An X-mas Feast in 2050

By Sophie Lam 20 December, 2022

It’s 2050 today & for CWR Lam’s Xmas dinner she’s buying lab-grown turkey from City Super & hydroponic sprouts. She takes a trip down memory lane to show us how HK got here…

Summer of 2022, everyone was shocked – record heatwaves jeopardised global food security; & if HK's food system was left unprotected, everyone would be in trouble
However, in 2050 HK built back stronger by setting up vertical farms that take up ≈90% less land, produce ≈80% more crops & use 95% less water than traditional farms
Lab-grown & plant-based meat facilities expanded and popularised as people became conscious consumers; Don’t wait for wakeup call – start your climate journey this X-mas

Today is the 25th of December 2050. Four more hours until my annual family Christmas gathering, and I have yet to buy City Super’s renowned lab grown turkey, Marks & Spencer’s 3D-printed pigs in blankets and hydroponic farmed brussels sprouts grown down the road.

Aside from celebrating Christmas, this year Hong Kong became the first city in Asia to be 100% sustainable and food secure – the very reason my family and I can indulge in a guilt-free and climate friendly X-mas dinner this year and many years to come.

To celebrate this special day, let me take you on a trip down memory lane to show you how Hong Kong got here and stay tuned until the end as I share tips on how you too can make festive eco-friendlier food decisions this Christmas.

Once upon a time… there was a climate wakeup call that caused Hong Kong’s food security grave trouble

Everyone was shocked the summer of 2022. Record high heatwaves destroyed key global agricultural sites, dried up rivers vital for irrigation, jeopardizing global food security… Food prices began to soar as everyone began raking the supermarket shelves clean.

Climate change wasn’t going to slow down, it was going to intensify & persist…

Shortly after, the Hong Kong people realized that climate change wasn’t going to slow down for anyone, instead extreme weather was going to intensify and persist… and if Hong Kong’s food system was left unprotected, soon they would all be in trouble.

It was time for Hong Kong to build back stronger – thus first came the vertical farms…

Right away the government began undertaking pilot studies, as billions of dollars were spent building dozens of climate-proof skyscrapers to accommodate indoor vertical farms. And it didn’t take long for them to build as the new vertical farms not only looked sleek and complimented the futuristic design of the city but were also built with high albedo materials that decreased the need for air conditioning and reduced solar heat absorption – helping the planet cool down.

Vertically farmed products gained in popularity as it was healthier, climate friendlier & tastier

Over the years, hydroponic and aeroponic farmed fruits, vegetables, and grains gained popularity amongst everyone in Hong Kong. More money was poured into upgrading the technology for the farms, as it became incredibly attractive to invest in due to its spatial efficiency and higher yield compared to any other form of agriculture.

Soon there was nothing better for the environment than vertical farms as it took up ≈90% less land and produced ≈80% more crops per unit area compared to traditional farming. Vertical farms also used ≈95% less water as it operated with a closed-loop water system that would first suck up stormwater from drains and then transport it through the pipes that snaked around the building and into the farms.

HK grown tomatoes now produced 20x more yield than traditional farms

Tomatoes from Spain I bought from the supermarket decades ago now seem inefficiently farmed and tasteless as farms back then only produced 4kg of tomatoes per square meter and were genetically modified to be more durable for shipping purposes rather than for more taste.

However, now, the city’s most popular tomato farm is next to the International Finance Center (IFC) and can produce 80kg of Spanish tomatoes per square meter using LED lights to artificially create the climate in Spain for Hong Kong grown tomatoes to thrive in. If you want to find out more about vertical farms, we recently spoke with King Lai, Founder of Genius Greens, an owner of one of the first aeroponic farms in Hong Kong.

Soon after Hong Kong mastered a sustainable agricultural system their next mission was to futureproof the meat industry… However, as Hong Kong’s population grew and more people became wealthier, so did the demand for meat –  but, this was not a problem at all, it was an opportunity.

Then next came the rise of lab-grown & plant-based meat…

As more people in Hong Kong become environmentally conscious consumers, it didn’t take long for the lab-grown and the plant-based meat industry in Hong Kong to take off. It was easier to set up and expand the lab-grown and the plant-based industries compared to vertical farms as the government dedicated abundant land and funding for them at The Hong Kong Science and Technology Park Corporation (HKSTP).

