As we start a new year, many of us are realising the immense impact we as human beings have on the environment, and how our actions have invariable consequences.
For Jill Robinson, mindfulness has always been at the forefront. When she first came to Hong Kong in 1985, she never expected her time here would look as it does today.
Robinson is the founder of Animals Asia, a Hong Kong-based animal welfare organisation devoted to ending bear bile farming and promoting animal welfare across Asia.
With over 300 staff across Hong Kong, Australia, China, Germany, Italy, USA, UK and Vietnam, she’s responsible for setting up the only bear sanctuary in China and her work has not gone unnoticed. She was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in 1998, and Animals Asia continues to draw support from a host of celebrities including Jane Goodall, Joaquin Phoenix and Alicia Silverstone.
Anchored by the values of empathy and compassion, Robinson sees everything as interconnected – and hopes others will too. Even as an avid animal lover, Robinson didn’t always anticipate becoming vegan – it was a lifestyle she eventually adopted after years of working with animals and understanding the bigger picture.
That zero or less consumption of meat or animal products is not a silver bullet to fixing the world, nor is it not solely reserved for the most fanatical animal lovers. Rather, it’s an aspect of a more holistic approach to humane consumption practices and conscious living.
Robinson believes that if each individual were to take steps that more mindfully consider the earth, and all of its inhabitants, the world could see significant change.
“When you break it down, you’ll see that commercial farming is the number one cause of environmental damage, and after that, number two is transport, 25% of which is used for the transportation of animal meat. So it’s not just about the suffering of animals but of pollution and sustainability,” she says.
She cites the jaw-dropping figure of 72 billion land animals killed every year for human food as something far greater than just an animal rights issue.
“We shouldn’t want to be part of a world that so egregiously disregards the welfare of animal life and human life,” she points out.
Dealing directly with those who work in the animal trade world, a not-so-easy job that Robinson has spent years navigating, hasn’t deterred her from seeing these individuals as part of the solution. She stresses that the problems related to animal welfare and environmentalism do not have black-and-white solutions, and won’t be helped by oversimplified labels.
“We aren’t here to call those individuals ‘bad’ but we know there is a level of understanding and education that is needed to get where we need to be,” she says.
For Robinson, the issues modern society is facing cannot be dealt with in silos or factions but are best addressed when we seek change together.
In Hong Kong and greater Asia, the region has seen how viruses, from SARS to bird flu to Ebola to MERS to Covid-19, are all linked to human consumption of animals, and in turn the treatment of animals. Each virus has roots in global wildlife trade, with tragic consequences on mankind. But it’s not all gloom and doom.
The accessibility of meat-free and animal-free products and vegetarian and vegan restaurants are greater than ever before in Hong Kong.
See also: The Best Vegan Burgers in Hong Kong
“It’s wonderful,” Robinson says, reflecting on changing attitudes toward plant-based diets, veganism and vegetarianism in this city, and the wealth of choice we have.
See also: The Best Vegan Cookies In Hong Kong
“Sure, before it may have been harder to find but now you can get a vegan alternative without blinking an eye – you have Green Common and the incredible work David [Yeung] is doing, and Gary [Stokes] in Discovery Bay heading up Hemingways with an entirely meat-free menu and it has all your favourite comfort foods,” she says, citing just a few of the city’s best spots for veggie and vegan meals.
Contrary to what some vegans may have you think, a lifestyle change doesn’t have to happen overnight. At the same time, that doesn’t exempt us from making incremental changes.
“Change is possible if we look at our habits, the lives that we live, and start the ripple of that change in our own backyard,” Robinson writes in her blog for Animals Asia. “We need to do things differently now.” As the year comes to a close, 2022 sounds like the perfect time to make that change.
Learn more about Animals Asia here.
Sign up for the 8Shades weekly newsletter to get our top stories in your inbox!