Change Agents: Food Sustainability Advocate Yeo Pei Shan Seeks to Nurture More Food Warriors
Growing up, Yeo Pei Shan was taught to finish her food and make sure that no grains were left on her plate.
You can say that this habit ingrained in the 25-year-old since young has served her well into adulthood, for it has influenced her advocacy for food sustainability, her career (she’s a co-founder of UglyFood), volunteer work (with the non-profit Ground-Up Initiative, which connects people with nature, self and others), and even her diet (flexitarian: “As much as I wish to go fully plant‑based, I respect my family as they have prepared the meals and I dearly cherish family mealtimes”).
Considering how Singapore generated around 744 million kg of food waste in 2019, up by 20 per cent over the last 10 years, it is probably a good habit to cultivate (of course, with portion control so we don’t eat past fullness).
In March, Yeo left UglyFood, the social enterprise she co-founded in 2017 while still studying at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, to explore other opportunities in the food sustainability space, beyond surplus and ugly produce. She has since identified a gap: while foods are wasted just because they are blemished, many people were also not consuming healthy foods.
She hopes to bring this awareness to more people through various projects, most immediately with her new initiative Food Warrior (@kindfoodwarrior), where she hopes to nurture more food warriors locally through sharings and workshops on how to lead a healthier, sustainable lifestyle around food.
“My area of focus is advocating for plant-based diets since they generate the least environmental impact; encouraging healthier home-cooked meals; and embracing imperfect and surplus fresh produce as well as innovative ways to use food production by-products. Fewer resources are wasted and people consume food with better nutrition,” shares Yeo.
She seeks inspiration from the late Ground-Up Initiative founder Tay Lai Hock’s determination to create a kampung spirit for people in the 21st century. “His formula for success was (dream + courage + faith) x action. Action is key—and I’ve decided to take action.”
At the same time, she is reflecting upon the impact she created with UglyFood and the possible value she can continue to give in her own capacity. During her time, UglyFood made significant progress in the breadth of suppliers it worked with, from importers to supermarkets to wholesalers and farms. It also discovered that surplus produce, which can be perfect and not blemished, would often go to waste due to insufficient distribution of food. UglyFood takes in this produce and resells them as fresh produce due to their substantial shelf life.
Through the years, Yeo has also witnessed the potential in the younger generation. “I would like to work more closely with these groups, be it in school or community settings, to create social initiatives surrounding themes such as plant-based diets, home‑cooked meals, and redistribution of fresh produce, and more. I hope through this, they are more equipped to start their own initiatives, by making fewer mistakes and quicker progress.”
She is currently a facilitator for youth leadership development company Pivotal Youth, which she says, “allows me to interact with students, who are the future leaders of the world, and assist them to gain clarity of their values and what impact they want to create”.
“We need to inspire individuals to take action, to care a little more about the environment.”— Yeo Pei Shan
On her hopes for the future of sustainability in Singapore: “I want to see more changes done at an organisational level and on a bigger scale.” Even so, she acknowledges that the drivers behind organisations are individuals, too. “We need to inspire individuals to take action, to care a little more about the environment, and hence when they go into the workplace, they would take sustainability as part of their decision‑making consideration and steer the plans there.”
For a start, “as individuals, we need to ensure we have the right attitude and are prepared to go slightly out of our way”, shares Yeo. “We can start by consuming more meatless meals, volunteering at sustainability-related organisations to widen our perspectives, grow our own food, and equip ourselves with knowledge to make more informed choices. For example, knowing how to tell if a fruit or vegetable is spoilt is really useful when you want to purchase blemished produce.”
- PhotographyDarren Gabriel Leow
- Art DirectionMatilda Au
- HairBenedict Choo
- Make-UpBenedict Choo
- Photographer's AssistantDaryl Eng Jun
- VideographyDaryl Eng Jun
- ImagesYeo Pei Shan