21 May 2014: They say that it’s at times of despair that we often find ourselves. It was certainly the case for Bobsy. The year was 1989 and the Lebanon-born Brit had just bankrupted his first company – a fashion label he started in Bangkok with his childhood friend after moving out there with a romantic notion of the exotic East. He was sitting penniless in front of a TV when something hit him. ‘That year was a powerful period in history and there was a change happening in people’s minds, as well as in the social and cultural scene,’ he recalls. ‘The Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall came down, and everyone was marching for something: for women’s rights, against the destruction of the Amazon… To this day, I have no idea what happened. It was just a eureka moment.’
He did his research and was shocked to realise how much harm we are unknowingly doing to our planet, and from then on, Bobsy set his mind on the enormous task of saving the world. He first launched an eco-clothing line, called Gaia, before moving to Hong Kong in 1992. When he first arrived, there was virtually no such notion of protecting the environment there, and he knew he had a steep uphill battle to fight. Luckily, it occurred to him early on that the fastest way to get people’s attention was through food. And so, as a self-professed passionate foodie, he founded Bookworm Café on Lamma Island in 1997 and Life Café in Soho seven years later – both of which serve up vegetarian or vegan bites while promoting the idea of living sustainably. In 2009, he left Life to focus his energy on a campaign called ‘Save the Human!’, which urges people to be kinder to the planet and went on to win the Best Documentary Award at the I Shot Hong Kong film festival.
A few years later, he opened Mana!, a vegetarian, organic, eco-friendly deli – a fast slow food joint. Specialising in delicious raw vegan desserts and pizza-like flatbreads (simply and affectionately called ‘flats’) to go, Mana! adopts the ideas of Italy’s Slow Food movement to promote traditional and sustainable ways of preparing food, and encourages its customers to behave more environmentally through, for example, their in-restaurant waste recycling bins and community events. At the same time, Mana! also pumps a lot of money into Earth-friendly amenities like a high tech waste separating system, energy-efficient light bulbs, and toilets that save up to 85% of water, to name a few.
Like Bookworm and Life, Mana! refrains from using meat in their food because meat, as Bobsy expresses, is the number one cause of pollution in the world. ‘There is a constant increase in demand for meat – especially in countries like China and India – and pork is actually cheaper than vegetables in some places,’ he explains. ‘But where does all the meat come from? Industrial farming. We’re creating up to 100 billion animals purely for consumption, and yet two billion people don’t have anything to eat. Why? Because the food is going to the animals, rather than to humans.’
For all his efforts, he is now frequently credited as one of the pioneers of the green movement in Hong Kong, and one of the movers and shakers of the healthy eating scene. But his mission doesn’t stop here. Once he finds a suitable location, he hopes to start up a café, lounge, and community called Babylon!, where good, healthy food and drink can be combined with other activities – from TED talks to documentary nights and yoga classes – to inspire people to live consciously. ‘It will incorporate the A to Z of healthy living, and serve as a hub for the Consciousness movement,’ Bobsy promises.
Of course, for all his talk of encouraging people to reach a greater state of consciousness, some people question what the consequences would be if everyone were to think and operate from this place. ‘If the whole planet is enlightened, I’d be out of a job, for starters!’ he laughs. ‘But it would also lead to a transformation of the world. We’d spend the next many years cleaning up the mess that we had made, but we would also be living in bliss. My idea of the perfect world would be one where everyone can live according to three values: ecological, humanitarian, and spiritual.’
Next time you’re in Hong Kong, make sure you eat like it matters and check out Mana!