Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Hong Kong's Love of Processed Meat

A typical non-healthy dish in a cha chaan teng always includes panfried spam
There was some surprise today from Hong Kong people reading the news about the World Health Organization saying processed meats are carcinogenic and as dangerous as tobacco and asbestos.

As expected those in the food industry were quick to denounce the findings as "harsh", while others said the study was based on western eating habits, not Asian.

However, look at what a large number of people eat at cha chaan tengs -- panfried spam, sausages, some bacon. Many also eat sandwich meats thinking they're just as good as natural meat. And then there's lap cheong or Chinese sausages...

Some wonder if Chinese sausage is not as healthy as it looks
The study found Hong Kong people eat an average of three-and-half sausages and nearly two slices of ham per week, which is considered to pose a significant cancer risk.

Local demand for processed meats, such as sausages and ham has grown in recent years. Figures show that 23.1 million kg of sausages were imported last year, up 3.9 percent from the previous year, and up 17 percent from the year before that. Some 18 million kg of ham was brought in last year.

That's how WHO came up with an average consumption of 7.9g of sausage, or half a piece, and 6.1g of ham or a quarter slice. This doesn't include other processed meats and red meats

In general Hong Kong people are not knowledgeable about nutrition and think they are eating a balanced diet when they aren't at all. Perusing through supermarkets these days, the vast majority of food for sale are processed one way or another -- in a box.

Many shoppers buy bags and bags of instant noodles, chips, chocolate, and processed meats, and not often fresh meat, vegetables and fruits. I know this because every week when I hit the supermarket, I look at what people are buying and also what's on the shelves and I'm shivering with fear.

Should we be surprised more people in the city are obese, or have high blood pressure or are diabetic?

More markets with fresh vegetables and products are available
The WHO said eating processed meat could lead to bowl cancer, which claims the second most lives in Hong Kong, with lung cancer the number one cancer killer.

Will this report make people change their dietary habits? Probably a small percentage, while the rest will carry on eating processed meats because they don't feel ill from eating them.

But by the same token, vegetarianism or some say "part-time vegetarianism" is starting to gain more interest. There are more vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong, and more plant-based food products are available.

The government should really be stepping up disseminating important information about what people should be eating. Enough with the "rich man's diet" and eating more vegetables and fruits. At least it would be easier on our wallets too...


  1. Well... pretty much everything one does runs the risk of getting killed, it can seem. This being said, it would make me happy if there were more vegetables (and vegetable options) in the average Hong Kong rice or noodle dish. Instead of having to order an extra vegetable dish at noodle shops and such, I'd be fine with their removing a wonton/fishball or two and replacing them with stalks of green veg!

    1. Hi YTSL -- Yes! They want to make an extra buck(s) off you so you have to order a plate of vegetables that is invariably too much for one person to consume!