Singapore has a long way to go in terms of our sustainability efforts, but we’re not alone. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, roughly 1.3 billion tonnes of food – about a third of food produced – is wasted per year, with fruits and vegetables such as roots and tubers having the highest wastage rates of up to 40 to 50%.
Even before produce hits the supermarkets, large quantities are wasted due to aesthetic filtering, which is particularly relevant in Singapore, where plenty of our food is imported. For instance, bananas that are green on their ends but yellow in the centre are considered overripe by importers, because their retail clients – for business and logistical reasons – need them to sit on the supermarket shelves for as long as possible. Such produce will usually get thrown away even though it could still be sold.
1.3 billion: Tonnes of food wasted each year globally, according to the United Nations.
It’s necessary to increase the awareness of such filtering as, with an understanding of this process, consumers might be more appreciative of what produce is naturally like, and not just how it shows up in the supermarket or wet market. This can help to ease the standards that retailers and importers have, ultimately reducing unnecessary food wastage.
Kausmo was created for this exact reason. By working with ingredients that have been aesthetically filtered out, because they are overstocked or oddly shaped and sized, my restaurant manager Kuah Chew Shian and I reduce food wastage while educating our customers about overall thoughtfulness.
It is also important to consider the provenance of ingredients. In Singapore, we need to better support local organic farms growing native flora such as peperomia (an edible weed) and ulam raja (a native plant) for their higher nutritional benefits and flavour, and because they naturally thrive in our environment, unlike chye sim (originally from southern China), which requires more water and care to grow locally. In our restaurant, we try to raise the profile of these ingredients over imported ingredients, creating an appreciation for them and generating a more sensible demand.
“Even before produce hits the supermarkets, large quantities are wasted due to aesthetic filtering”
Increased awareness among industry people has also inspired innovation in food sustainability. London’s Silo, the first zero-waste restaurant, has plates made of recycled plastic and lampshades from a type of mushroom, while the food follows a closed-loop, full product utilisation approach.
Similarly, individuals can do their part to reduce food waste. Proteins should be viewed for more than their flesh: seafood heads and shells can be used to make broth and syrups for use in desserts and cocktails can be fashioned out of the pulp and pith of citrus fruit. Food waste affects everybody. If our produce and the land it comes from are not cared for, eventually we might lose it all.
Illustrations by Stuart Patience
This article was originally published in the April 2020 issue of SilverKris magazine