Thanks to a friend David, who wrote for The Nanyang Chronicle back in 2008. We were invited by Bishan Park Secondary School to give a talk about food wastage and food security using the findings that we obtained.
Needless to say, we agreed to it immediately.
The talk was scheduled on 12 and 13 April for the lower and upper secondary school students respectively. As much as we were excited, it was quite intimidating to speak to hundreds of students at one go.
But looking on the positive side of things, if we can survive speaking in front of a few hundred students, surely we will survive speaking to four moderators (professors) during our FYP presentation. (FYI: We did survive, pics will come in the next entry).
The talk was also the prefect chance for us to present a short film titled ‘Chicken ala carte’ by Ferdinand Dimadura.
What’s the significance you may ask. Well this was the very film that help us identify the issue of food wastage as a possible topic for FYP. I strongly encourage you to take a look at this video if you do not have time to read all the stuff on this website.
Ok, back to the topic. Here’s some more photos to share.
For more photos, do visit our Facebook page.
Back when we first decided to launch the Food Waste Republic website to the public, we cannot deny that we were kind of hoping some media would pick it up. After all, it is a topic that is relevant to everyone in Singapore.
Suffice to say, we were excited when Lian He Zao Bao, Singapore’s most popular Chinese newspaper calls and decided to run a feature on us and our topic. We were quick to respond to the reporter’s questions and sent in some photos for their consideration.
We were hoping for a small one to two column write-up only. Serious. Fortunately, the coverage was better than we had expected and it turns out to be a 3/4 page feature.
We are extremely happy about the coverage. But more importantly, we hope that with this exposure, more people will read up on our stories about food wastage and from today onwards, be a little more conscious about the food you waste.
We were told there is a little segment published on MyPaper as well. Here it is:
As mentioned in my previous post, there are two shots at Semakau Landfill that i liked very much. One was the close up shot of the bulldozer and the other was this:
What makes this shot so special was the backdrop of Singapore’s Central Business District. For reasons i could not explain, there is this one spot at the entire Semakau Landfill where the CBD is magnified. You won’t be able to see the magnified CBD on other parts of the island, not even if it is nearer and on the same axis like this photo below (pardon the wrong color balance), taken at about 100m nearer to the trucks.
I was so intrigued by that phenomenon that I had to beg NEA to let me return to Semakau Landfill for a second time to nail the nail, this time with a telephoto lens (since i obviously had to shoot further away). By the way, begging NEA to let me go back for a second trip was no simple feat i must say.
But on the second trip i had some words with the senior staff officers at Semakau Landfill. They had no answers for this phenomenon but we kind of concluded that it has got something to do with mirages and stuff like that.
For those of you who are interested, here’s the original crop of the photo above. Three cheers to a 24.5 megapixel DSLR
Our final-year project photography shoots ALWAYS require us to travel to ulu (remote) parts of Singapore. In terms of the most ulu part of Singapore, you don’t have to look further than Semakau Landfill, an island several kilometers away from the Harbourfront area and that’s very far away by Singapore standards.
This photograph was meant for The Food Waste Recycling Dilemma story, which talks about how organic waste along with general waste are incinerated and disposed at Semakau Landfill using bulldozers and trucks. Eventually the photo made its way into my photo essay on the Carbon Food Print.
Sounds easy? Not until you have to be at Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal at eight in the morning to travel there via a small boat, only to spend the entire day there and ONLY to encounter rain… but i digress. The shot actually required some luck. In the words of Henri Cartier Bresson, it was a moment the subjects, composition and lighting happen at the right time at the right place to make the shot possible.
I started off by positioning myself over at the other side of the landfill to photograph the bulldozers in action.
edit: I spotted a splendid photo opp at this location too but that’s another story for another day.
After a few shots here, i decided that i was not close enough and preferred to photograph a close-up of the bulldozer (my longest focal length was 50mm that day zzz). Thanks to the nice officer in charge of taking us around that day, we drove up onto the landfill in a bad to get closer.
Even so, it just was not close enough by my standards.
It was time to get even closer.
So i decided to whip out my 24mm and got really really close.
Ok, so this distance was perfect for me. But something was missing in terms of composition.
