What can we expect from this year’s World Food Future (WFF) conference?
The theme is “Re-Imagining the Foodie City for 2030”. We’ll be conducting it in a socially distanced way with multiple smaller groups touring urban farms and learning from the experts on how they are contributing to Singapore’s food security targets. They’ll also have the opportunity to sample local food that’s sustainably sourced and has minimal ecological impact. As always, nett proceeds will go towards our food education programme focusing on lower-income families.
Has Covid-19 changed our perceptions and approach to food security?
As I understand it, the “30 percent by 2030” catchphrase that is today the tagline for Singapore food security was thought up by the then Ministry of Environment and Water Resources — as it sounded catchy! This was long before the Covid-19 pandemic.
From catchy to imperative in the post-Covid world, Singapore must attain 30 percent by 2030. Covid-19’s impact on global production capacities and the ensuing supply chain interruptions has shown that achieving 30 by 30 is critical to protect Singapore and improve our food security.
So are we on track to growing 30 percent of our own food?
In the early days of WFF, I was asked a lot if Singapore government’s strategy was achievable. Now because of Covid-19, it’s really become vital and everyone can see why.
Grants such as the Agriculture Productivity Fund and the 30×30 Express Grant are enabling vertical farms and closed-containment fish farms to not only scale productivity but also boost quality in a space, water and labour efficient way. So hello, vertical farming! Hello, re-imaging empty spaces from private or public rooftops to abandoned state land. With all these creative ways to reimagine space married with huge private and public capital injections, I do think we are on track to achieve and even surpass our goal. Never bet against Singapore!
Would you say we’re a foodie nation? And does that present added challenges in terms of wastage or food sustainability?
There is no doubt Singaporeans love their food and we are a foodie nation. Our hawker culture is now recognised as a Unesco heritage!
On the flip side, the management of food waste has become a critical issue and cornerstone to food security an sustainability. The government is actively trying to educate the public on food waste. Singapore wasted 740 million kgs of food in 2019 alone! Saving on this alone could help bolster our nation’s food security.
Food waste is generated by restaurants, hawker centres, food courts, hotels and caterers. Some of the reasons for this include loss from improper stock management and storage, filtering of imperfect food, large food portions resulting in unfinished food, overcooking or poor cooking skills, scraps from cooking and not allowing takeaways for leftovers.
A great outcome in recent times is that many chefs are not only curating menus with dishes that make use of every bit of food waste that all restaurants face every day, but are also speaking to suppliers about excess produce and donating surplus food. Post Covid-19, reduced numbers and lack of buffets has also helped reduce food wastage by up to 80 percent at some establishments.
What spurred you to establish Halo Health Asia and its flagship WFF?
Establishing Halo Health Asia and WFF back in early 2018, came from a personal belief that everyone needs to be educated about the fast-changing food world. I had just encountered my first health scare and wanted to attend conferences to educate myself but quickly realised that unless you worked in a corporate food function (ie. company, academia or government), there were no food education conferences a regular consumer could attend. Thus, the WFF annual conference was born.
At the time, many of my friends wondered if I had lost my mind pivoting to a seemingly completely different arena as I was most identified with women’s empowerment and finance. The way I see it, I try in the cause of all my work to merge all the causes I strongly believe in. Thus for example, women in farming — which is a huge part of the (unpaid) farming culture in Asia — and ESG finance has been a couple of very interesting pivots for me.
I’m glad I took the crazy plunge. Especially now with the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become clear that it was serendipitously timely.
Tell us about your own personal relationship with food.
My father’s side of the family owned farms in Lim Chu Kang up until the late 80s. I remember how on some weekends, my family would visit our farm-based relatives. I had afternoons of fun with my cousins; playing on the farms, picking fruit from trees and fresh vegetables from the vegetable plots, seeing the chickens in the coops and catching fish from a huge pond behind the family home.
My paternal grandmother was a great Hokkien cook. She could prepare any number of dishes for our extended family in a short span of time. Almost every morning, she would walk to the nearby wet markets and I was her constant companion. I do miss Singapore’s wet markets, it’s a very visceral experience of sights and smells.
Today, my husband, Ed, is the great cook in the family. Like my grandmother, he can whip up (Western) dinners for 10 and loves the whole experience of picking out fresh produce and preparing the food. I have many close friends that are great cooks too. I am blessed to be a happy recipient.
What’s in our food future?
For centuries, the food industry and farming in particular was viewed as a sunset industry and few young people would have thought about going into farming as a career. But the food world, especially in the last five years, has evolved dramatically with new ideas married with new technology, with a keen purpose-driven agenda to protect the planet. The rapid rise and acceptance of alternative proteins is a case in point.
Through our work with WFF, we meet so many people, young and older wanting to now be part of the food industry, whether as entrepreneurs identifying new foods to bring to market, as vertical farmers or perhaps as biotech scientists developing alternative proteins — all just wanting to make a difference. It’s very inspiring!
World Food Future takes place 8 April, 2021