Turning Nature Into Culture

Two people hoeing a pile of earth
Did you know that contact with soil boosts emotional and mental well-being? A specific soil bacteria triggers the release of serotonin (a happy chemical) in our brain. Photo: Shernyce.


Dear Reader,

When Ethos encouraged me to write about food and sustainability, I was unsure. Would it be too unpalatable a topic, too random? I also did not want to make it preachy. I was reminded of my experience filming the CNA documentary ‘Climate Change: A Wicked Problem’. Host SMS Janil Puthucheary had been sceptical of the “whole food angle towards sustainability". He grilled me on whether Singaporeans are ready for this lifestyle change and to greening their diets, while we were eating chilli crab (a nod to my essay “Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene”). I, with my gravy-soaked fingers went, “It’s a messy problem”. Watch here to see my fluster at 06:43!

A man and a woman eating chilli crab

Stress-eating chilli crab while taking SMS Janil's questions in the Anthropocene. Photo: Larissa

I do have two reflections on the topic:

1/ Buying local is a tangible way to green our diets.
According to a report commissioned by Temasek Ecosperity, locally produced vegetables emit 22% less greenhouse gases and use 13% fewer energy per kilogram. The indicators for locally produced fish are similarly significant. Best of all, you can probably go visit the farms for yourself!

2/ Because cooking is what turns nature into culture, I deeply believe that the way we appreciate and understand food’s origins can boost our connection to the earth and its daily gifts of nourishment.
Personally, there is joy around shortening our food chains, in knowing the provenance of your lunches. My dad, when he needs to prepare a fast meal, heads out to his garden and cuts a few stalks of spinach, sweet potato leaves and kailan. He tells me that vegetables from the supermarket have to be soaked in water for longer, before the pesticides wash off. “Whereas if it’s our homegrown veggies, easy – and no need for extensive cleaning!”

Pea sprouts growing from the soil
Beautiful pea sprouts aka dou miao — a latest addition to Ground Up Initiative's portfolio of crops.
Photo: Yuerong
It has been most heartening to see a local movement of taking to the corridors, backyards and roofs to plant greens. We are getting our fingers dirty, with the much reported spike in urban farming. Where I volunteer at, Ground-Up Initiative’s (GUI) harvesting programmes have been regularly over-subscribed. It’s lovely facilitating families for a day out in the sun, harvesting from GUI’s natural farm, sharing about food production and composting practices, and leading intrepid participants to chungkol soil beds. By the end of the programme, everyone bags home fresh produce and I pack up, thinking about all the piping farm-to-table veggies that would be whipped up that evening. If this got your interest piqued, tune in to an exciting interdisciplinary panel "We are How We Eat: Food, Sustainability and History", happening on 8 May in conjunction with the Singapore Heritage Festival. Till then -
(From April 24, 2021)