So i went down on one knee (i regretted it the moment i got down) to shoot from a bottom-up angle. Just then, the trucks transporting the incinerated ash were making its way to this side of the island.
In photography language, this one particular truck ‘entered my frame’. It was just the element that i needed to give some depth to the photo and that was how i nailed the shoot.
The late war photographer Robert Capa once said that if your photo is not good enough, then you are not close enough. Hope this experience of mine can lend you some inspiration when photographing next time.
Oh by the way, here’s the result of spending too much time on the landfill:
A UK author, our first source of inspiration, who published the book Waste: Uncovering The Global Food Scandal shortly after we decided on food wastage. Visit this to learn about the food wastage situation in the UK.
A resource site on food wastage in the US by American journalist and researcher Jonathan Bloom.
A fun UK-based website that teaches you ways to recycle your leftover food.
4. Bernard Han
Statistics on food waste and recycling rates in Singapore, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, as well as calculations on incineration fees.
5. Food For All
A local research and action group founded by undergraduate Heather Chi. It aims to support local food rations programmes, raise awareness of hunger and food issues and encourage the appreciation, and respect for, good food and those who prepare and grow it.
A open and interactive portal for the public to share and discuss food-related news, research and initiatives relevant to Singapore.
7. Eugene Tay
The 2008 waste situation in Singapore and methods to reduce food waste.
This blog contains mainly news reports about the global rush to buy up or lease farmlands abroad as a strategy to secure basic food supplies or simply to make money. A resource for those monitoring or researching the issue of food security.
The international alliance works against incinerators and for safe, sustainable and just alternatives. Challenges Singapore’s waste management system.
Learn about freegans (aka scavengers) in New York city who subsist on leftover food.
Shop for eco products from accessories to electronics, which are also available at 26A Sago Street.
In ‘The Missing Profits’, we have side bar titled ‘Breadwatch’. It is one of the finest masterpieces created for Food Waste Republic. One night after our failed attempt in documenting food wastage in buffets (we wanted to snoop buffet patrons over piling their plates but photography was banned in Kuishin Bo), Estelle and I wanted to catch bakery staff throwing away unsold bread.
At closing time, we loitered around the bakery and tried to snap shots of them throwing away bread. Bwah!!! Most of the shots were badly taken because of the lighting and the espionage nature of it. Besides, the bakery staff surreptitiously brought trays of bread to the kitchen and dumped it in the black trash bag.
Honestly, I wished Estelle and I were armed with secret spy cams at that point of time so that we could blend in with the crowd and look less suspicious. Barely after taking a few shots, we were CAUGHT by the bakery staff who insisted that we should stop taking photos.
As usual, Estelle and I would try to look pitiful and harmless and explain to them we’re doing this for our school project, which is technically true. While Estelle tried negotiating with the bakery staff, I brazenly carried on filming with my camera, despite being warned and scolded by the staff.
It was a harrowing experience as filming the bakery throwing away the bread could land us into big trouble if we were caught. Who knows what they might do to us? Snatch our cameras away and smash it against the wall? That could be possible as the bakery staff was getting exasperated as Estelle and I were testing their patience by paying no heed to their words and carried on snapping shots.
Come to think of which, the challenge of our FYP is not only to write stories but also to avoid getting trouble with the law. =X
Finding the perfect name is never easy. It took us close to four months to finally christian our FYP baby as ‘Food Waste Republic’.
Initially, we wanted to call our project ‘Wasted’. However, it was too similar with Tristram Stuart’s book titled ‘Waste: Uncovering a Global Food Scandal’. Since Stuart’s book largely centres around food wastage in the Western developed countries, we thought of adding an Asian twist to our name and call it ‘Lang Fei!’ (??). I admit that is too Chinese-centric and isn’t fair to the non-Chinese future audience.
The next shortlisted name is ‘Waste Not, Want Not’. Talk about originality. It’s just a re-hash of UK’s anti-food wastage site ‘Love food, hate waste’. Imitation is the best form of flattery. But no way we’re going to stoop as low as that. We’re going to come up with a nifty name that best describes the food wastage in Singapore.
