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Youth Perspectives 1 - Food Security with Belinda Ng on Where Ideas Launch with Katherine Ann Byam

078 -Youth Perspectives 1: Food Security with Belinda Ng

Introduction

Belinda is a youth environmentalist from Hong Kong currently pursuing the MSc in Environmental Technology at Imperial College London. Passionate about driving sustainable food system transformation, she co-founded ConsciousEats, a mobile app connecting climate-conscious consumers to sustainable eateries in London. She is also one of 30 selected global youth leaders behind the global Act4Food Act4Change campaign, a global youth-led movement taking action to create a global food system which provides everyone with access to safe, affordable and nutritious diets, while simultaneously protecting nature, tackling climate change and promoting human rights. She is also a member of the World Ocean Day Youth Advisory Council and YOUNGO Agriculture working group. In her home city of Hong Kong, she co-founded youth-led Hong Kong-based podcast ‘Sustain-a-pod’, which empowers high school students to engage in direct dialogue with sustainability activists and professionals across different sectors.

Contact Information for Belinda

Connect with Belinda in the following ways:

LinkedIn: Belinda Ng | LinkedIn

Or Via her podcast Sustainapod

SustainaPod | Podcast on Spotify

Show Notes

Katherine Ann Byam 0:01
Belinda Ng, is a client, friend and inspiration to me, she’s one of at least four youth perspectives I will be bringing to you over the coming weeks on the topic of sustainable transformation. In this clip, she shares her thoughts on employment at major corporations listen to it now.

Belinda Ng 0:17
The question that comes up for me is how much of this is really embedded within what they’re doing? And it’s true to their core purpose? Or is it really just, you know, controversial greenwashing. And that they’re just kind of saying this, because it’s kind of part of a cool, trendy thing that all companies are doing now. And they can have a lot of money to market themselves in this way. But I think actually, I’m more hopeful than I am cautious. There’s the cautious element is more that it’s making sure I still have that critical mindset that my education has really shaped me to have to not just take things at face value, but really try and explore deeper; ask critical questions.

Katherine Ann Byam 1:00
This is season five, the great debates of our times, Season Five will be centred around the great debates. And we will be comparing and contrasting different viewpoints on various topics that are consuming the public discourse at present. The reason I’ve decided to take this approach is because we, or at least many of us, are losing the skill of debate. And I think this is an essential skill for us all to practice once more. I don’t see how we get to the point of saving the world and saving our planet. If we don’t know how to discuss our differences. I also think that the solution to most of our challenges is somewhere in the spectrum of views, but never a type of extreme. I will be working with guests to curate the content and discuss beforehand. I will understand their positions, their areas of genius, and navigate my questions around that so that the conversation is challenging and stimulating without being combative. I hope you enjoy season five of where ideas launch the Sustainable Innovation podcast.

Belinda is a youth environmentalist from Hong Kong, currently pursuing her MSc in Environmental Technology at Imperial College in London. She’s passionate about driving sustainable food system transformation. And she co founded conscious eats a mobile app connecting climate conscious consumers to sustainable eateries in London. She’s also one of forty selected global youth leaders behind the global act for food act for Change Campaign, a global youth led movement taking action to create a global food system which provides everyone with access to safe, affordable and nutritious diets while simultaneously protecting nature. In her home city of Hong Kong. She co founded youth led, Hong Kong based podcast Sustainer pod, which empowers high school students to engage in direct dialogue with sustainability activists and professionals across different sectors. Belinda, welcome to where ideas launch.

Belinda Ng 2:55
Thank you for having me, Kathy. I’m very excited to be here.

Katherine Ann Byam 2:57
I’m really excited to have you. Belinda, we met at a Kelp-a-thon, a hackathon organised by Carbon Kapture back in July 2021. You were one of the prize winners and a keen enthusiast on the changes we need to see, in sort of carbon sequestration, tell me why sustainability has become a passion for you. And when.

