Friday, February 22, 2008

Singapore food security

Today I woke up to my old mates at RGS telling me about the rise in price of tauhu (soya bean curd, a staple food). I recalled what I wrote in a comment to the Straits Times report on 2nd June 2007. The PM pronounced "climate change as long-term security threat". My response is reproduced here, copied from the ST 'Discussion Board':

[8th March 2008: OOps! How embarrassing! I just realized that I had copied this onto an earlier post. Sorry for the repetition. Sign of ageing, I'm afraid.]


June 02, 2007 Saturday, 08:01 PM

It is good to see that the Singapore government is at last (or is it?) waking up to the ramifications of climate change on our little red dot.

For me, climate change is not only about the use or abuse of plastic bags, it is not only about burning fossil fuels, it is not only about the haze (for example).

It is about food. It is about food security, and along with that access to water, and yes, many wars have been fought over food and water (along with opium and tea, etc).

Singapore has long worked on a trouble-shooting/fire-fighting mode of policy-making. Too many babies, make it difficult for some children to get to a school of their choice. Too few babies, offer cash/tax incentives for young people to breed more.

The production of food: too labour-intensive, too dirty. Why grow your own when you can air-freight food in from Australia, New Zealand, etc? We have become too dependent on food imports.

Elsewhere in our spectrum of choices are cheap food, cheap clothes, cheap computers, etc. We have completely ignored the repercussions of buying cheap to the point that we have neglected to see how one section of humanity is being exploited so that we and our children can enjoy certain luxuries without paying a fair price for these goods.

That is why factories are closing all over the world and moving to China where millions of young people are being exploited, worked like robots/slaves so that we can have our cheap throwaway clothes, plastic toys, etc.

Who pays the real price? For now, the young peasant girls who move to the large industrial cities to produce those goods. When you’ve heard the first-hand accounts of anthropologists who became participant-observers in these factory settings, believe me, you don’t want to buy cheap clothes any more.

That is, if you are an ethical person, who has that tiniest shred of concern for a fellow human being whose name you do not even know.

Further down the line, we pay with our poor health. Yet another scientific report has been published on the link between the use of pesticides and Parkinson’s Disease. But we want cheap food.

Never mind that our fruit and vegetables are sprayed with pesticides. Even when the pesticide residues are so low it may not harm us, they harm the farm workers. Do we want to know? We want cheap food, full stop.

Until such a time when we ourselves reap the ‘rewards’ for our desire for things so cheap.

Even further down the line, our children suffer. They suffer from being brought up on cheap junk food which sometimes lead to bad behaviour, poor grades, etc. They seem to be more susceptible to allergies. They suffer from economic insecurity as nations rise again nations (I have chosen the use of this biblical reference deliberately) to gain an upper hand for those scarce resources. They suffer when life is no longer, can no longer be, cheap.

We can live without cheap clothes, cheap hi-fis, iPods and all that. But we cannot live without clean water and food.

As we consider the impact of climate change on security, may I urge the government to think about food security? GM technology is hardly the answer as it raises more problems that it solves.

As a social anthropologist I never see anything in isolation. We approach life, its problems and solutions from a holistic perspective. I write this with the hope that I do not have the chance to say, twenty years down the line, ‘I told you so.’


My son has been complaining about how his "Religious Studies" classes are not about religion, but is more "History". I tried telling him that life and knowledge are not always neatly compartmentalized.

How does our love for the motor car make our food cost more? Apparently the cost of soya has rocketed because land has been converted to grow crops for bio-fuels.

We have been warned.

Back to Organic-Ally.


Laura Brown said...

Hi Siewpeng!It's not just biofuels, but also the increase in meat-eating in places like China -- it takes a lot more soya to feed beef cattle than to feed people. (This is one of several reasons I recently went veggie.)

On a side note, is tauhu the same thing as tempeh?

Laura Brown said...

Oh -- never mind! I see it's actually the same as tofu, one of my favourite foodstuffs. :-)