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Meals Tidings: Feeding Hong Kong’s Gabrielle Kirstein and Black Sheep’s Syed Asim Hussain Shed Mild on Meals Waste and Donation

Meals Tidings: Feeding Hong Kong’s Gabrielle Kirstein and Black Sheep’s Syed Asim Hussain Shed Mild on Meals Waste and Donation

At this time of excess, Gabrielle Kirstein of Feeding Hong Kong and Black Sheep’s Syed Asim Hussain remind us of those struggling to put a meal on the table.

It’s Christmas once again, the time when tables are laden with festive delicacies and glasses are constantly topped up. But while we enjoy such indulgence and excess, there are those – and many more than you might imagine – who aren’t as privileged and who struggle even to get two hot meals a day. Which is why I’m talking to Feeding Hong Kong founder and Prestige Women of Power honouree Gabrielle Kirstein, and Black Sheep co-founder and Prestige 40 Under 40 honouree Syed Asim Hussain, about food waste and food insecurity.

When dining out, we’ve probably all been guilty of over-ordering, simply because we want a taste of everything on the menu. Such behaviour, however, has led to a dire situation that we usually choose not to think about.

“Every day, 3,400 tonnes of food waste go to landfills, which is equivalent to 8 million meals in a city of 7.5 million people,” says Kirstein. If those numbers surprise you, there’s another side to the story, because at the same time as food is going to waste, a huge number of people aren’t able to feed themselves sufficiently.

“Government figures indicate that 1.4 million people live in poverty and struggle to manage three meals a day,” she adds. “Income inequality is now the widest it’s been in decades. The poor are poorer than ever before, while costs continue to rise. So what do we do? We’ve got good food going into the bin, and we have underprivileged people who need food. The question is: how do we connect them?”

For Kirstein, the answer was to create her own charitable organisation, Feeding Hong Kong, which is dedicated to bringing wasted food – or what she calls surplus food – to those in need and sustaining them with free meals. Although she has a team of volunteers and donors to help with her mission, it takes a lot more involvement from the food industry to really make a difference, and that’s where Hussain and his Black Sheep team group comes in.

The two first met during the pandemic, when business was tough for everyone in the hospitality industry. As restaurant hours were restricted, Hussain was inspired by an article on how the elderly in this city were being forgotten, so he began dedicating the free time he and his team suddenly found themselves with to deliver food to them. The two groups worked together for months, bringing hot meals prepared by Black Sheep to the underprivileged, with Hussain driving the company’s delivery truck and handing out meals himself.

“This city was built by these elderly people,” Hussain says. “The Lion Rock attitude we talk about, that can-do mentality? That’s them. They built Hong Kong. And now it’s our turn to thank them.

“In reality, the collaboration and the fact we could do meaningful work during the pandemic saved Black Sheep. We were on the edge at the time, but work like this kept us going. Just being able to connect ourselves to something larger, like the work Feeding Hong Kong was doing, kept us alive. We thought we were doing something altruistic for the community, but in hindsight we were really doing it for ourselves.”

With the pandemic now behind us, Black Sheep’s Family Fund trust has chosen Feeding Hong Kong as its first charity partner, with Hussain committing a substantial sum to the cause. “There’s a list of programmes we’re working on between this year and next,” he explains. “We’ve committed $3 million to this partnership, but we hope to exceed that commitment in years to come. We have events planned, and we’re hoping to do something every quarter. This will begin with the Bread Run, which takes place next month.”

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But despite his own interest in Black Sheep and its involvement with Feeding Hong Kong, Hussain understands the gravity of the situation, and hopes more industry leaders will also step up to alleviate food waste in this way.

“I’m very simplistic, so I think it isn’t difficult,” he says. “It’s about awareness and understanding there’s a problem. People just aren’t aware of food waste and how many people are food insecure. There’s so much excess in this city that we often forget there’s an underbelly to it, where people are in need and suffering. I don’t think guilt is the right word, but we’ve been very successful here at Black Sheep for so many years and there’s a responsibility on people like us to help Gabrielle and Feeding Hong Kong, to be a small part of the solution.

“Hong Kong has always been built by the private sector – all the progress, ingenuity and innovation – and we’re the young new private sector, so we have that responsibility,” Hussain adds. “We have a little bit more freedom than the government, so we need to drive this change and lead the way. Be bold and don’t be afraid.”

“We’re going into Christmas, and times of festivals and celebrations do lead to extra food waste,” Kirstein says. “I hope everyone can take a moment to think about how much they’re buying from supermarkets, how much we’re ordering at restaurants and how we deal with leftovers. Also think about how we can support those in need. We talk about the three Fs: food, friends and funds. There are points in the city where you can drop off food for those in need, you can volunteer with us and, of course, you can directly donate money to Feeding Hong Kong. It only costs $10 a meal.”

“Just get involved,” Hussain says. “If Feeding Hong Kong isn’t what you’re passionate about or you don’t want to get involved with Black Sheep, just find something you’d like to contribute to. There’s a responsibility on all of us. We’re going into the New Year, so think about giving back to the community. If you believe in a cause, you’ll find something. Even if it’s not something you previously considered, do it for yourself. I did – and it saved us.”

Source: Prestige Online

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