The non-profit operation was started in Japan by Masahisa Kogure in 2007. His book Connecting the World with Twenty Yen explains how the initiative addresses a double global nutrition crisis in our planet of seven billion people: one billion face hunger and malnutrition while another billion suffer from obesity. By partnering with restaurants, corporations and universities, his model offers diners the opportunity to enjoy a healthy meal while funding a nutritious lunch for a child in a developing country. A TFT meal includes a 20-yen (HK$2) donation, which is the cost of a lunch in the developing world, according to the United Nations.
A year after the Japan programme was launched, TFT had expanded globally, with operations in the US, Britain, Switzerland, India, Taiwan, South Korea and Italy. To date, it has paid for more than 10.1 million meals for children in schools in Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
On December 1, the Hong Kong chapter was born.
"Hongkongers love dining out and discovering new restaurants. I think TFT is a great platform for us to do good while enjoying food," says Hong Kong co-founder and director Stephanie Tan Hiu-ling, who works in investment banking.
Two years ago, when she came back to Hong Kong from the US, she heard about Kogure's story and was intrigued. "Someone suggested I should go to Tokyo to meet him and I did. After talking to him, I knew I wanted to do the same for Hong Kong," Tan says.
A small team of three people, including secondary student Jacqueline Yeung Yi-tong, began calling restaurants, food outlets and charity organisations to explain the idea and seek partnerships. Participating restaurants will observe TFT's guidelines of healthy meals and specify them by putting a TFT logo on their menus. For each TFT meal served, HK$2 will be donated to feeding school children on the mainland and in Africa. So far, there are more than 100 partners on board. Hoping to reach out to more children on the mainland, the team is working with Changing Young Lives Foundation, a local charity for children in need. In November, Jacqueline made a three-day trip to meet children in the first beneficiary school in Qinghai province.
"We visited them in their classrooms and looked at their canteens. Their meals are very basic, with vegetable soup and bread," says the 16-year-old who studies at Hong Kong International School.
Being an international student, it was not the first time she had participated in community work. Yet, the trip gave her cause for reflection.
"In our school, most of us are from well-off families. Meeting the children made me feel how lucky we are to have food and education, and actually everything we need," she says. "The trip touched me. It's helped me understand the world better."
Jacqueline has taken the role of promoting the movement in schools, starting with her own. "My teachers and classmates are very supportive of our idea. I'm working on getting the school cafeteria to join the programme," she says.
"I think students in Hong Kong should learn to focus not just on themselves, but on people outside their world. As a teenager, I want my peers to be more aware of things happening around them."
Hongkongers love food and they tend to over-order at the dining table, and Tan has been turned down by some restaurants. But she remains hopeful.
"Nowadays, we don't just live to make money any more; we live to add value to the community. By creating a dining community [with a purpose], we can work to reconnect our love for food to making the world better."
To find out more and get involved, visit www.tablefor2.org.hk