Co-founder of UglyFood, founder of Food Warrior
The biggest impact I've made in Singapore is raising awareness of the concept that blemished and imperfect fruits and vegetables can still be nutritious and safe to eat.
Tell us your story, how did you get here?
Growing up, I was taught (or scolded) by my grandma to finish all my food! Making sure no grains are left on my plate has been a habit ingrained since young. I found out more about food and sustainability when I was in university volunteering at Ground-Up Initiative.
In 2014, both my grandmothers fell really ill and that struck me. That’s when I started to research and found out diet is a huge contributor to good health – that constitutes a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, with little processed foods and meat.
Surprisingly, such a diet isn’t just better for our health. It’s also better for the environment as it leads to less land and resources used and avoids carbon emissions generated from livestock. These reasons led me to consume only plant-based foods when I’m out, where I have the choice of what I want to eat. I didn’t mind being different from others.
In 2016, I was part of a Design Odyssey Programme at university, which allowed us to choose our field of interest and find out the issues present. I chose cosmetic filtering to find out if it was an issue in Singapore.
We started working on UglyFood full-time after my graduation in 2018. We understand many don’t want to buy blemished produce because they think it’s spoilt and tastes bad. So we turned to food products to change their perception through taste. We made significant progress in the breadth of suppliers we worked with, from importers and supermarkets to wholesalers and farms. We also found out that surplus produce, which can be perfect, is often wasted due to insufficient distribution of food. We took in these products and resold them as fresh produce due to their substantial shelf life.
I was with UglyFood when it started as a student project till early Feb 2021. While food waste is an obvious sign that we aren’t cherishing food enough, it also made me realise sustainability is beyond waste – it has to start right from the start. Food waste is only one part of the picture. Right now, I’m working on my new initiative – Food Warrior – while being part of the team kickstarting UglyDuck Cafe.
Food Warrior focuses on developing people into food warriors that the world needs. As for UglyDuck Cafe, our core aims are reducing food waste, engaging the community and supporting sustainable or local small businesses. It’s a socially responsible business that encourages upcycling of blemished produce, nut milk pulps and more.
What impact have you made in Singapore?
The biggest impact I’ve made in Singapore is raising awareness of the concept that blemished and imperfect fruits and vegetables can still be nutritious and safe to eat. It’s done through UglyFood’s direction of proving a point through our food products.
With more people talking about it, I believe it’ll create an effect so that less blemished produce is left unsold. UglyFood has collectively saved at least 120 tonnes of food through our food products and fresh produce.
The less tangible impact is inspiring the next generation to take the leap of faith and make something happen. UglyFood kickstarted as a project in SUTD; youths can also kickstart projects within their schools. With Food Warrior, I hope to be part of their journey in kickstarting projects. I hope more similar projects can become a reality and continue to do good in the community and environment.
What does 2022 look like for you?
2022 is filled with possibilities and growth for me. I’ll start exploring more in-depth collaborations with schools, community groups and initiatives. I’m exploring how much more value I can create when collaborating with other groups to roll out initiatives within schools or the community. I’m keeping my options open and I’m excited to make wild ideas into reality with others. I’ll also be on the lookout to get more food warriors to work with me, so please reach out if you’re keen!
What do you love most about Singapore?
I love the public transport system in Singapore. I often took this for granted until I met friends from other countries. Some of them shared that train breakdowns or delays in journeys are a daily sight, or they experience terrible traffic jams even across short distances.
With an efficient public transport system, it gives me the opportunity for me to choose that sustainable option while saving money. These days, I prefer taking the bus over the MRT as I’m more likely to get a seat. It’s a time for me to enjoy reading or doing my work on the long bus rides. I’m grateful I don’t get motion sickness!
What’s the one thing everyone can do to protect our home planet?
Adopt at least one plant-based meal every week. Eating is something we have to do every day. The food production industry constitutes 24% of global carbon emissions and has caused drastic changes to our environment in the past 50 years.
Plant-based meals are good for our health and the environment. A tip: start your day with a smoothie made mainly of fruits, vegetables and water. It’s quick to prepare, quick to consume, and that can be your plant-based meal of the day!
Who is your Local Legend, and why?
My local legend is the late founder of Ground-Up Initiative, Mr Tay Lai Hock. He really inspired me with his story and his determination to create a kampung spirit for the 21st century. A formula he gave about success is: (dream + courage + faith) x action. Action is key and I decided to take action!
One of my first encounters with him was inviting him to SUTD Rotaract Club to talk about his backpacking journey. He gave up his job and its five-figure paycheck back in 1999 and went on a six-month backpacking that ended up being extended to four years. His story reminds me to keep asking what brings me the most value instead of being pulled down by the expectations of society. I want to make decisions based on my values and goals instead of the fear of uncertainty.
From him, I saw what possibilities can bring when we choose a different path. He backpacked for four years and eventually set up Ground-Up Initiative, a non-profit organisation with a philosophy to live in harmony with nature and people. It was an amazing and empowering experience because of the community. He set a goal and fulfilled it, and it’s a legacy that has continued even after his passing.