This story was part of Elephant Community Press' 2017 exhibition, "Hong Kong Farm to Table: Stories of Local Food Producers".
As the door slides open, the smell of garlic and chillies fills the air along with the chit-chat of the participants in the room. The smell gets even stronger when they start to mix the cabbage with some spices and the colour of the cabbage slowly changes from snowy white into scarlet red. It is a kimchi DIY workshop and the teacher, Lam Kit Yan, standing in the middle of the room with her red and black flannel shirt covered by a beige apron, is giving final instructions on how the kimchi should be preserved. The participants take photos of the kimchi as they taste their hard work with satisfied smiles and then pour it into boxes that they had prepared beforehand.
It seems like any other DIY workshop in town - follow the teacher step by step, take a photo, and go home with the product. There is no need to know where the ingredients come from as long as they appear on the working table. However, this workshop is an exception. The main ingredients of the kimchi - Peking cabbage, carrot, turnip, ginger and seaweed - are locally produced, and the participants learn about the importance of seasons.
“I kept telling the participants today that we won’t be able to hold another kimchi workshop as summer comes since there is no locally-produced Peking cabbage during the summer,” says Kit Yan as she chuckles.
In fact, promoting local food production and diets that fit into the seasons of the city are the main goals of Kong Yeah, which is the organisation holding this kimchi workshop. Kit Yan founded Kong Yeah in 2014 along with a few others, hoping to promote the stories, the faith and the values behind local foods. She and other members of Kong Yeah realised the local agricultural industry has been marginalised in the market, and it is not easy to find locally produced vegetables in the supermarket or in the most popular shops in the city.
There is a trend of pursuing a so-called healthy lifestyle by eating more salads, but Hong Kong’s climate is not suitable for growing lettuce during summer when the demand is at its highest, so more imports are needed to meet the demand. Kit Yan says mockingly,“Wah, so healthy! So organic!”, commenting on the hypocrisy behind the trend. “People don’t realise the hidden cost behind the extensive packaging, the miles of transportation by air.” She hopes that through the activities Kong Yeah organises, there will be some changes to this phenomenon.
Kit Yan points out that hard approaches, like delivering a lecture about how sick the Earth is, are not effective anymore, so Kong Yeah mainly organises workshops where participants can learn through action. The activities are suitable for all ages, and Kit Yan comments on the inadequacy of food education in Hong Kong.
“The situation is like the ‘Hong Kong Kids’ phenomenon in recent years.” Kit Yan explains that children think apples are yellow because they have been peeled when they appear on the table and that some children can’t name where their food comes from beyond the supermarket level. “Where do the apples come from?” “Supermarket.” “Where does the food in supermarkets come from?” “Supermarket…”
Kong Yeah believes that awareness is the key to overcoming this challenge and continues to expand its public education effort through collaborating with other organisations or companies who share the same beliefs as Kong Yeah. “During a collaboration with Little Post, we organised a poon choi dinner with all the participants to conclude the project. This was something we had never thought of before the collaboration,” said Kit Yan, reflecting on possible ways to make a breakthrough.
Even though it may start off with an awkward conversation, like when she read a magazine feature on the restaurant 8104 and then went there to have tea and introduce herself and Kong Yeah, she is willing to initiate more crossovers with people who share the same dreams - changing society starting from small steps.