HK Time Out Magazine – Column #7

timeout

I recently started writing a short, light-hearted political column for Hong Kong Time Out Magazine. Below is the uncut, original version…

Not So Super

The UK has embraced ‘green guilt’ in recent years; we Brits can barely step out of bed without feeling pangs over our carbon footprints. Consumer activism has had a real impact on issues like fair trade, packaging and ethical alternatives with big retailers quick to respond in order to compete. In the Fragrant Harbour, however, we’re only just cottoning on to the evils of plastic bags and a term such as ‘food miles’ remains as foreign as central heating.

Gratuitous lighting, individually wrapped potatoes and open-top freezers are hallmarks of HK’s eco-disaster supermarkets. Meanwhile, questions remain over their not-so-special offers, poorly paid staff and the manner in which they dispose of short-dated food (i.e. the bin!). Any demands for ‘slow food’ or local produce are impaired by big stores perpetuating a ‘West is best’ mentality by triumphantly celebrating the esteemed and exotic origins of their offerings. Prithee marvel at these over-packaged glamorous $80 grapes from Japan (they taste the same, but woah – they’re Japanese!) Whilst these designer corn flakes jetted in from Denmark have an obvious air of prestige – perhaps douse them in some Argentinean red? 95% of our food is imported and it is notoriously difficult for us to judge the ecological, social and economic consequences of our purchases but there is a simple reason why progress will come late to HK.

These stores rarely listen, show little accountability and get away with dodgy practices for the same reason that we are powerless to effect change. Hong Kong is renowned for being the world’s freest economy – it has fewer ‘restrictions’ on trade than any other state, hence our flimsy worker’s rights and lack of minimum wage. It is no coincidence that the big two supermarkets form an oligopoly that have effectively chased any would-be competitors out of town (i.e. Wal-mart and Carrefour in the ‘90s). Telecoms, property, internet – almost every sector in our city is a cartel of conglomerates concerned only with maintaining the status-quo. They are proof that ‘free’ trade does not equal more choice – it means less.

Time Out Column - 8.7.09

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