Lo hei tradition sparks debate over food waste and cultural values

A video showing a group of people celebrating Chinese New Year with lo hei, the communal tossing of yusheng, has sparked a debate over food waste and cultural values. The video, which was posted on Facebook by user Melvin Chew, shows about 20 people at an unnamed coffee shop, tossing the food prepared on the table in the air. Many participants are seen throwing their chopsticks to the ground as well, and the group disperses from the table after the toss. A man is seen holding an umbrella to avoid the food from dirtying his clothes and a few others are wearing ponchos.

Melvin Chew, who is a member of the Hawkers United – Dabao 2020 group, said that he was disapproving of the video, which he came across on social media. He said that he does not like wasting food, so the idea of lo hei in a large group does not appeal to him. He also said that preparing the ingredients is not easy, and that some people may injure their fingers while slicing the cucumber, radish and carrots. He said that he respects the tradition of lo hei, but he thinks that it should be done in moderation and with gratitude.

Lo hei is a popular tradition during Chinese New Year

Lo hei, which means “tossing up good fortune” in Cantonese, is a popular tradition during Chinese New Year, especially in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. It involves tossing a dish called yusheng, which consists of thinly sliced raw fish, shredded vegetables, seasonings and condiments. Each ingredient has a symbolic meaning, such as prosperity, abundance, longevity and happiness. As the ingredients are added, auspicious phrases are recited to wish for good luck and blessings in the new year. The diners then toss the ingredients with their chopsticks, while saying more auspicious phrases. It is believed that the higher the toss, the better the fortune.

The origin of lo hei is not clear, but some sources trace it back to the legend of the seven fairies who visited the earth during the Yuan dynasty and taught the people how to make yusheng. Others attribute it to the Cantonese fishermen who celebrated the seventh day of Chinese New Year, which is considered the birthday of all humans, by eating raw fish with condiments. The modern version of lo hei, however, is said to have been created by four chefs in Singapore in the 1960s, who added more ingredients and colours to the dish, and popularised it as a festive ritual.

Video sparks mixed reactions from netizens

The video of the group tossing yusheng at the coffee shop has sparked mixed reactions from netizens, who commented on the Facebook post and other platforms. Some netizens criticised the group for wasting food and disrespecting the tradition. They said that the group was throwing away their good luck and the hard work of those who prepared the food. They also said that the group was being insensitive to the plight of those who are hungry and poor, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other netizens, however, defended the group and said that they were just having fun and expressing their joy. They said that the group was following the tradition of lo hei, which is meant to bring good fortune and happiness. They also said that the group was not harming anyone or breaking any laws, and that they had the right to celebrate as they wished. They also said that the food was not wasted, as it could be cleaned and eaten later, or fed to animals.

Some netizens also pointed out that the video was not a recent one, but a repost from a previous year. They said that the video was taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, when there were no restrictions on social gatherings and dining out. They also said that the video was not representative of the majority of people who practice lo hei, and that most people do it in a more respectful and responsible manner.

Lo hei raises questions about food waste and cultural values

The video of the group tossing yusheng at the coffee shop raises questions about food waste and cultural values, and how they relate to the tradition of lo hei. According to the National Environment Agency, Singapore generated about 744,000 tonnes of food waste in 2019, which is equivalent to two bowls of rice per person per day. Only 18% of the food waste was recycled, while the rest was incinerated and disposed of at landfills. Food waste not only causes environmental problems, such as greenhouse gas emissions and resource depletion, but also social and ethical issues, such as food insecurity and inequality.

On the other hand, lo hei is a cultural tradition that reflects the values and beliefs of the Chinese community, especially during Chinese New Year. It is a way of expressing gratitude, hope, joy and solidarity, and of celebrating the new year with family, friends and colleagues. It is also a way of preserving and passing on the heritage and identity of the Chinese culture, and of enriching the diversity and harmony of the multicultural society.

Therefore, the challenge is to find a balance between respecting the tradition of lo hei and reducing food waste, and between enjoying the festive occasion and being mindful of the impact on the environment and the society. Some possible ways to achieve this balance include:

  • Choosing the right portion and quality of yusheng: Instead of buying or ordering large or excessive amounts of yusheng, opt for smaller or appropriate portions that can be consumed by the diners. Also, choose fresh and quality ingredients that are not expired or spoiled, and that are sourced from sustainable and ethical suppliers.
  • Tossing the yusheng gently and moderately: Instead of tossing the yusheng vigorously and wildly, toss it gently and moderately, so that the ingredients do not fly out of the plate or the table. Also, avoid throwing the chopsticks or other utensils to the ground, as this may damage or contaminate them.
  • Eating or saving the leftover yusheng: Instead of leaving or throwing away the leftover yusheng, eat it as part of the meal or save it for later consumption. If the yusheng is not suitable for human consumption, consider donating it to animal shelters or farms, or composting it for gardening purposes.
  • Educating and raising awareness about food waste and lo hei: Instead of following the tradition of lo hei blindly or superficially, learn and understand the meaning and significance of the ritual and the ingredients. Also, educate and raise awareness among family, friends and colleagues about the issue of food waste and the ways to prevent and reduce it, and encourage them to practice lo hei in a more mindful and responsible manner.