At our one of consultation sessions with Cherian, another potential name idea popped up. ‘How about The Other Side of Food Paradise,’ suggested Cherian subtly. It was an excellent idea as there is contrast and ‘movement’ to the name. It aptly challenges the notion of Singapore as a food paradise and has this mysterious air to it. But our newfound happiness didn’t last long. This name doesn’t tell anything about food wastage at a single glance. Oh man! Never have I expected thinking of a project name to be this hard. I think it’s easier to name my hamsters than a FYP journalism project.
The epiphany of coming up with the perfect name for our project came to us on one Friday afternoon while waiting for Media Law lecture to begin. Food wastage. Fast food nation. Singapore is a republic. How about Food Waste Republic? BINGO! It sounds perfect. A name meant to be for our FYP. The only concern was that we might face a potential lawsuit from Food Republic for slandering their good name or because of copyright issue. Nah. If Media Law taught me right, Food Republic doesn’t have the right to sue as its brand name falls under the generic category. Well, I hope I’m right. =/
16 March 2009
Deciding on a project title is the first part of getting FYP done. The next challenge is to come up with a smart tagline that best describes the project.
We wanted to settle for ‘Everyone’s part of it’, to highlight that everyone is culpable of wasting food. But it was later changed to ‘What are you doing about it?’ as we felt that we lack a mission statement to our project and wanted to encourage people to reduce food wastage through our stories.
At the eleventh hour (a week before FYP submission), we finally changed it to ‘Dirty secrets of a food paradise’ as our stories hardly discuss food wastage solutions to avoid sounding preachy. Besides, this tagline sounds way SEXIER than the ones we thought of earlier. Unfortunately, the idea popped up at the last minute and it was kind of impossible to present a ‘dirty’ layout or design for our web page and PDF-ed stories. Arghhhh… we don’t mind following our Muse but why must it arrive so late?
While investigating he topic of food wastage in Singapore, we got ourselves information more than what we had bargained for. One of our sources was more than happy to spill the beans of what goes on in the food industry. These were some of the juicy details he shared:
1) When roasted ducks or char siew meat are hanged overnight in the open air to make the skin crispy or dry, cockroaches climb over the food, especially in restaurants that do not pay much attention to food hygiene.
2) It is COMMON for unhappy staff to spit into your food when you offend them. Ways to offend them include being a difficult customer and placing an order just as the staff are about to knock off from work.
3) A chef at a 4 to 5 star hotel was so upset with the customer’s complaints that he added Ajinomoto in the customer’s coffee before serving it to him.
4) Some Cze Char stalls de-scale fish on the kitchen floor as it’s easy to wash the rubbish away.
5) While Pipa Roast Duck is a delectable Chinese dish, the act of someone blowing into the skin of the duck is really unhygienic but customers seldom see the product so they wouldn’t know how gross it is
These ‘lurid’ details he shared might just be bias as it’s from his personal experiences and observations. But I believe there is at least a grain of truth to his stories, especially after witnessing some of the dirty trade secrets with Estelle during our waitressing experiences at banquets.
Some dirty banquet secrets you would like to know:
1. Food servers use fork and spoon to serve the food. But you’ll be surprised that how some food servers would hold the tip of the utensils- the serving portion- with their bare hands and use it to serve food to the guests during dinner
2. We saw a food server who dropped a spoon on the kitchen floor but continued to use it to serve food to the guests.
It’s hard for guests to spot dirty marks on their plates under the dim lighting in the banquet hall. But the fact is the plates are less clean that it supposed to be.
3. Estelle and I sometimes saw smudges of food stains on the supposedly clean plates and bowls. There was once I saw strain of noodle stuck to a bowl and our colleague removed that noodle, wipe the bowl clean with a dry cloth, and serve it to the guest afterwards.
4. Have you ever wondered how gross it is that a food server can replace our dirty plate with a new one immediately, after each course, without washing his or her hands? Estelle and I have to confess that we did that. But we weren’t given a choice as we were working under severe time constraints.
5. As it’s gross to serve food with a pair of dirty hands, Estelle and I went to wash our hands in the kitchen before collecting the next dish. But the manager caught us and yelled at us for wasting time and said there’s no need to be so clean in this field.
Without doubt, after working as a banquet waitress and hearing the stories shared by our sources, it makes me think twice how clean our food actually is.
Quoting what one of our sources said, “ Food production is never nice. If people come to know the truth of the way their food is produced, they wouldn’t want to eat certain kinds of food.”
