Be it your opinion or not, school lunches supply students with hot meals each day of school.

Within Chartwells and Sodexo, Two of the most prominent brands in Hong Kong’s catering for schools business – anywhere between 26,000 to 4,000 meals are offered per day to pupils. Both caterers are tasked to work with more than 40 of Hong Kong’s schools, both international and local, both secondary and primary.

However, with this quantity comes responsibility, and that includes making sure that students receive healthy, sustainable meals as well as minimizing the impact of food on the environment.

The issue was placed under the microscope in April when it was revealed that the Sustainable School Food Summit – hosted by the food sustainability firm Grassroots Initiatives, The Alliance for Sustainable Schools, as well as Chinese International School students – identified sustainability issues that arise from school meals.

Sodexo and Chartwells, Two of Hong Kong’s most renowned catering firms, offer between 26,000 daily meals to students in schools.

Kin Food Hall Kin Food Hall is a restaurant court located in Hong Kong’s Quarry Bay area, which a focuses on sustainability. It is a food service provider that has taken on this mission. In August, Kin announced a collaboration together with Chinese International School to provide students with nutritious, sustainable food during the next school year.

The menu, according to Kin, is based on farming cycles and utilizes ingredients sourced from sustainable sources. The company aims to offer students the option of choosing their meals from a range of choices and to establish a habit of making healthier choices.

Kin joined forces in partnership with Chinese International School to start serving school lunches beginning the school year 2023-2024.

“Food is medicine,” Grassroots Initiatives founder Peggy Chan declares. “Food is the thing that heals, and food is the fuel we use through the entire day. If we feed our children empty calories, they’re unlikely to be able to master their studies very well.”

Chan’s consulting firm has worked with caterers such as Maxim’s, Sodexo, and Chartwells to increase the sustainability and nutritional quality of school meals.

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But sustainability isn’t as easy in cities, according to Adrian Copeland, general manager and director of the territory for Sodexo Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong is a bit of an anomaly because it’s never going to be self-sufficient,” Copeland declares. “We have some great farms up in the north, but we have a very short growing season from November to April.”

So, up to 90% of the ingredients used by Sodexo are imported, contingent on the time of year.

The majority of the negative environmental impact is due to choosing foods that don’t cause deforestation and do not depend on chemical fertilizers such as herbicides, pesticides, or GMOs

Grassroots Initiatives founder Peggy Chan

Chartwells has a similar tale, with 90 percent of its ingredients coming from overseas, according to Gigi Lau, the head of sustainability and marketing of Compass Group, under which the company is operated.

“We try to minimise our carbon footprint by sourcing within the APAC region,” Lau states. “For example, vegetables come from China, chicken from Thailand and fish from Vietnam.”

However, it’s the method by which the food is produced and not the distance it is transported that will have the most effect on the sustainability of the product.

“Up to 80 per cent of carbon emissions occur at the farm,” Chan claims. “Transportation is less than 10% of the total value chain. The bulk of the environmental impact comes from choosing foods that don’t cause deforestation, and doesn’t rely on chemicals for fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs (genetically modified organisms).”