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The downside of abundance

While excess food is a sign of wealth, it also leads to abominable wastage. Here's what we can do about it.

While most people splurge on Christmas, it is a particularly decadent time for lifestyle journalists. This is the period when we receive all kinds of delectables from restaurants and hotels. Fat rounds of ham and turkey, complete with trimmings; even Beef Wellington stuffed with foie gras in one specially rich year. And the log cakes. Needless to say, the office fridge becomes as gorged as the Christmas turkey that arrives. We are in the business of tasting and recommendations, and excess samples, like opened bottles of wine to wine tasters, go with the territory. But a query from our Power List personality last month opened my eyes to just how abundance is taken for granted in Singapore.

Nichol Ng, Founder of Food Bank, Singapore

“How many of you did not finish your food?” asked Nichol Ng, founder of Food Bank Singapore, as soon as she got to the podium to deliver her acceptance speech. As I looked around the ballroom of more than 100 well-heeled guests, I realised that, yes, the night would end with massive amounts of perfectly edible food in the trash. I’ve seen worse at buffets where customers would leave behind multiple laden dishes. And what happens to the cooked items at the end of the day?

The Food Bank Singapore tackles food wastage at the industrial level, saving and redistributing products that have been rejected by businesses for minor issues – tiny dents in cans, trivial printing errors on the label and unreasonable expiry date issues – to whom Ng calls the ‘food insecure’ in Singapore. “Singapore imports 90 per cent of its food but throws out 30 per cent of it,” said Ng at the gala that announced nine other Power List philanthropists and social entrepreneurs.

Last month, the topic was in the headlines, with the National Environment Agency (NEA) launching a campaign to teach communities not to squander food, and further announced a tender for food waste recycling machines for 10 schools. According to NEA chief executive officer Ronnie Tay: “The amount of food waste generated in Singapore has increased by about 45 per cent over the past 10 years, and can be expected to rise further.”

The majority of Singaporeans have become affluent enough that putting food on the table is no longer a hardship. By the same token, throwing it away is no skin off our noses either, to a point where civic campaigns have to be launched to curb the practice. It’s high time.

Some people say grace before meals to give thanks for what they have. I think we can all do more of this, not saying grace necessarily, but take time to be mindful of our impact on this planet, on those around us.

Beyond personal reflection, it’s the season of giving, and while this means the shopping basket for most people, I can’t help but think of those individuals who have found profound satisfaction in helping others. The Peak singled 10 of them out in this year’s edition of the Power List.

One honouree, Teng Ngiek Lien, who founded The Silent Foundation, zooms in on “neglected” causes like wildlife and environmental welfare. He says: “I realised that life is not about accumulating wealth alone. Being able to redistribute wealth is a greater privilege.”

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