Bin Not Want Not
Nichol Ng and her younger brother, Nicholas are Founders of Food Bank Singapore, a place where companies or people can come to deposit/donate their unused or unwanted foods which will then be collected and allocated to the needy via channels such as voluntary welfare organisations, charities and soup kitchens.
Rather than allowing good food to be discarded, Food Bank Singapore collects unused or unwanted food from corporate and individual donors and redistributes it to the needy via voluntary welfare organisations and other charities, thus fighting food poverty and addressing food wastage.
By Edward Yong
uscious fruit that do not meet a standard size, creamy fresh milk and other dairy products nearing their expiry dates, and perfectly good canned food with slight dents are likely to face the incinerator. In 2013, Singapore generated 796,000 tons of food waste, which works out to be about 147 kg per person, enough food for 45 meals to feed a moderately active teenage male.
Nichol Ng, Managing Director of major food purveyor FoodXervices, could not bear to see the large quantities of food going to waste in Singapore.
Her family business, which supplies food to hotels and restaurants — from meat and cheese to dried provisions — saw an increasing amount of food being dumped due to various industry practices such as restaurants over-ordering food or rejecting canned food with dents, merchants declining fruits that are either too big or too small or supermarkets returning food close to its expiry date.
According to figures from the United Nations, 10% of Singaporeans are not able to put food on the table every day.
“It’s alarming to know that despite Singapore’s low unemployment rate, 10% of people here don’t have daily meals,” says Ng as she relates an account of a pre-school teacher who appealed to her company for food rations on behalf of two of her students — a pair of siblings aged three and five years old.
She says: “There was no food at home. The two children were eating only one meal a day — the food served in school. Their father is in jail and their mother is a foreigner who could not get a work permit.”
She adds: “It’s sad that people in Singapore still have a problem putting food on the table. We can channel the tons of food that’s still good to eat to feed more people.”
She also received constant requests for food donations from charities.
Ng and her younger brother Nicholas decided to set up Food Bank Singapore (http://www.foodbank.sg), registering it as a charity in 2012.
SINGAPORE IDEAL FOR A FOOD BANK
A food bank collects excess food from corporate and individual donors and redistributes it to where it is needed, usually to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charitable bodies. When charities receive food from a food bank, their budget is freed up for other necessities such as medical supplies. The first food bank was started in the US in 1967, and there are now more than 80 food banks around the world.
Ng says: “Singapore is a great place to start a food bank. We import 90% of our food but waste about 30%, so we have a steady supply of excess food that can feed the hungry. Plus, being close to many disaster-prone Asian countries means Singapore is in an excellent position to re-export to countries in need.”
Food Bank Singapore (FBS) gets its donations from food companies with excess stock, individual donors and donation drives organised by corporations. FoodXervices supports FBS’s overheads as well as provides warehouse space, delivery trucks and two full-time staff. The sorting, distribution and packing of food is done by volunteers.
FBS distributes an average of 11 tons of food a month and counts among its beneficiaries Singapore’s 43 Family Service Centres — community-based social service providers which help the needy.
EDUCATING THE PUBLIC
As most of Singapore’s food waste results from behind-the-scenes industry practices, the wastage is largely invisible to the public. Ng says: “There’s a lack of awareness of how much food is being dumped. It’s contradictory that the cost of food is rising but we are still throwing away so much.”
Her mission is to raise awareness of the unseen food wastage among the public and educate people on hunger in Singapore and in the region.
FBS’s first international disaster relief effort which saw volunteers packing 15,000 meal packets to feed 90,000 victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan, as part of the Masaya (which means “happy” in Tagalog) Meals Campaign.
One way to do so is to involve them as volunteers so that they can witness for themselves how much food is being wasted. Currently, FBS has approximately 500 volunteers; by year-end, it hopes to recruit another 200 through raising awareness during the food collection drives it organises at companies and schools. FBS is now working with some 30 schools, mainly the secondary level and above as older students are “better at organising the food drives themselves”, says Ng.
“But this year, we’re targeting children below 12 years old through our Food Bank Juniors Club; we want to educate children about food wastage earlier,” she adds.
SINGAPORE’S FIRST BANK BOX
In October 2014, FBS launched the Bank Box, a scheme where shoppers can drop off unwanted non-perishables such as canned food into a carton placed next to City Square Mall’s customer service counter.
Ng explains: “The intention is not for you to go to the supermarket to buy food to donate. Look in your pantry to see if there is uneaten, unopened food that you are not likely to use. Donate that. The idea is to reduce food wastage at home and in the office.”
The first bank box at City Square Mall has been a success. In the first month, FBS collected four supermarket trolleys’ worth of food and distributed it to FBS’s beneficiaries. Ng is currently negotiating with other malls to place Bank Boxes in their premises.
COLLABORATING WITH ART
Even expired food can be put to work in the fight against food wastage.
In October 2014, FBS collaborated with UK-based artist collective Edible Art Movement (www.edibleartmovement.com) to create Project X-pired, which had two components — an exhibition presenting information about food wastage and introducing its activities, and a display of installation art made from expired food by Edible Art Movement’s artists. The art pieces included flowers and animals made from tea bags, chips, crackers and canned food.
“By using food past its use-by date to create art pieces, people can see the volume of food that’s wasted. We hope to motivate them to do something with their food before it goes bad,” explains Ng.
GLOBAL HUNGER FIGHTERS
FBS also helps Singapore’s neighbours. In October 2013, it organised FoodLanthropy, a dining-out event in which people bought bento sets from participating partner Sarang Korean Bistro at S$40. Of this, S$25 went towards funding meal packs containing dehydrated food under the Stop Hunger Now initiative (http://www.stophungernow.org), an international hunger relief agency that coordinates the distribution of food and provides life-saving aid to families worldwide.
The money raised from the sale of 1,200 bento sets bought 30,000 meal packets of dehydrated rice, vegetables and soy protein flakes which can be turned into meals by cooking with water. Each packet contained six meals, so there were 180,000 meals in all. While a quarter of the meal packets reached local beneficiaries, the rest went to Radion International (http://www.radion-international.org), a humanitarian relief agency that currently works in Thailand among Hmong-Thai hill tribe communities and Hmong-Lao refugees.
In November 2013, FBS also organised “Masaya Meals” to raise money to disseminate 90,000 meals to victims of Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines. Ng says: “Singapore is very fortunate as we have no natural disasters, but our neighbours do. So far, there is no other food bank in the region, so we want to help out where we can.”
REDUCING COOKED FOOD WASTAGE
This year, FBS is planning a project to reduce the wastage of cooked food by collecting food like fried rice and fried chicken from eateries and redistributing it to places like homes for the needy. Food safety tests are being conducted, and FBS aims to get government approval to roll out this project nationwide by the end of the year. Also, a youth-targeted scheme, Project Xpedition, is in the works, through which Ng hopes to get young people involved in reducing food wastage.
Summing up her cause, Ng says: “Don’t bin it when someone can eat it.”
Holey Calf at Project X-pired: It took artist Eunice Lim one month to create this display by glueing together approximately 15,000 expired tomato tortilla chips onto a wire frame shaped like an animal.
Food Bank Singapore raised money to distribute 90,000 meals to victims of Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines.
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