Belinda Ng 3:17
I think I became passionate about environmental issues first before I became passionate about sustainability, because honestly, I only really came to fully understand what sustainability encompased, as such a multifaceted term, in the past couple of years. But growing up when I was younger, in Hong Kong, where 40% of the land area is designated as country parks. I spent my weekends you know, in the nature, hiking, I did a lot of windsurfing, and a lot of the time that I spent, you know, on the ocean or in the forest hiking gave me a firsthand glimpse into very prominent environmental problems like plastic pollution on the beaches and in the water, or issues with air pollution, noise pollution, and other, yeah, environmental issues. So that kind of spurred up my interest in like understanding what we can actually do to address these issues. And then when I came to study geography and my undergrad degree at Cambridge, the course was a very critical look into sustainability issues facing our planet globally and also at various different skills in different contexts. And the more I understood it, the more I realised it was actually a very multifaceted problem. It wasn’t just the environment, but it concerned human society, planetary health and various complicated interlinked issues. And so that’s kind of what started kind of my interest in sustainability as a concept. And the thing that really made it a passion for me was the fundamentally human focus for sustainability. I think there’s a lot that you need to deliver for the planet by first focusing on the people I’m having volunteered a lot with vulnerable populations and groups on, both in my home city of Hong Kong and then in different parts of China, especially with farming communities. I came to firsthand understand how, for example, climate change affects food security very directly. And that really, really generated that passion for me that we have to do something for the people on the planet together.

Katherine Ann Byam 5:12
Yeah, thank you for that. And I really love so many things that you’ve said. But in reading your bio as well, that you spoke about food and how central food is to what you do. And I was recently looking at the project draw down I don’t know if you’ve seen this list, but the project draw down list of actions that we could take to to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And actually reducing food waste was the number one that we can do to keep within two degrees. It’s so potent to see that it’s so important yet, we just kind of take it for granted. Right? So tell me a little bit about that journey around food in particular. And I know this wasn’t a question I prepared you for.

Belinda Ng 5:53
Yeah, for sure. It was also a very recent kind of journey that I’ve embarked on, because I always knew I was kind of generally interested. But it was only really in the past couple of years. I think the main kind of trigger, I guess, for what really made me think that, okay, food is something that should be considered in the bigger climate debate was, as I mentioned, that volunteering experience, because I had been visiting these communities for over 10 years. And in the past couple of years, when I had visited, the last time around was about three years ago, the communities there, particularly the younger children who would help out on the farms would tell me a lot about how recently there were like droughts, and there were kind of heat waves that have really affected their ability to produce. And so that’s when I started looking into more of the production side with agriculture. And that being the most directly impacted by climatic changes. So that’s when I really started caring about food. But then I started to, like, look, and really for myself and think about well, that’s a really big, you know, systems – so I feel like agriculture is such a complicated process, what can I do as an individual. So that’s when I turned to look at the more consumption side. And then yeah, as you mentioned, correctly with the whole food waste thing, it’s a very, this is something that happens at the household level, it happens in restaurants it happens, at a city wide level. And so that, the fact that food is something that’s so cultural, and so social, but also so connected to the environment was a very interesting thing for me to explore. And the more I explore it, the more I realise how it can be so important for this whole shift to sustainability that we really need.

Katherine Ann Byam 7:27
Yeah, it’s interesting. You said that sustainability so multifaceted. And that’s exactly how this conversation is going to go. Because you keep mentioning things that made me want to explore a bit more. And you talked about kids. And this is something that is close to my heart, in some ways, because I’ve also had the experience of travelling quite a lot and seeing kids on farms. And actually, I don’t know, and this is where I’m going to potentially sound a bit controversial. I don’t know that it’s such a problem that kids work on farms, I actually thought they were getting such a much better education than I had in some ways. And they were so keen to participate, to contribute. And of course, you don’t want to take them away from their education, and you want to make sure that there is balance in all of that, but this idea of kids working the farm and helping the family and having that sort of nucleus and that sort of, that sort of process where people understand that the food that they eat is coming from somewhere. To me that felt very important. I don’t know how you felt about experiencing that.

