“None of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs – the internationally agreed framework for tackling poverty, inequality, disease and climate change – can be achieved without the contribution of higher education through research, teaching and community engagement.”Source: University World News
Vol.1 of our Green Queen UN SDG #PlantBased Dinner Series was a huge success. It exceeded my expectations in every way and I went to bed with my heart was full that night.
I wanted to take stock of the evening and share more about the vision behind this series because it’s more than just a dinner.
Bringing people together over delicious food for great conversation has always been something that brings me great pleasure and I’ve been doing that in some form since I was a teenager, hosting dinners and brunches and tapas evenings no matter how small my apartment and how basic my kitchen.
A couple of years ago, Green Queen started working with restaurants around Hong Kong to encourage them to create vegetarian menus. The goal was to show that vegetarian food could be hearty and innovative, and to bring people together to discover new eateries. It was a really successful initiative, both for our readers and for our restaurant partners. Some of the restaurants are still going strong with the vegetarian menus they developed for us today.
When I thought about relaunching the series this time, I wanted to do more. Connecting people, yes. Enjoying wonderful food made entirely form plants, yes. But our mission at Green Queen is to inform, inspire and empower our readers to live a healthier, more sustainable life. So I thought about combining the dinners with a short awareness building programme. I had noticed for a while that the United Nations’ SDGs were being talked about a lot but when I dug deeper, I realised that most people didn’t really know enough about them. What if we could highlight each SDG while continuing to partner with omni restaurants to develop vegan tasting menus?
The idea began to take shape. There would be 17 dinners, one for each SDG. Each dinner would feature a speaker from a Hong Kong NGO working on that particular SDG. Having local NGO partners was a way to connect our readers to their local community, to connect the issues to our daily lives in Hong Kong. We began approaching restaurants, and most were really excited to come onboard. The chefs loved the challenge of creating an entirely vegan menu. The managers were encouraged by the possibility of attracting a new, more conscious audience.
Six weeks after the idea came about, we hosted our first dinner at Picada, Hong Kong’s original pan-Latin restaurant. Our speaker was Mr Chong Chan Yau of CarbonCare InnoLab. The room was packed, a serious feat considering it’s the middle of July and so many of our regulars are away. There was a palpable energy throughout the evening of people engaging, connecting, discussing. We received so many messages and emails from attendees letting us know how much they enjoyed it and asking for details about the next one! (Coming soon- we’re working on it!) So grateful to my dream team for working so hard to make this a reality.
In 2015, world leaders agreed to 17 goals for a better world by 2030. Collectively they are known as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. These goals have the power to end poverty, fight inequality and stop climate change. Guided by the goals, it is now up to all of us, governments, businesses, civil society and the general public to work together to build a better future for everyone. As mentioned above, none of the goals can be achieved without community engagement.
The highlighted SDG for our first dinner was #13: Climate Action. 822 (and counting) cities, councils and jurisdictions worldwide to have declared a climate emergency. That may sound like a lot, but it’s not. Of those 822, only 16 countries have made the declaration, barely 8% of all the countries in the world.
With record heatwaves across Europe and the Arctic, widespread drought in Latin America, loss of ice in Greenland, stronger and more frequent storms & hurricanes in the US and Asia, the effects of climate change are being felt globally.
According to Harvard researcher James Anderson, we have five short years to mitigate the worst of climate change. As it stands, unless emissions are entirely eradicated in the next five years, there will be no recovering from climate change.
Hopefully it’s clear to everyone reading this why the climate is an issue we can no longer ignore and must act on. To speak about Hong Kong’s connection to this, we invited Mr Chong Chan Yau and it’s fair to say he stole the room. It was a great honour to host a speaker of Mr Chong’s calibre.
After serving in the Hong Kong Government and becoming an Executive Director of Oxfam Hong Kong among many other appointments in a long and distinguished career (he received the MBE honour for his outstanding service to the Hong Kong community in 1995) underlined by a commitment to environmental awareness building, Mr Chong founded CarbonCare InnoLab four years ago to inspire Hong Kong youth to tackle climate change through entrepreneurship. He did so because he felt there were not enough platform to encourage local students and young minds to consider their connection to the causes and effects of climate change at large and to see their role in helping to find solutions.
His speech at our dinner was incredibly moving and arresting (not least of all because Mr Chong is visually impaired, he lost his sight at the age of six). One of the most memorable things he said was: each time you turn on your air conditioner in Hong Kong, it causes a flood for someone living on an island nation far away. His point is not to blame anyone. His point is to connect us to the effects of climate change and our role in its effects. We consume products (clothing/food/energy) that undoubtedly cost a group of people somewhere on the other side of the earth their land, their livelihood, their home because some nations take more than others.
I am incredibly grateful to Mr Chong for sharing his time and ideas with us, and I hope you will consider supporting his upcoming programs including the Zero Carbon Pitch Program for aspiring young eco-preneurs and 24-hour city-wide clean energy movement and fundraising initiative Watt-a-Thon.
I also want to thank our restaurant partner Picada for supporting our vision from the start and creating a superb vegan feast. Fan favourites included the Plantain Cups, the Feijoada, the Zapallito Relleno and the raw vegan Brownie. Thrilled to share that Picada will be making the vegan menu available every Monday going forward so make sure to pop down if you missed it (or return for a repeat tasting!) – book here.
Amidst these trying times for our city and the world, we must stay engaged with the issues at hand. Climate change is about more than rising temperatures or alarmist headlines. It’s about where you will live in ten years, what you will eat and what your children will endure. It’s about me, you and everyone we know. We must sustain our hope in our collective power to change the course of our planet’s future. We must continue to fight every day however we can, because if not us, who?
We hope you will join us for the upcoming dinners in the series to #eatmoreplants and #beinspired while learning more about the #GlobalGoals and what you can do to move the needle.
All images courtesy of Green Queen.