'YOU SHOULD EAT to live; not live to eat,' Socrates said. And while the great philosopher may have been full of words of wisdom, things work a little differently in Hong Kong. According to the Food Culture Festival, organised by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, in this city we eat to live as well as live to eat. The festival, which opened recently at the museum in Sha Tin, is a year-long event designed to show how food has evolved from a basic necessity to a cultural statement in Hong Kong. With the gradual introduction of a series of exhibitions, forums and workshops throughout the year, the event also illustrates how food is a vital part of our lives. Opening the festival is More Than Just Food, a ceramic exhibition that showcases the works of 12 local ceramic artists in a fancy banquet setting. Each artist was invited to create a set of dining ware and devise a menu for each month of the year. They then had to cook the dishes and take photos of them. The snaps are now displayed alongside their work at the museum's thematic gallery. The result of that labour is 12 sets of dining ware placed on decorated tables. The museum's chief curator, Tom Ming Kay-chuen, says the exhibition is intended to highlight how the daily ritual of eating is closely linked to arts and culture. 'Food is vital for survival. But over time, the function of food has moved to a more sophisticated level. It also reflects human culture and arts,' Ming says. 'Hong Kong has a rich food culture that is known for its unique fusion of East and West. We hope to review the development of the culture from different perspectives.' But some artists seem to have other ideas at the show. Terence Lee Tze-leung, 44, who designed a menu for 'July', mocks the Hong Kong government's performance. His sarcastic view is couched in the unusually long title: Misguided Reds And Greens Amidst Inconstant Blacks And Whites Entwined Within Shimmering Golds And Silvers - A Culinary Musical Extravaganza For The Reunification Dinner In Six Parts. Apart from a set of stylish dining ware, Lee also designed a menu of seven dishes and played on Chinese words with the titles - 'pot luck reds and greens'' in colloquial Cantonese means the dishing out of misguided orders. The dish features mixed sauce and bullfrogs, which in Cantonese is pronounced tai ngau hwa and, Lee says, is a 'subtle reference' to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa. 'It's nothing political, but for fun,' says Lee, the ceramics and painting director of Gitone Fine Arts in Wan Chai. Ming says there is no room for official intervention in the arts. 'We allow freedom for the artists to do their work.' In stark contrast to Lee's criticism is Ho Tai-kwan's nostalgia for the mainland village life he experienced during and after the Cultural Revolution. He embodies his thoughts in a set of traditional tableware marked with motifs such as Mao Zedong's image. The 59-year-old, who designed the 'May' menu, says the exhibition has offered him a chance to reflect on his past when he went short of food. ' I was always assigned to be the 'big chef' during the busy season. I spent 18 years in the village and I have no regrets. Life was simple then, although we didn't have great food to eat.' Law Hon-wah, who created Metal, Wood, Water, Fire And Earth for 'September', hopes to instil more artistic elements into dining. He says 'many restaurants in Hong Kong only think of Thailand or Ikea' when they consider dining ware. 'But why not get local ceramics artists to design for them?' Law asks. 'We need to refine food culture to promote it.' More Than Just Food is being held at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 1 Man Lam Road, Sha Tin. Call 2180 8188 or visit www.heritagemuseum.gov.hk for details. Open: Mon, Wed to Sat 10am-6pm; Sun and public holidays 10am-7pm. Closed on Tue. Tickets: $10 ($5 for concessions). Free on Wed.