Belinda Ng 8:37
Yeah, definitely. I think I fully agree with what you said, in the sense that they’re receiving another kind of education, they understand so much about how plants grow, what the seasons are for different crops, in many ways compared to maybe let’s say, a child that grew up in the city, they’re so much more in tune with nature, and they know so much about the value of nature, because they they rely on this for their food security and for their for their family and everything. So I agree with you definitely. And I think also, well, I guess it depends as well on kind of, this would be very context specific as well, one major issue I definitely have with people growing up in the city is that you can be very disconnected with where your food comes from. And there is a huge debate now about you know, urban farming and really bringing people back to the roots to understand exactly what it is like, the Earth, the importance of the soil, all the stuff that comes with regenerative farming, because for so many people, this is so disconnected. And we also live in an era from a health standpoint where there’s a lot of processed food, and so there’s that strong health angle as well. So I definitely agree with what you’re saying. And yeah, I guess the main difference is that food security definitely manifests very differently in these two kind of city – urban contexts versus rural context. Yeah, maybe that lines being blurred.

Katherine Ann Byam 9:56
Yeah, I absolutely agree with that. And, you know, it gives me pause. Because I, I want to join these global movements that, you know, advocate for, you know, no child labour, etc. But I think it’s way more complicated as is the whole topic of sustainability. It’s way more complicated than a ticking the box exercise and everything needs to be system and context specific. So really great conversation. Thank you for, thank you for contributing on that. So I want to move to another tack, which is that you’ve been studying at Imperial, and you were recently offered an internship at a consultancy firm. But I wanted to ask a more general question. What makes you cautious about working with big companies?

Belinda Ng 10:37
That’s a really, yeah, that was a really interesting question. I think, for me, the main thing is, and I guess maybe this is something that also my peers in my age group, who are also increasingly quite aware of the various environmental and social issues that we have to tackle, is the main thing is the promises and commitments that they make to sustainability, I definitely think that the question that comes up for me is how much of this is really embedded within what they’re doing? And it’s true to their core purpose? Or is it really just, you know, controversial greenwashing. And that they’re just kind of saying this, because it’s kind of part of a cool, trendy thing that all companies are doing now. And they can have a lot of money to market themselves in this way. But I think actually, I’m more hopeful than I am cautious. There’s the cautious element is more that it’s making sure I still have that critical mindset that my education has really shaped me to have to not just take things at face value, but really try and explore deeper ask, critical questions. I think I’m more hopeful, because I know there’s a lot being done internally now to transform organisations by very driven and passionate individuals within these big companies and other size companies as well.

Katherine Ann Byam 11:53
It’s a good point that you make again, because when I talk to different groups of people, you know, I have a community of women in sustainable business, who are small businesses, trying to do things differently, social impact entrepreneurs, etc. And also, I have a career group. And when I talk to these different groups, the vibe around this topic of greenwashing is quite different. And what’s interesting, so looking from the outside, so those of my communities who have perhaps not worked within the context of the big organisations, looking from the outside, they tend to quickly blacklist a large organisation for greenwashing. And when I talk to people who work in big organisations and perhaps work in the space, you kind of understand that there’s a huge passion and commitment to the planet for those who are working in that specific space. So those working in CSR, those working in social impact, and, and, and working on innovations, perhaps. So you understand that actually, with big organisations, again, like with everything else we’re discussing today, it’s not black and white. It’s, it’s there’s a lot of complexity involved. There are a lot of silos involved, especially with multinational corporations that span several different countries. And it’s difficult to figure out, like, what exactly can I call out here as greenwashing versus what is, what is a genuine effort that’s just being lost in a lack of I don’t know, coordination. And so it’s interesting to really see how that really plays out in the minds of people.

