Exploring Singapore's food system through Nasi Lemak
At ThinkPlace Singapore we work with partners in government, NGOs and the private sector to create a better world, a better community and a better life for people in our region.
And the framework through which we do this is the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. So when we set out to create an event to bring people together around a cause we believe in and which matters to Singaporeans we didn’t have to look far.
Scroll through the SDG goals and the connection is everywhere: Goal 1: No Poverty. Goal 2: Zero Hunger. Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing. And so on…
Singaporeans love to think and talk about food. Our city, with its diversity of cultures, its proud history of Hawker stalls and its status as a cosmopolitan global hub is home to many of the world’s great eating experiences.
But food also connects to issues about security, about sustainability, about responsible consumption and production (that’s SDG goal 12).
Could we explore these ideas and the complex web of connections between them through the lens of a single dish?
That was our intent as, for Singapore Design Week 2019, we used Nasi Lemak as a vehicle to explore the future of food security and vulnerability in Singapore and the region.
The Design Week event held in our Singapore studio attracted nearly 50 attendees, bringing together representatives from food start-ups to agri-tech experts, students, policymakers and some people who simply love food.
Together we explored food as a complex system. It is in these complex systems that ThinkPLace does its work, understanding and mapping complexity and driving positive change in a way that includes those who will experience and navigate it.
Participants were able to immerse themselves in a few maps; tracing ingredient life-cycles, the personas that make up a food system and a bigger picture systems perspective that encompassed a variety of stakeholders.
We then broke into groups to discuss threats and opportunities, brainstorm ideas for the future and discuss possible collaborations that could come out of our conversations. While this was a Design Week event the intent was strong to create lasting collaborations and new possibilities from this influential and passionate group we had assembled.
What we came up with…
Some of our favourite ideas included a leftovers-only cookbook, crafting a brand around “wonky” or “ugly” food and bringing back the tingkat (traditional Singaporean tiffin boxes).
The Leftovers only cookbook and the “wonky” food brand ideas were borne out of a desire to reduce waste by being more open-minded about the food we usually purchase in supermarkets as well as to make the most out of food we’ve already bought.
These ideas then spawned into others around 5-minute lifestyle videos, a physical cookbook, a social media movement and more.
The tingkat idea was proposed in partnership with local Hawker centres, to see how Singapore as a nation can reduce the usage of single-use plastic. This is especially prevalent since such a significant proportion of our population does in rely on Hawker centres for food, especially waste-producing take-aways.
It was truly wonderful to have such a diverse range of perspectives in our studio and we’re thankful for their ideas, time, and for the thing that brought us all together in the first place: Nasi Lemak.
What comes next…
One of the participants really enjoyed the variety and conversation that spanned so many different people from diverse backgrounds and is already planning how to follow up with a similar event for the NGO community.
Representatives from a foreign company in the agricultural space were appreciative of the opportunity to get a local Singaporean perspective.
Overall, our event was presented as an experiment and a lot of our participants were excited to follow through with an actual full-scale project. In that way, we achieved our goal of fostering partnerships in the local community. We are optimistic that this event not only surfaced important conversations and connections between issues around food security and sustainability but also forged new collaborations that will lead to future impact in this important space.