We have come a long way from our hunter-gatherer days. We are not only eating bigger, but we are also eating better. Never in the history of time has food been so abundant and edible items so easy to obtain.
In many ways, this is a glorious thing. Humans have always gone out and gathered food, but never before has it been so simple for us to gather anything we want, whenever we want it: from strawberries any time of the year to authentic sushi everywhere and Italian pizzas that you could have sworn, tastes exactly like the one you had in Naples.
In Singapore, new restaurants are opening every day with concepts that exceed our wildest dreams. New farming techniques like controlled environment agriculture (CEA), vertical farming, and hydroponics have allowed local agricultural company Sustenir to produce non-native vegetables and fruits like kale and strawberries in land-scarce Singapore. Meanwhile, local grocery stores like Little Farms and Ryan’s Grocery are stocked with everything from exotic fruit hybrids to food products that cater to every segment of specialized diets from the gluten-free options, to nut-free, dairy-free, ketogenic, and vegan.
Yes, these are exciting times and what it means to eat well is not only being shaped by modern culinary style and bona fide nutritional science, it is also being affected by new strides in food technology, and a keen awareness of food sustainability.
For Lisa Tang and Kuah Chew Shian, the two young chefs behind the Kausmo restaurant concept, eating well and eating in a way that is beneficial for the planet goes hand in hand. “It is about improving the way we eat through more thoughtful means and choices,” explains Tang. “Thoughtfulness can be seen through fully utilising the ingredients we cook with such as the various parts of produce (skin, flesh, seeds etc.) instead of simply discarding them”.
With that in mind, they turn aesthetically filtered fruits and vegetables that are overstocked, over-ripened, and oddly-shaped and sized, into a beautiful and conscientious fine dining experience.
Ingredients are thoughtfully sourced, as they experiment with seafood from small regional farms, overlooked cuts of meat, and uncommonly used leafy greens or florals native to the country. This translates into dishes like mushroom paté with almond crisp, kampong chicken confit with miso mustard sauce, and wild fish congee with preserved plum.
“Kausmo was started as a means to raise awareness about the issue of food waste in Singapore, particularly at the importers’ tier, which is very much less visible than other types of food waste. We feel that doing our part to minimise wastage in any form could be our way of consuming more thoughtfully.
We’re always questioning the norms and thinking beyond it. Could it be done in a more efficient manner that’s kinder to our earth, while still being within our means to do so? If so, let’s do it,” shares Tang on the topic of reducing food wastage.
There is no doubt that improvements in food technology and science are helping us to eat better. A plant-based diet is celebrated not only for its health-giving properties, it is also lauded for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, freeing up land to support biodiversity and carbon sequestration, and improving animal welfare. When you compare growing grain and meat—more energy devoted to growing a kilogram of beef compared to growing a kilogram of grain.
Some of the more interesting brands of plant-based faux meat available in Singapore include Beyond Meat; Quorn with its range of chicken nuggets, fillets and sausages made from a healthy fungus known as fusarium venenatum; and Just Egg made from mung 061 bean protein. In particular, one meat alternative has been making headlines this 2019—Impossible Foods, a Californian company successfully launched its meat-free patties island-wide.
Designed to be sustainable and environmentally friendly, the Impossible Foods patties are made with wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and flavourings. Thanks to a secret ingredient known as heme, an oxygen-carrying molecule which makes both meat and blood red and gives the meat much of its flavour, the patties taste like the real thing.
And they’ve gone mainstream. You can find the Impossible burger on the menus of Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen, Adrift by David Myers, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, Empress, Privé Orchard, Potato Head Singapore, Three Buns Quayside, PS.Cafe, Violet Oon Singapore and Rang Mahal to name a few.
Ultimately, modern food production processes are causing soil erosion, deforestation and climate change.
We have to change the way we grow our food to be less damaging to the landscape. Indoor farming is a solution and one local farm is pulling out the stops to meet the growing demand for great produce while cutting down on carbon footprint.
Started in 2013, Sustenir is an urban farming company that uses CEA to grow non-native plants like kale and strawberries in a land-scarce country like Singapore. They achieved their impossible harvests using hydroponics and CEA which allows them to control every factor within the farm.
It keeps the plants in a perfectly clean environment, free from the effects of pests, pesticides, pollution and contaminated soil and helps urban farms grow 14 times the produce per square metre compared to conventional farms.
Being able to tailor their environment has also allowed Sustenir to customise the taste of their produce. Co-founder Benjamin Swan explains: “Our Kinky Kale has a lighter, zestier flavour, while the Toscano is richer and nuttier, two varieties we believe cater nicely to Singaporean tastes.”
Indeed they have created a tastier product, fresher than any imports that are being flown in, and hence reducing carbon footprint in the process, whereas conventional farms usually end up with at least 33 per cent of harvests wasted from transporting.
And yet for grocery stores like Little Farms, importing fruits and vegetables is a necessary step to offer a comprehensive range of the best natural and organic products from around the world. In fact, Little Farms air-ships fresh produce into their stores up to five times each week.
Still, there are steps taken towards reducing the carbon footprint. Fred Moujalli, co- founder of Little Farms and second-generation greengrocer shares that they only work with airlines that are committed to creating a lighter carbon footprint, specifically Singapore Airlines.
Also, most of their products come directly on one flight thereby decreasing the time in transport, lessening pollution, and shortening carbon footprint. Mouijalli further shares that since the products spend less time travelling to its destination, it will have a longer shelf for customers and hence reduce food wastage.
Where Sustenir has successfully tapped into new technology to cultivate a tastier kale, Moujalli still believes high quality produce calls for good old- fashioned farming. He cites the example of Pacific Coast Eco Bananas, a red wax tip banana available at Little Farms.
These bananas are grown in Queensland Australia with a farming system that emphasises biodiversity of animals and insects and the least intervention so that they can protect the soil for future farming and prevent chemicals (organic and synthetic) from polluting nearby waterways on the Great Barrier Reef.
The results? A fragrant banana with creamy flesh and sweetness. These are the most fragrant bananas that we have ever tried. Mother Nature clearly knows what she is doing.
Zero waste shopping
Plastic pollution is literally strangling the life out of the ocean. As our marine life consumes more plastics waste, we are also finding more micro-plastics in our ikura don and tuna casserole as a result.
The retail food sector generates million tons of food waste a year, and a large per cent of landfill waste comes from containers and packaging, a huge problem for supermarket operators.
To reduce single use plastics, supermarket giant NTUC FairPrice has recently introduced a trial to cut down on plastic bags and plastic packaging at selected stores. Zero waste shopping and bulk food stores have also been slowly gaining momentum even as Singapore has been slow to hop on the bandwagon of sustainability.
Leading the trend is UnPackt, Singapore’s first zero-waste store which opened back in 2018 and it has since been followed by a slew of bulk food stores like Scoop Wholefoods and The Source Bulk Foods which launched in the past year.
The latter is Australia’s biggest bulk foods retailer and at their store, at Cluny Court, you can find everything from pantry staples and packaging-free household products to ready-to-eat products as well as gluten-free and vegan options. The company aims to minimise food waste and single-use plastics, encouraging customers to buy just the amount they need and charging each item by weight.
Ultimately, eating sustainably and eating healthily shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. We can only celebrate each baby step as real, compelling, refreshing change takes place
in food cultivation, supply chains and in the dining industry.