Belinda Ng 13:34
Yeah I agree. I think a lot of young people, especially those that are more considered activists, they late they like to call out these companies like you’re not doing enough, like this is all fake. I think that’s definitely one approach that you can use to really ensure that greenwashing can, doesn’t happen, and there’s, you know, increased transparency and credibility with what big companies are doing. But another hand, I’ve recently also heard a different view, which is that actually, greenwashing can be very helpful in the way that it’s almost like a temporary transition phase. Like, the bottom line is that all big companies are now aware that this is an issue, there is pressure coming from different stakeholders that they need to do something. So whether or not you know, company A matches up to what company B is doing, there’s still that internal recognition that something has to be done and whether or not that is something that is happening right at this very moment that matches up to what is expected. I think that time will tell but it is still quite promising. So I’m still quite hopeful, even though that there is this controversial element involved.

Katherine Ann Byam 14:37
Yeah, I agree with you. It’s, it’s definitely a challenge. And I think, yeah, we need to keep the pressure but we also need to keep the perspective I guess, and it’s it’s difficult. It’s a difficult balance. And I can’t say that there’s one right approach which which is kind of what I like about the space if I’m being honest. You can really find your way. So I want to move again and this one is more around, I’d say, the sort of personal impact all of this is having on people in your age group. And I know you can’t speak for everyone in your age group, but, but if you can make an assessment of how people are handling the climate crisis, and what is sort of the spectrum of reactions you’ve personally experienced from people in your age group that you might want to share with us today?

Belinda Ng 15:26
Yeah, sure, I think there’s a full spectrum, there’s honestly complete ignorance, like, I’m just gonna enjoy the present and enjoy my life. And then there’s also like the complete opposite, which is essentially eco anxiety to different levels and just feeling a lot of anxiety, sometimes anger, frustration, sadness, worries about what’s going to happen within our lifetimes. And that I understand a lot of the fact that that comes from increased access and exposure to news as well, social media, especially, those can get very concentrated if you’re working or studying in the environmental space, where there are a lot of scary harrowing statistics that come out, you know, all the time with new scientific publications and international conferences and stuff. So there’s definitely a full spectrum. I think, for me, in the sense, because I’m studying environmental sustainability degree, a lot of my friends definitely are more towards the eco anxiety side. And I definitely think it’s almost like the more you know, the severity of the situation and the need to action, the more you have that greater tendency to be worried about it. So I think the main kind of thing that, that’s been on my mind is that the systems change that’s really required to tackle this climate crisis is really the scary part because we really need to see cooperation and, you know, intergenerational dialogue, or across different stakeholders across different countries. But it seems like given the other, the current political, social, economic contexts that are happening in the world right now, it seems very difficult. So the main challenge is remaining hopeful and optimistic. And I think that will really help to, I guess, alleviate some of the eco anxiety that’s currently on that, that more scary, sad side of the spectrum, when it comes to how people are handling the climate crisis.

Katherine Ann Byam 17:15
Yeah. And what would you say are your strategies for dealing with eco anxiety? And ask this kind of tongue in cheek because, yeah, I think I also struggle. So what do you do to sort of help you along?

Belinda Ng 17:29
I definitely think being involved or engaged with organisations and individuals that are doing fantastic role work in the space, and really trying to immerse myself more in really positive news. So for example, there’s recently I was reading a really optimistic uplifting article about the role of forests. And it this is also very, you know, we can’t tell the future. But it was a very positive article about a success in a very specific context, I think, little things like that, and just not trying to carry the weight of the world on my own shoulders, but really being inspired by knowing that there are amazing people around the world who are working on really changing the way we live right now, and changing regulations and working in companies and boardrooms, to really incite change that really inspires me and motivates me.

Katherine Ann Byam 18:20
That’s perfect. I love that response. Thank you so much. If I had a listener from a prominent organisation that you’d like to work with, who would it be?

