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Literature

Peggy Chan’s desert island books: Hong Kong vegetarian chef’s five must-reads if she were marooned

Grassroots Pantry founder’s favourite books are ones that have given her peace of mind, helped her develop at work, and taught her about making every meal count and the politics of food

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 January, 2018, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 1:36pm

Executive chef Peggy Chan founded Grassroots Pantry six years ago and is a key driver of Hong Kong’s green-eating movement. Her restaurant serves organic, plant-based and nutritious food.

Here are five books she’d take with her to a desert island.

How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

by the Dalai Lama, 2002

As an empath, I soak up people’s energies like a sponge, and as a teenager I didn’t know how to block out unwanted energies. Other people’s problems became mine, their sadness became my sadness, and my bitterness became 10 times more bitter. I stumbled upon this book written by the Dalai Lama during a traumatic phase in my life.

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After having read and cried through the book in one sitting, this awakening, coupled with my studies in yoga, taught me a way to channel my energies and other people’s energies into compassion and generosity. It taught me to practise kindness, refrain from negative speech, thoughts and actions and, finally, to practise mental tranquillity.

Silent Spring

by Rachel Carson, 1962

In 2005, I first read about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the American agrochemical firm Monsanto in an article in Gourmet magazine. I began studying DDT and pesticides – what the government wants you to know versus what it does to destroy agricultural communities, environments and our health. I thought about how political the food industry had become over the past 50 years.

Silent Spring is a must read for environmentalists – Carson’s passionate work was instrumental in launching the environmental movement in the 1960s.

Healing with Whole Foods

by Paul Pitchford, 2002

I credit my know-how in natural remedies and balancing nutrition with this encyclopaedia of a book. My father suffered a stroke when I was dealing with some personal issues about food. By learning to heal through whole foods, I developed an appreciation of how to make every meal count.

Outliers

by Malcolm Gladwell, 2008

The odds are almost always against soft-spoken, petite Asian women in hospitality. I had never been a ‘Type A’ person. [At school I] was lazy half the time, especially with subjects I despised such as maths. I skipped 60 per cent of my classes in my final year of high school. I’m sure that none of my schoolmates or teachers thought I’d become successful.

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Outliers is one of those interesting reads that allowed me to learn more about myself and other underdog success stories. That shift in attitude and work ethic from the time I found my passion changed the course of my working life.

Goddesses in Everywoman

by Jean Shinoda Bolen, 1984

This book was recommended to me when I was 29. Jean Shinoda Bolen is a seasoned psychoanalyst trained at the Carl Gustav Jung Institute. The Jungian theory is a modern branch of therapy aimed at analysing the ego, where it is to be self-regulated, and dream interpretations to help unlock the subconscious mind.

In this book, Bolen introduces Greek goddesses as a personification of archetypal feminine patterns. The book taught me to appreciate individual self-worth and that parts of us fluctuate and change over time. Understanding that allowed me to grow into myself as a woman and to become a stronger, more assured leader.