We will hold each other accountable.

Black-and-white nature drawing of three plants
Polypody, Swamp Blueberry, and Prickly Shield-fern by Karl Blofssfeldt (1928)


Dear Reader,

Before reading Neo Xiaoyun’s chapter “Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Nature, Culture and Care”, we’d just assumed that chilli crab was a Singaporean dish, and that was all there was to it.

Some might argue that the dish originates from outside Singapore, and yet, this fixation on the origins of a beloved national dish doesn’t acknowledge the origins of the crab (sans chilli). Where does chilli crab really come from? We learn from Xiaoyun’s chapter that our current understandings of the crab are short-sighted, that our ancestors have a long history of living and evolving with the crab. We learn that the crab has always been a vital food source for humans, that indigenous wisdom cautions against over-consumption, that dwindling crab populations had led to mass migrations in the past. 

We brought these ideas to our book club on Wednesday night, and had an illuminating conversation with each other and you, our readers. We asked these questions: can chilli crab ever be sustainable; can we eventually live without eating meat? We thought the answer was somewhat simple—that we could easily rid ourselves of chilli crab, that it is possible to transition to a meat-free culture. But others brought up issues of class and status tied to the “iconic” dish, and thereby the other social privileges of being able to give up meat—issues that hadn’t crossed our minds, even though we’d spent the week leading up to the book club poring over the chapter. 

It was in this moment that we realised that the practice of discourse is not simply about affirming our own concerns, but is a humbling process that requires accountability. We cannot simply theorise climate action issues in isolation. We have to hold each other accountable, to take that next step into collective climate action. If you can, read Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene with someone who can hold you accountable, too.

We thought we knew all there is to know about the beloved chilli crab, that we knew what it takes to support the aims of sustainability. But talking about the climate crisis is a continuous process of unlearning. It doesn’t stop after you’ve finished reading the book—in fact, we’ve learnt so much more once we’ve had the space to articulate our ideas and responses with all of you.

Eating Chilli Crab in the Anthropocene: Environmental Perspectives on Life in Singapore officially launches next Saturday, and we’ll be mailing out all preorders this coming week. As the book finally reaches the hands of readers, we hope to continue this process of unlearning, that you get to experience it too.


Jen & Arin

(From June 20, 2020)