3 Unexpected Facts About Food In Singapore
Food. It’s all I think about after I became a statistic. According to my medical results, I’m at risk of being part of the estimated 1,000,000 Singaporeans who will be diabetic by 2050, and maybe one out of the three Singaporeans who will drop dead from heart disease or stroke.
These days I can’t even order a smoothie without first confirming that the bananas used it in are slightly unripe so as to render the drink low-GI.
So when a conference came around that’s all about food—shaping the future of it, exploring sustainable production, reassessing our attitudes towards consumption—I lapped up the opportunity to participate in this new global conversation.
The founder of Yolo Food, Alexis Bauduin, calls this new food discourse “sexy”. While I haven’t yet felt the stirring of the loins when nibbling on my keto-cake, I can see how discussions about sustainability and nutritional value can be seductive.
After all, it feeds into the most basic necessity of life and also what is arguably the biggest luxury of it: Eating.
It’s this appeal that explains why almost 300 industry leaders, policy-makers and food experts convened at One Farrer Hotel for a one-day World Food Future conference that is to become the annual flagship event by social enterprise Halo Health Asia, the CEO of which is Trina Liang-Lin (pictured at the top), winner of the Singapore Tatler Philanthropy Award in 2018.
Many hot-button topics were discussed, from food security to food traceability. How can we protect ourselves against compromised foods, like Australian strawberries that had needles in them? If there were to be a global agricultural crisis, what is the risk to Singapore’s food supply? All great topics for dinner conversation but far too expansive to be explored in a short article.
But what I would love to share here is a random bag of facts that were thrown up during the day’s discussions that made me sit up and re-evaluate what I think I know about the world food situation. Here we go:
If Singaporeans had to feed ourselves, we’d be starving
It took me a while to absorb this: we import 90 per cent of our food. I know we import a fair bit (having just spent $20 on eggplant at the supermarket) but 90 per cent? Doesn’t this mean major food insecurity for us? Well, no, as I was glad to find out.
On the contrary, the Economist Intelligence Unit recently ranked Singapore the number two most food-secure country in the world, behind only the United States. And this is because even though we import so much, Singapore has enough strategies and partnerships to ensure our supply remains resilient and uninterrupted.
Besides this, we’re also aiming to build domestic capabilities so that we can be more self-reliant. The Singapore Food Agency says we’re aiming to locally produce 30 per cent of our food needs by 2030, mainly by implementing cutting-edge technology to maximise vegetable and fish output.
The only question left then is: What can I do, besides being the great-chomping machine that looks on while geniuses solve our food supply issues? And I’ve got the answer—we need to change our diets; gear our food intake towards the consumption of what can be produced locally by our farms.
So, swap out that squash for kailan. Forget Alaskan cod, try locally farmed barramundi. And hey, you know what’s meatier than chicken from Malaysia? Frog legs that hail from Jurong, stewed in porridge.
Waygu burgers are still the top-selling item on the menu
You can bring the horse to the water but you can’t make it drink. CEO of Prive Group, Yuan Oeij, understands this adage well. “It doesn’t matter how many healthy options we put on the menu,” he says, “the number one bestseller remains the wagyu beef burger.” This got me thinking if we’ve unwittingly skewed consumption by the way we name and label our dishes.
Healthier options on menus are given tags like VG (vegetarian) and GF (Gluten-free) that is akin to calling out hemp-wearing bohos in the house, while unhealthier options are allowed to pass off as regular folk, sans tags. To be fair, shouldn’t we label dishes on the other side of the fence as HF (high fat) and SL (sugar-laden)?
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Also, unless you have a health issue that dictates you eat the kale and goji salad, most of us are going to reach for the dish that promises us a good time, and let’s be honest, Prive’s Bad Ass BBQ Burger sounds like it’ll bring you to the moon and back. Perhaps a paradigm shift among diners starts with how food is named. I’d hazard a guess and say that if a restaurant named its dishes with the serious intention of skewing orders towards healthier options, we might just see diners eschew an unappetising-sounding 'Cow Burger' (with a “might clog artery” footnote) in favour of a delicious 'Sexy As Hell Poke Bowl'.
Your food is more dangerous than unsafe sex
Yes, you read that right. That processed hot dog with extra sweet ketchup is deadlier than a condom-free one-night-stand.
According to the Health Promotion Board research, unsafe sex ranks last on the list of contributors to deaths from chronic diseases in 2017, while dietary risks ranked number one. “That’s because Singaporeans eat more than they have sex,” quipped Lu-Ann Ong, co-founder and partner of Independent Consultants 1920. Fair point.
But it’s still mind-boggling that a high-salt, high-sugar and high-(bad)fat diet causes chronic diseases more than tobacco (#3), alcohol use (#10) and unsafe sex (#14). Moral of the story: If your diet is crap, you might as well smoke, drink and have wanton sex, too.
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At the end of the day, I guess finding solutions to issues surrounding the future of food isn’t going to happen overnight but it is the exciting and insightful discussions like those that took place at World Food Future that can start to shape the collective consciousness of a people.
It’s just too bad we’re going to have to wait one whole year before the next one.
All net profits from the WFF conference will go towards funding FoodSteps, a free school nutrition education programme by Halo Health Asia that’s focused on primary school kids.