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.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Going blind

I was in a flap.

I had sent off my passport to a government agency for something to be done and had taken care to do so by special delivery. Because husband had done the actual registration I had assumed that he had arranged all payments and would have organized the passport to be returned by special delivery.

No, he hadn't. There was nothing to pay, he said, so he could not pay for return postage, special delivery or not.

So I fretted for the best part of a week. The passport was returned by ordinary post on Saturday. They required it again because something else was not sent. So, another trip down to post office to organize special delivery to and fro this time.

I worked in Amsterdam where the trade of certain types of passports is good business. It is also going to be a real hassle if I did lose my passport. So I guess I "had the right" to be worried.

Then I got a letter from husband's late cousins's partner. She is going blind slowly, and her daughter is only going on 16 with GCSEs to sit, and needed to be transported to and from school because they live in a little village somewhere.

How was she going to do this when she couldn't see to drive, or could not afford a taxi, or the bus services finishes too early for the girl to return from school?

My fear about losing my passport pales in significance when I discovered what she is going through.

Especially in this period of Lent, I must remain grateful for what I have.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Thoughts on Lent

Ash Wednesday today, which marks the beginning of Lent.

I was very chuffed last week to receive a string bag order from a school where the PTA is encouraging parents to give up plastic bags for Lent. What a great idea!

Here is my household, things are a bit awkward.

Yesterday I had the privilege of 'inducting' some new mums into running the Pancake Race -- which is now a new-ish tradition -- at school. We probably raised more money than the last two or three pancake races put together. Brill.

My son brought his Palm cross from last year back to school to be burned for Ash Wednesday.

But Ash Wednesday this year is also the eve of Chinese New Year where typically we would have a reunion dinner with lots of good food. I remember often waiting up till late (especially when my sister was a nurse working shifts, or my father would wait for hours at the barber's to have his hair cut) till every one was home to have this dinner.

The pictures we see of the millions of Chinese trying to get home in snowbound China is testimony to how important is this act of the family eating together. Then the feasting and festivities are supposed to continue for another 15 days.

In the middle of Lent ....

A friend from Singapore said the Catholic church there celebrated Ash Wednesday on (Shrove) Tuesday so that the Chinese believers could have their reunion dinners/feasts today.

All a bit odd, maybe, and there are thoughts of serving two masters, I suppose.

Yet when I think a little beyond these calendrical conundrums, it is obvious that Lent is not the only time we should reflect on the suffering of Jesus. I do not have to feel guilty about not doing something which in fact I do pretty much every day.

And as for being Chinese, the Tower of Babel was God's idea, so it cannot be so bad that I feel I need to celebrate that part of my heritage.

It comes back to what my husband was taught when he first became a Christian: there is biblical Christianity and there is cultural Christianity.

Back to Organic-Ally.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Food for thought

I chanced upon this article about the rising cost of food in Singapore.

It caused me to search out a comment I left on the Straits Times Discussion Board some time ago. (For some reason this board does not let me log back in. )

========================

DrLeeSiewPeng
Posts: 4
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.’

=======================

Back to Organic-Ally.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Singing bird squashed

Wow! What a surprise this Saturday. My family in Singapore are having their Chinese New Year reunion dinner and I can't be there. And the Straits Times has published in the print section my letter in response to the banning of the Singapore Complaints Choir from public performances.

I remember once in the Slovak Republic I told a bunch of university students from the Baltic states that if they wished to have their voices heard, they must write to the press. They must write and keep writing, and soon the editor would get so fed up, he/she would publish a letter.

If only they had spelt my friend's name correctly. (Actually, I think I might have been the one who spelt 'Marjorie' wrong. Sorry, Marge.) So here is their edited version:

===================


Feb 2, 2008

Why squash singing bird amid renaissance drive?
THE prohibition against foreign members performing in the Complaints Choir just does not square with the current debate on renaissance and graciousness.

Like every other netizen I rushed to hear what they had to complain about, and found their complaints quite innocuous, mainly about habits that many of us deem 'ungracious'.

The piano playing was feisty and while it is not quite Mozart, it gave me a good laugh. And that I think is what the Complaints Choir is all about.

It is an opportunity to laugh at ourselves in song. It combines the skills of writing, singing, rapping, and teamwork in an effort to showcase aspects of our Singapore culture. What can be wrong with that?

It is part of our human nature to want to create (beautiful art, poetry, music, buildings, babies, etc). We can channel this creative energy into good, or into bad. We limit these legitimate channels of expression at the expense of something else.

The presence of 'foreigners' is a moot argument. If they can keep the country running whether as a domestic maid, a sportsman or any other form of foreign talent, they should be allowed to sing in a choir.

It's not like they wrote the lyrics and held a knife to the throats of local choir members and said, 'Sing this, or else ....'

I was reminded of what my dear friend Majorie said of her grandfather's wise words on driving: imagine holding the steering wheel as if you are holding on to a little bird. If you don't hold it tightly enough, it flies away. Hold it too tightly and you'd squash it.

If we are striving for cultural renaissance, why are we squashing this singing bird?

Now the whole world is laughing at us because we can't laugh at ourselves.

========================

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