My Little Singapore Soapbox

“1.1 billion people worldwide are overweight and many suffer from diet-related diseases.

 925 million people worlwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition”.

 Terra Madre 2010

 

The scale of the problem

Every now and then someone tells you a fact that you can’t quite believe.  That shakes you to your core and calls into question everything you know to make sense.  I received, as usual, an email from Terra Madre (more of them later) that informed me that this year their ‘raison d’etre’ was to garner support for change in the world’s growing food paradox: an extraordinary global imbalance between the number of people that are obese, or suffer from diet-related diseases, and the number of people around the world who suffer from starvation and malnutrition. 

The former literally outweighs the latter.

It doesn’t make sense.  Until you really think about it…that is.  I chose to think about it as I scraped leftovers into a giant black bin liner at 2am on Saturday night.  The bag was not actually filled with leftovers – in fact I am slightly embarrassed to admit that for the first time in my life I may have slightly under-catered!  However, I am more ashamed to say, that it did contain plastic plates and cutlery and the usual detritus abandoned after a party, including wine bottles, cans, etc.  At that time in the morning it was more than I could cope with to separate the aluminium from the glass and compost the scrapings etc.

I thought about it again the next morning as the attack of conscience kicked in and we sorted through everything with rubber gloves.  And again, as we tucked into an absurdly overfilled third plate of unnecessary food at the second Sunday brunch we had attended in as many weeks. Nowhere in the world does hotel Sunday brunches like Singapore.  Alcohol flows like water (or at least the way water flows out of a tap for the us, the privileged many), and food from around the region is presented in awe inspiring mountains, to be replenished as soon as so much as a dent has been achieved by the gannets that queue and hustle in a feigned show of fear that the food may actually run out.  You can sense the panic that the lobster may stop coming, the oyster man may stop shucking, the noodle and dumpling station may stop steaming and that guy standing behind everypossible type of roasted carcass, may stop carving.  No one needs three plates of food. Let alone five.

My guilt (and lack of ability to peel myself off the sofa) spurned me to do a little more research of Terra Madre’s claims.  The reality of what the inhabitants of our world are doing to Mother Nature is shocking.

I have been a fully paid up member of the Slow Food movement for many years, and am very proud of it. But I don’t really do much.  Other than, of course, boring anyone that will listen at a dinner party about the joys of seasonal, local produce (a conversation that invariably becomes a lecture that is, in turn, in fact, almost always a thinly veiled whinge about the entire lack of seasons and local produce in Singapore).

This weekend, more than five thousand people will convene for the fourth bi-annual meeting of food communities organised by the global Slow Food network; an event called Terra Madre that is held in Turin, Italy.  I have never been to Italy to enjoy the week of feasting and communing, but in some small way I hope that my accumulated pangs of jealousy and desire at this time of year will eventually add up to a ticket to actually get me there.  But it isn’t just about eating.  Delegates from all over the world will meet to discuss topics such as rural communication, indigenous agriculture systems and small-scale fishing, genetically modified foods, the development of organic food and its certification, sustainability, water rights, and the impact of globalization on traditional food cultures.  The event will also be dedicated to moving forward; as a platform to foster exchanges, discuss common challenges, and to create genuine, achievable, proposals for actual solutions.

At Terra Madre, my fellow slow foodies are doing something.  And so am I.  This time I am really going to do something.

 I am going to put my name on a list of people that will try to rectify this absurd food imbalance.  I am going to give them money.  If we can afford to throw a party for 60 perfectly well nourished friends, we can afford to help out a few that are not so lucky. I am going to donate to the cause in a tiny attempt to help redress the balance.  Well, you have to start somewhere right?

My grandmother always said that charity begins at home.  Until now I wasn’t sure I totally understood how this worked. But in our house, things are going to change.   I am going to make a commitment to continue to be a slightly mean chef.  To not over-cater.  To not throw away leftovers, and ensure that produce in the fridge is always used before new items are bought.  I am going to bore everyone I know with the knowledge that every time we eat an extra plate of food that we don’t need, it is quite literally a plate of food that could be given to an entire family of malnourished others, probably living considerably closer than we care to imagine. 

