These young eco-warriors are leading the charge in creating a more sustainable food industry in Singapore, as Don Mendoza discovers

Striving for a better life has taken on greater significance over the last decade, particularly where ethical consumption and adopting more sustainable choices are concerned. And while we are not all called to take the lead—or be like the Al Gores of the world, called to fight for better corporate governance in areas that impact social and environmental change—every one of us has a part to play. To quote famed British archaeologist and writer TE Lawrence, “big things have small beginnings”. We could start with simple changes in habit, like opting to do without straws and other single-use plastics or prioritising our needs over our wants when placing our order for dinner. It’s an already indulgent life we lead, so the least we can do is to make sure our appetite for the finer things are in line with the best interest of the planet.

Leading by example is a young generation of eco-warriors who have found themselves in a rare position to inspire the hero in all of us.

Daniel Wee

Owner, Seafood Culture
“Who says our tiny island cannot produce our own food,” says 40-year-old Daniel Wee, who left a career in Information Technology and with only $20,000 in his pocket started Seafood Culture, a fish farm in 2013. He joins a small but growing band of farmers helping make the increasingly pragmatic option of quality locally farmed seafood possible.

“We were operating from an inland farm in Lim Chu Kang and faced many obstacles. As we were located away from the shoreline, sea water collection, for one, was a high cost, and rent on land was much higher than our fish yield could support.”

He moved operations to an offshore fish farm off Changi but was hit with plankton bloom in 2015 that wiped out the farm’s entire livestock.

“Not willing to just throw in the net yet, we took a break for a month to recharge and started stocking up on fingerlings from the overseas hatcheries and it has been smooth farming so far,” Wee shares. “Seafood Culture was back in business in 2016, and we’ve been harvesting and delivering live fish to fine dining restaurants, wholesalers and ship chandlers.”

The farm specialises in live produce such as the hybrid black grouper, red snapper, Asian seabass, rock lobster, white Pacific prawns and tiger prawns. While traditional methods of farming are used, modern tools such as solar panels to provide clean energy help the business stay as green as possible.

(Related: Tatler Table: Embracing Sustainable Dining)

Chin Zhen Yue

Apprentice, Edible Garden City
Wee is also working with Edible Garden City and a local polytechnic to produce sustainable, eco- friendly fish feed. Now, that’s commitment. Sometimes, it starts with being mindful about the lessons we learned growing up, says 23-year-old Chin Zhen Yue, an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS) majoring in Life Sciences. “I was always taught not to waste food or things in general... but I realised my passion in environmental issues when I had to write about it in junior college,” she shares. She is an “apprentice” at Edible Garden City, which provides realistic solutions for locally sourced produce to a growing number of restaurants. “I started working here at Citizen Farm (by Edible Garden City) because I was attracted to its vision to ‘create a sustainable urban farming model’; Singapore is such a throwaway nation, so I wanted to see what changes businesses could do to help change this and support a circular economy.”

“Singapore is such a throwaway nation, so I wanted to see what changes businesses could make to help change this"

Vijay Mudaliar

Owner-Bartender, Native
Like Chin, one of Asia’s leading bartenders, Vijay Mudaliar of Native on Amoy Street also boasts an extremely low tolerance for waste. In his twenties, he has earned a growing number of fans since opening the bar last year, championing spirits from around Asia and foraged ingredients—think Chalong Bay Rum with locally-foraged weaver ants. Order a Mekong Cola Cocktail and you’ll likely have to drink it from a lotus stem (soaked overnight with a little salt to remove unwanted bits), though they have metal straws if you prefer something more familiar. Speaking of which, his Peranakan cocktail features an ingenious blend of familiar herbs and spices (laksa leaves, galangal and such) and goat’s milk with jackfruit rum—the curd is mixed with coconut and pandan and served as a jelly dessert. Little is wasted—unused leftovers are composted and used in its small vertical garden. In fact, its record low after a day’s work is eight grams of waste!

(Related: What Is Zero Waste Bartending?)

"Faggi’s dedication to reducing waste has helped the restaurant under his charge reduce food waste by 90 per cent"

Emanuele Faggi

Chef, Zafferano
While this would be notably harder for a restaurant to achieve, Zafferano’s new head chef Emanuele Faggi, 30, remains equally passionate and well-trained in clever ways to minimise food waste, which he acquired during his five-year tenure at Carlo Cracco’s Michelin-starred eponymous restaurant in Milan, Italy.

He makes his own stock base with fish and bones and maximises the use of ingredients by making powder from often discarded items such as skins of onions, tomato and carrot, even used coffee beans. Like many top restaurants today, produce not used for dishes served in the restaurant are used in staff meals. This dedicated approach has helped the restaurant reduce food wastage up to 90 per cent. Faggi is also working on reducing carbon footprint by purchasing line-caught fish from the local markets for his set lunch and snack menus and using more local vegetables to complement his new a la carte dishes.

(Related: Top 10 Italian Wines Of 2017)