by Rachel Lim (16A01E)
Ever looked into the fridge and lamented, “There’s nothing to eat!” even if the fridge was filled to the brim?
I had just such an experience one afternoon recently, except more illuminating – one that, in short, led to a personal revelation, which inspired my idea for a personal challenge. That afternoon, I had had a particularly strong craving for potato soup – a craving so strong, that it made me shamelessly plead with my mother to buy it, and proclaim that I had no appetite for whatever else she had prepared. I was deservedly ignored. Despite that, my desire was so intense that I ended up slipping out of the house and making the trip to the nearest supermarket, with the sole intention of purchasing a solitary packet of potato soup. To my surprise, upon returning home – lo and behold, there was another packet of potato soup on the kitchen table. Had my mother, as a loving parent, actually taken heed of my woes and gone out to buy it as a surprise?
Instead of finishing as a touching tale of an endearing mother-daughter relationship, that experience simply ended with my mother curtly informing me that she had managed to find a packet hidden deep in the refrigerator while finding something else. It had been bought several months ago, perhaps even by myself, and had been utterly forgotten by everyone.
How had my consciousness of what even was in my own refrigerator fallen to such abysmal levels? When I went to check my fridge again, I could hardly identify half of the items; and that was just the fridge, what about the other food pantries and cupboards? If others scorned a full fridge, though still silly, there was at least the excuse of it not containing the food they wanted. However, to have no idea that the treat I wanted was right there: that called for an intervention.
Thusly an idea was born, the brainchild of my incompetence: I decided to challenge myself to be more responsible and conscious of my own food storage. On a portable whiteboard, I meticulously plotted out each and every food item in my house; including in the fridge, in the cupboard, the forsaken snacks under coffee tables, everything. I ended up with a final tally that far exceeded my expectations. Even though I lived in a family of five, the results still astounded me. Just a few of the things I found were: packets of maggi mee two-fold of what we actually required, previously bought under the seduction of buy-2-get-1-frees; relic-like candies imported from overseas from years ago; bottles of exotic experimental sauces tried once and abandoned; a pile of condiments swiped from various fast food chains; and why on earth do we have pink salt? The fresh produce was in no better state either. Quite a number of vegetables were yellowing and the kiwis and avocados felt ominously squishy.
Realising the full extent of the sorry state I was in, I began researching more about food wastage in Singapore. It turns out most Singaporeans’ lack of awareness of their food intake is soberingly high. In 2014, Singapore threw away over 750,000 tonnes of food — the equivalent of actively spilling about two bowls of rice per person, per day on the floor and not scooping it back up. This lack of consciousness extends to dining out as well, with food courts dumping up to 500kg of wasted food per day. With these numbers, it is clear that more awareness should be spread to help reduce the massive amounts of unnecessary food waste generated.
For most of us, the first course of action to take ought to be on a personal level. I have a list of tips here that I hope will help in managing in the contents of our refrigerators:
- For starters, we as students could simply help out with the groceries more. By personally buying our daily commodities, it is natural that we would have more knowledge of what food is available at home, while simultaneously enjoying some good old retail therapy.
- Whilst shopping, we should also have a clear checklist in mind, to avoid impulse buying and straying to the newest flavours of Kit-Kats. I believe that, like pets, furniture and etcetera, food should be also subjected to a likewise low degree of impulse buying and high responsibility.
- We should also be more brazen in getting samples and trying out new products, to avoid any disappointing wastage and discoveries at home. However, if we do buy some items that demand an acquired taste, we should still try to commit to eating them till they are finished, then make a mental note to never touch it again.
- The more obvious guidelines should too be adhered to as well, such as not falling for bulk buying discounts and buying smaller portion sizes if you need less.
There are also many alternative forms of food preparation and preservation that we could be more open to. Such a method is ‘bulk or batch cooking’, which is efficient and produces less waste. With this method, a whole week’s worth of food is carefully calculated, bought and prepared in a single dedicated day, such that each home-cooked meal for the rest of the week immediately becomes easily accessible, either in grab-and-go form or only needing a few minutes of reheating. Though this sounds daunting, there are countless numbers of helpful online tutorials to guide those willing to try this out, catered to any diet and lifestyle.
The act of chopping and freezing slightly wilted vegetables is also encouraged, preserving them for longer use instead of mindlessly throwing them away. As another option, you could directly buy pre-frozen vegetables to save the hassle.
Crucially, we must not be complacent about canned, frozen or long-lasting goods as well, stocking up on them under the comfort that they do not easily spoil. Falling victim to this mind-set, I purchased this large bag of frozen sweet potato fries under the assumption the rest of the family would eventually finish it for me in due time. But there, in the corner of the freezer, I found it two months later, still half full.
Finally, if you do find that you have been hoarding food like it was the Great Depression, you could seriously consider donating that mountain of instant noodles to an organisation in Singapore called the Food Bank, which delivers donated extraneous food to those who are underprivileged. (And while we’re on the Great Depression, watching this video of a 91-year-old woman who personally lived through that period in time prepare food of the era may unexpectedly spark some deep-seated appreciation of modern life in you.)
All in all, the point that I am trying to get across is to encourage more personal and perhaps even social responsibility when it comes to our greatest love – which, let’s face it – is food. Quoting George Bernard Shaw: “There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” With the Lunar New Year approaching, I hope this little food for thought lingers in you for a while, or at least makes you refrain from buying excessive amounts of new year cookies, then pawning the leftovers off onto your unwitting friends and relatives later in the year.