegetarianism then they can. But I’ve decided I’m not going to give people a hard time.”

The strategy seems to be working. Meat Free Hong Kong recently held its 400th gathering, and has accumulated more than 4,000 members since being established in 2009.

It can even boast being a venue for romance; at least one couple who met at the group have gone on to get married. Go said they had even received a request to organise a singles’ night but had declined.

“If people hit it off then that is that, but I am not going to get involved,” he said.

Understandably, the society instead tends to focus on visiting restaurants, but sometimes they incorporate a hike, a barbecue or cooking classes into the events.

The group’s attendees have ranged in age from babies to 70 year olds, but most are professionals in their 30s and 40s. Some members are long-time advocates of veganism and vegetarianism. Go has been vegetarian for 26 years and vegan for 16 of those. But others, like Chan, adopted the lifestyle later in life.

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The 41-year-old project manager and Hong Kong native began cooking vegetarian food in 2012 when she moved out of her parents’ home into a studio apartment.

She found the smell left in her home after cooking meat was overbearing, so she switched to just preparing vegetables.

Eventually, after learning more about veganism through her own research and meeting members of Meat Free Hong Kong, she decided to pursue a vegan lifestyle.

She said the transition had been relatively easy and had improved her overall health.

“My stomach felt better,” she said. “So I started eating vegan food in restaurants, too.”

Chan said she also began thinking about the wider effects of her omnivore diet on the world.

“When I was young, I remember Oxfam coming to talk to us at school and talking about the future problems with the world,” she said. “I started thinking about the environmental implications.”

But it was her parents and co-workers who were somewhat shocked at her conversion.

“They were surprised,” she said. “They thought there must be religious reasons, because in Hong Kong veganism is generally associated with religion, such as Taoism and Buddhism. Another colleague understood that it could be good for your health.”

Some group members, including Go, endeavour to adopt vegan practices in all areas of their lives, such as with the clothes they wear. “In the age of the internet, you research it and you can do it,” he said.

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For others, food is paramount. Navigating the vegetarian scene in Hong Kong however, can be difficult at times, as Cantonese cuisine in particular is traditionally meat-heavy.

Vegetarians, especially vegans, also note how it can be awkward to explain how far-reaching their diet is. Go suggests using the Vegan passport app, which allows users to show a statement to restaurant staff in any language explaining that they cannot eat meat or animal products.

“I think people are generally okay about it,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Happy Cow app, which collates a database of vegan and vegetarian restaurants all over the world, has proved useful when searching for a venue for a gathering.

There are currently about 200 vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong, fewer than 20 of which are vegan, catering for an estimated 200,000 vegetarians in the city – between 2 and 3 per cent of the population. Go said he considered vegetarianism to be steadily growing in Hong Kong as people become more aware of different cuisines as well as the impact their diet has on the environment.

“Some people are saying it is the fastest growing social network,” he said. “Our society is very positive, constructive and friendly. We get a lot of good feedback. I want to portray a positive image of vegetarianism and veganism and help people connect with others who have a strong interest in food.”

Chan agreed that the city’s meat-free movement was gaining momentum.

“I do see a need for this kind of group,” she said. “People are becoming more aware of what they are eating.”

Some of Meat Free Hong Kong’s favourite restaurants:

PURE VEGGIE HOUSE

Higher-end place with much of the food coming from their organic farm. Managed under Buddhist philosophy. Menus include fabulous dim sum and sensational hotpot. Listed by The Daily Meal at 18 in their 2015 list of the world’s best vegetarian restaurants.

3/F Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-Levels

From Admiralty (Tamar Street) Bus Terminus (MTR exit B), take bus 12A towards MacDonnell Road or take a cab for HK$25.

Tel: +852 2525 0552

facebook.com/pureveggiehouse

THE VEGGIE

Held its soft opening on September 5. Higher-end dining with high-quality ingredients including some imported from ecologically-oriented farmers in Yunnan (雲南). Like Pure Veggie House, exquisite dim sum is included on the menu.

Shop B, 1/F COS Centre, 56 Tsun Yip Street, Kwun Tong

Nearest MTR station is Kwun Tong (exit A2)

Tel: +852 9851 6252

facebook.com/theveggiehk

CS VEGAN

This Buddhist-run place is a small, budget-friendly joint. Lunch costs HK$55 and dinner HK$68 for their all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Operated by wonderful people who do no more than break even and make all-vegan food as affordable to as many folks as possible.

1/F Potek House, 9 Tsing Fung Street, Tin Hau

Tin Hau MTR station exit A1 (then turn left along King’s Road and take third street on left)

Tel: +852 6680 9391

facebook.com/csvegan111

LOVING HUT

The world’s most franchised vegan restaurant chain has two branches in Hong Kong. Mostly Asian, budget-friendly fast food. The Wan Chai branch is on the Meat Free Hong Kong roster (great cakes for dessert junkies and also vegan pizza).

2/F Luen Tai Building, 93-99 Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai

Wan Chai MTR station exit A3 then turn left along Johnston Road

Tel: +852 2574 3248

www.lovinghutwanchai.com

GREEN FRESH

Pioneering all-vegan restaurant food in the New Territories. Food with a Western slant and fabulous cakes. Located around halfway between the two MTR stations in Tsuen Wan.

Shop 9, G/F Po Shing Mansion, ­77-89 Tai Ho Road

Tsuen Wan MTR station exit A, Tsuen Wan West exit B

Tel: +852 2622 2817

facebook.com/greenfreshvegan