Founder of Green Monday Hong Kong, David Yeung’s mission is to construct a global dietary ecosystem that helps combat climate change, food-related illnesses, planetary devastation and animal suffering. He tells us what drove him to be an eco-warrior in Hong Kong.
Why did you decide to become vegetarian?
I’ve been vegetarian for almost 20 years. It started out of a compassion for animals – it didn’t feel right to hurt any other animals for my so-called enjoyment. I was very inspired by Al Gore’s 2016 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. That same year the UN published a report about climate change and the livestock industry. The news was on CNN and for some reason it didn’t catch on, but when I saw it that was the first time I realised there was a connection between meat and global sustainability. That sparked a very important shift in mindset for me, because this is no longer just a personal moral or ethical decision but rather it’s about our common survival. I made the decision to become vegetarian in December and I gave myself another month to prepare. I started on Lunar New Year 2001 and since then I haven’t looked back.
What challenges did you face?
It used to be very difficult to be vegetarian, due to the lack of options and the stigma. The awareness of the connection between food and sustainability was virtually non-existent. In 2012, the green movement was starting to happen in the US and in Europe, so at least there was some momentum. In Asia, there was zero. For a long time, when you walked into a normal restaurant and you told them, “I’m vegetarian,” they really would give you that look, like you’re trouble. It was very blatant – every vegetarian has gone through that. Sometimes they’ll flat-out tell you there’s nothing to eat, there’s nothing on the menu, they don’t even say sorry. There’s also a social misperception and stigma surrounding being vegetarian that’s so strong. I’d constantly encounter foolish questions asking if I’ve been traumatised to convert to vegetarianism. People associate negative things when you suddenly turn vegetarian. Now it’s a very cool, trendy thing.
Why did you decide to start Green Monday and Green Common?
Looking back, I need to give credit to myself for being such a contrarian and for having the conviction to dedicate myself to this movement. I decided to go all out when I started Green Monday – I completely decided to shift my career and focus to build this social venture.
At that time, I already had the blueprint for what I believed to be a multi-pronged social venture. The reason I need multiple components is because it’ll take that much to move the needle. Those components are:
1) The Green Monday movement – to go out every single day to engage people to go meat-free for one day a week. Food is one of the big topics that we must learn about regarding sustainability;
2) Green Common – even if people know there’s a correlation between food and sustainability, they still need solutions. And Green Common is the experience and the platform for these solutions – Green Common introduced Beyond Meat and so many of these top brands providing alternatives to meat that were already emerging in 2014. Currently Green Common has eight locations in Hong Kong. There are two shop-in-shop outlets and two online platforms. It also offers B2B wholesale and consultation services.
Aside from the non-profit side – Green Monday – we also have our impact venture fund to invest in companies and entrepreneurs that we feel are highly mission-aligned and synergistic. The blueprint from eight years ago has become full reality today. All the engines are now clicking and working on all levels.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I studied engineering in college and after a couple years in management consulting I started my own software start-up at the age of 23. I have entrepreneur DNA. I’m from a business family – it’s in real estate, apparel and also heavily into philanthropy. You can say I have a very broad business upbringing.
Why did you decide to open Kind Kitchen? How did you devise the menu?
I recently opened Kind Kitchen, which has an all vegan menu, in Nan Fung Place. We wanted to showcase the brands and the products that we bring in. Food is cultural, food is social and food is emotional. There’s an emotional connection to the food. Even if these products are made in the US, it’s very important to convert then, to localise and tailor them for a more local audience. That’s why we have laksa and luncheon-meat noodles and a lot of very local flavour profiles, such as red-bean ice. There’s also a personal agenda behind them: I’m not shy to admit that these are all the foods I’ve craved and haven’t had for 20 years, so this is a little bit of a redemption for me.
What’s your ultimate goal for all your ventures?
Green Commons are designed to be showcases and experiences, but my ultimate goal is to popularise plant-based diets, to have these products in more shops and restaurants. Our products are in at least 10 countries right now and we’ll be in no fewer than 20 countries within a year.
My goal is not to convert people to become full vegan. But going plant-based one, two, three days a week is definitely do-able – and everyone should do it. It’s good for your health, it’s good for the planet and it’s good for animals, of course. It doesn’t need to be a binary choice of all or nothing. I knew that the words meat-less or meat-free wouldn’t work in Asia because they have very negative connotations.
Has vegetarianism become a trend nowadays?
We’re seeing a massive shift towards vegetarianism. Before Green Monday existed, there were about 5 percent who had vegetarian or flexitarian habits in HK, mostly because of religion. Today, 34 percent of Hong Kongers are vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian. The part I care most about is flexitarian: there are 2.5 million people who are living this right now.
Seventy-five percent of infectious diseases are from animals. This won’t change unless we dramatically overhaul our food system and our diet choices. Pandemics are actually accelerating the plant-based movement. The stock price of Beyond Meat is skyrocketing. Oatly and Califia Farms are currently the hottest brands in the wholefoods market. We’re seeing a dramatic uptake in the adoption of a plant-based diet, as well as a shift in lifestyle. Plant-based diets are now becoming very mainstream.