Dozens of 100-storey skyscraper laboratories were built at HKSTP to accommodate the growth of lab-grown & the plant-based meat…

International investors also sparked interest in Hong Kong’s rapidly transitioning food industry enabling the construction of dozens of 100-storey skyscraper laboratories inspired by the design of the International Commerce Center (ICC) built one after the other along the coast. By this time, Hong Kong had fully embraced the importance of cross-sector collaboration, as scientists closely worked with culinary experts, investors, and the government to continuously improve lab-grown and plant-based products.

…& carbon taxes were placed on imported meat products due to their environmental impacts

Importing beef, chicken, and pork had become way more expensive as international carbon taxes were placed on traditionally farmed livestock due to its detrimental impact on the environment. Instead, supermarkets and restaurants fully sourced their meat products from Hong Kong based lab-grown and alternative protein farms.

All food products required nutrition and climate labels that encouraged consumers to assess how healthy the food was for them and the environment to make informed choices. Labels now disclosed the carbon footprint of lab-grown meat which is ≈92% lower than beef, ≈52% lower than pork and ≈17% lower than chicken. And the footprint of plant-based meat which emits up to 99% less GHG emissions than traditionally farmed meat.

Soon everyone began to rethink their diets… but even if we ate healthier for ourselves & the climate… if we were all still wasteful?

On top of this, all restaurants in Hong Kong had transitioned to become fully sustainable not only with their ingredients but also with their interior design – a great example are measures taken by KIN food halls, they used crab shells to make tables.

Animal welfare was a mainstream topic & schools had mandatory climate-food related courses for students

Animal welfare has also become a mainstream topic of conversation as the Hong Kong government had mandated all local and international schools to include climate-food related courses into their educational system. Over years, this had encouraged students to rethink their diets and to cultivate new eating habits that would make a positive impact on the environment. People were also no longer encouraged to cut down their meat consumption to reduce their carbon footprint as they had the option to consume lab-grown and plant-based meat. Both options were much healthier than conventional meat as scientists also found out ways to also enhance their nutritional value.

HK-based digital meat & plant based startups began advising the rest of APAC

Previously small research centers that developed digital printed meat and plant based startups such as Green Monday had also expanded internationally and advised the rest of the APAC region on how their products could better replace the consumption demand for conventional meat.

Though Hong Kong’s food system was revamped to withstand the pressures of climate change and prepared to meet the growing consumer demands as the population increased. It wouldn’t be fully futureproofed unless everyone adopted a less wasteful lifestyle.

This is where we all come in, we don’t another wakeup call – start your climate friendly journey this Christmas meal!

As our 16 year old intern simply put it in her most recent article, ‘the easiest way’ we can reduce our carbon footprint is through food consumption, and that doesn’t mean we need to become vegetarian or vegan overnight. Instead we can make small changes over a long period of time like cutting out one meat meal a week. Though we don’t have the option to readily consume lab-grown meat yet, why not try impress friends and family this Christmas by whipping up mushroom and sweet potato wellington with cranberries or a sizzled sprouts with pistachios and pomegranate?

And don’t get confused with the ‘Best before’ dates on food packaging, as these dates don’t necessarily mean ‘use by’. Food past its ‘best before date is acceptable to eat though it may have reduced in quality – check out our report for more tips on food waste. So if there’s excess food from Christmas dinner, store it and get creative with leftovers for a boxing day brunch! Oven roasted veggies make a perfect stir-fry dish.

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Sophie Lam
Author: Sophie Lam
Sophie has recently graduated from the University of Exeter in the UK with a BA Honours Geography degree. Her final year modules focused on sustainability and environmental issues which she is keen to explore further as commences her journey into the workforce. Through joining CWR, Sophie has had an opportunity to apply her GIS knowledge on a project examining the impact of rising sea levels and extreme weather events on the critical infrastructure in the Asia Pacific region. Sophie hopes her participation in this project will facilitate better resilience planning and the management of risks presented by the challenges of climate change.
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