Belinda Ng 18:28
This is a very timely question, and also quite a challenging one. Because am I allowed to be really, really greedy, and kind of give more general responses? Because I’m honestly not targeting one specific company. I’m definitely keeping a very open minded. I’m very interested in environmental consultancy. So I guess ERM. Other big four kind of consulting firms that are working on, in the sustainability space, I would be super interested in. But also, in terms of more a general topic focused thing if your company is working on any aspect of the food systems, for example, like in house with, like Unilever and Nestle, large f&b companies, I’d be really interested to explore in house work. And I guess a final bucket. So I’m being really greedy here. But like I’ve been really interested in like responsible investing space and kind of the food tech space. So definitely keen to learn more about opportunities in this sector as well.

Katherine Ann Byam 19:28
And how do you feel about entrepreneurship as an option for you? And I ask this question, because I’ve noticed a shift to definitely in terms of your general age group, sort of coming out of university and thinking, you know what, I want to start a green tech startup. I want to start this company right from the start. So what are your, what are your thoughts about that? And especially as I know that you’re already involved in some in some ventures,

Belinda Ng 19:55
So personally, I love entrepreneurship. I think it’s one of the key ways that we can come together and bring people together to tackle current and sustainability issues. I think for me, it’s definitely something that I see, in my lifetime that is going to happen. But in terms of whether or not that happens right now, I’m honestly not as sure, I can definitely see it happening at some point, because I can envision that that is where I maybe want to end up. And I think the kind of hesitance that I get from not, you know, maybe not launching, jumping into it right now, is that entrepreneurship is kind of conventionally been seen as, like something that young people do. And this is the thing that you should kind of take the risks now before you have to like settle and, and all those kind of narratives. But I think I recently went to a startup Demo Day with investors. And I spoke to a lot of really cool entrepreneurs working in the climate space, and a lot of them actually were in like their 40s. And sometimes some of them even in their 50s. And the reason why they were able to really succeed and you know, persuade the investors for investment and to show that they are the right fit to lead that startup was exactly because they had worked in, maybe for big corporates or in house or, and had really extensive careers. That meant they had the network’s they needed to basically launch their product and access the market. And I think that really changed my perspective on like, maybe it’s something I don’t have to do like, right this moment, to really succeed. And I mean, given the fact that it is such a challenging thing, you really need to have so much perseverance and, and resilience to succeed. Maybe it is better to not just jump into it unless you know, that I think separating your, your passion, your passion projects, and your something that can really be a viable, profitable company is very, very important. So I think, yeah, so my bottom line is I love entrepreneurship, and I can see it in my future, but I’m not sure if I see it right now.

Katherine Ann Byam 21:58
Fair response. So what topics are you currently exploring on sustainapod?

Belinda Ng 22:04
Oh, exciting question. We’re recording season three right now. And there’s, this season is quite different from the previous two, because it is less focused on purely environmental aspects of sustainability, but going into the social component, as well. So we had a social focus on mental health and eating disorders and body image and what that kind of means in relation to like personal well being in a time when, you know, as we discussed earlier, there’s eco anxiety and all these other kind of mental issues going around. So that’s something to look forward to, and also exploring more entrepreneurship as well. So particularly in the food space, and also with social entrepreneurship, in from a like a development context for sustainability, which in many cases actually align. So for example, so plenty of startups in, in the African region are now working on, you know, electrifying and bringing electricity to rural communities in a renewable, sustainable way. So I think that’s a really great promising, like, Win Win way that we can work on both the social and environmental side of like, yeah, for the planet right now.

Katherine Ann Byam 23:13
How can my listeners reach out to you?

Belinda Ng 23:15
Please drop me a message on LinkedIn, you can find me just with my name, or you can email me at Belinda T. wng@gmail.com.

Katherine Ann Byam 23:23
Perfect. Thank you so much for joining me today. Belinda. I’m really excited about your journey and when you get unleashed into the world, with all the change that you are championing, and really great to have a chat today.

Belinda Ng 23:36
Thank you, Kathy.

Katherine Ann Byam 23:37
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