We have to start somewhere. And home is as good as any.  Jamie Oliver* has been banging on about it for years and now the big corporates are really getting in on the act – Sainsbury’s and Waitrose in the UK are trying (at least on paper) and, according to an article in Fast Company, even US giant Walmart is doing its bit – this week committing to a sustainability index that is determined to double sales of locally sourced produce by 2015.

Food is an enormous luxury that we take for granted every day.  I am sure that I will only stop whining about the lack of decent European produce in Asia for about a day.  My cravings for serious French cheeses, decent Californian wines and real Morroccan spices will never cease.  But every now and then a reality check is necessary.  The freshest, most delicious baby San Marzano tomato, flown out yesterday from Verona to land in a Greek Salad on my kitchen counter in Singapore is something that should be relished as a serious treat. 

I am not going to put up a recipe with this post, even though it is something that I had set out to do every time I wrote.  In honour of eating less, I am going to simply put up a link to Terra Madre and their appeal.  I can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do but I just wonder how many people would feel the same way I do if only they knew about this extraordinary fact?  If they were faced with the actual numbers.  And what if they even had the ability to change them?

Terra Madre If you can’t see the message properly,
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Terra Madre Slow Food
Terra Madre
1.1 billion people worldwide
are overweight and many suffer
from diet-related diseases
Help Stop 925 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and malnutrition
The paradox
RAISE TERRA MADRE'S VOICE!
Together we can establish a good, clean and fair food system for all· 75% of agricultural crops has been lost in the last century
· 36 out of 40 of the poorest countries export cereals to feed animals in rich countries
· More than half of the food we produce is discarded or lostWe envision a different world. Help us make it a reality.
TAKE ACTION NOW
Terra Madre 2010 Oct. 21-25

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* Jamie Oliver is not everyone’s cup of tea but I would urge anyone to watch his rather moving speech after receiving  his well-deserved TED award.

4 Comments

Filed under Everything!

4 responses to “My Little Singapore Soapbox

  1. James Stanbridge

    ‘Charity starts at home’ translates as “model the behavior you expose” – at least, that is my interpretation – and I think you have done just that. Bravo!

    Like

  2. Guy Hoogewerf

    Hi Laura,

    Couldn’t agree more – you could try going to the places where good food exists, but what would singapore do without you.

    Another fact is that after world war II something like 30% of our income was spent on Food, where as our houses cost in the region of 10% of income.

    Today our houses cost up to 60% if income, where as Food (far more important to us) cost less than 10%. Our essential problem is that food is cheap and thus massively undervalued.

    If a MacDonalds (or Singaporian Brunch) actually cost what some say it should cost (up to three time more) – then we’d have a lot less obesity… AND far more importantly farmers around the world would be wealthier and the balance redressed (to some extent).

    Point: don’t necessarily give your money away – just make sure you spend money on food that is properly priced. That way – you eat less (because you can’t afford it) and you help those that need it more.

    Like

    • Fascinating Guy. It is amazing the things I am learning on my first foray into the anti eating world – a place I have never inhabited before now! I couldn’t agree more about the fact that we have got to stop demanding cheap food. Producing good food is incredibly costly – and then we demand that we are served it all year round! I learned recently that a kiwi weighs less than the amount of airoplane fuel that is expended to transport it to the average local british Tesco supermarket. Surely to god we have better things to do with that energy? I don’t know, like…maybe use it to power a machine to build a well to bring water to the earths surface to stop kids drinking from a tainted malaria infested pond that they have to walk miles to get to everyday? Just a thought. I am betting my aunt would have something to say on the matter. She just spent the summer in a tiny village in Uganda with her daughter helping out at a school – more than your average eye opener!

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