Seems that eating out has its own set of risks too. On second thought, perhaps food wastage isn’t such a sexy topic after all. Darn! We should have done a project on food safety and hygiene! =/
Following Cherian’s “So, do it!” advice, we planned our household waste collection in Serangoon and Sembawang, our areas of residence.
As with every other task, this took us longer than expected. After two days of logistical planning and shopping, we were finally ready to trawled our own estates, pound on doors and collect a day’s worth of food waste from the neighbours we barely knew.
- letter of authorisation endorsed by Dr KC Yeoh
- logbook to record households’ particulars (name, age, address, household size, type of waste)
- standard sized red plastic bags for each family to store their food waste
- survey forms for every household (on shopping, dining, cooking and storing habits)
- lanyard with NTU student matriculation card
With matriculation cards dangling visibly from our necks and summoning our most needy looking faces, we yielded an average of 15 successful replies in an hour. Weekday evenings from 8 to 10pm proved to be the prime time, though the success rate was hampered by those who ate out, did not cook or insisted they had no waste.
Seriously, chicken bones and apple seeds were considered waste and I’m pretty sure a normal person wouldn’t find joy in eating it.
Now, (*drumroll*) for the TOP FIVE MOST RIDICULOUS RESPONSES we got:
1. “If I say yes, will you go out with my son?” – a middle-aged man who was desperately trying to promote his extremely undate-able son
2. “Sorry, the dogs ate up the remaining food today.” – the undate-able son
3. “Will you be coming again tomorrow?” – a maid who thought she found private food waste collectors for free. Fat chance, lady
4. “How would I know you’re not lying?” – a sceptical man who assumed we were nothing more than pranksters
5. “What if you don’t keep your word?” – another sceptical, overweight man who, in fact, had two times more waste than the average household
Despite these strange encounters, I’m now able to identify my neighbours besides those on my left and right.
It was insanely difficult to justify that food wastage is a problem in Singapore. Then, an epiphany came in the form of Estelle’s mom’s wise words. “If you want to find out how much food an individual wastes, why not you collect food waste from door to door?” she said.
So we did. Approaching over 180 households during our December holidays. While our friends were having their holiday or interviewing sources, we were out approaching families and asking to collect their food waste.
Most of the time, people case us strange looks when we said we wanted their food waste. But we got used to it after a while. There were a few times we received offers from families who said we could collect and clear their food waste every day. Talk about being degraded from undergrads to waste collectors. =(
Approaching families and convincing them to participate in our food waste exercise is one problem. Another challenge is to return back to the household, collect and briefly analyse their food waste. It was UTTERLY GROSS. The stench and the sight of food waste could make me puke out what I’d for dinner earlier. Nobody would ever understand the trouble and humiliation we went through to do our FYP. And collecting food waste is just a tiny aspect of the project.
Estelle and me enjoyed better luck in getting households to participate in the household waste exercise. As for Wei Li, doors usually get shut on him as he looks more menacing than a pitiful young girl who is trying to collect food waste for her project. Since Wei Li had a harder time convincing families to give us their food waste, we ended up delegating the work such that Estelle and I would approach families while he would collect, analyse and weigh food waste for us. Yayness! The dirty job goes to the dude for a very good reason. =P
Of all the houses, I dare say I detest collecting food waste in the private estate. Those HUGE, NOISY dogs were such pest. I could have died from heart attach each time they stealthily pounced on the gate barking madly at deafening decibels. To make matters worse, some houses simply ignore us and PRETENDED they were not at home or they couldn’t hear us ringing the doorbell.
From this experience, I could come to one conclusion: most Singaporeans are unfriendly. Either they ignore us or they were too ‘shy’ to participate, claiming that they have no waste. In fact, the foreigners (Americans, French, Filipinos, PRCs et cetera) were a much friendlier lot.
One thing for sure, I can’t do any project that requires me to do a door-to-door approach. It would just kill me having to melt in the sweltering weather and getting doors slammed at my face, literally (2 out of every 10 houses will do that). You’ll just feel that you’ve been reduced to the lowest life form. Given the negative label tagged to door salesman, households would just shun you or treat you like dirt.
Again, explain to me why are we putting ourselves in such agony for FYP? =X