We were much heartened that more than 640 persons viewed our online presentation on Food Insecurity and Food Aid in a Public Rental Neighbourhood. Even if one is hunger-free, one can be food insecure as food insecurity is defined as “the inability to acquire an adequate quality or quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”.
In Singapore, those affected experience “intermittent food insecurity and hunger, rather than abject poverty and starvation”. Hence, food insecurity in Singapore can be described as situations where a person: has just about enough to curb hunger and usually with cheaper options that compromise their health. Often too, they must make difficult decisions between paying for food and other daily needs and at times, foregoing meals.
Our presentation covered examples of how those affected coped, and methods included stringent budgeting, comparative shopping and the cooking and eating of only one meal a day. Parents reported eating less or not at all so that their kids could eat. We also shared that many adults told us that they filled up on liquids and snacks like biscuits whenever they could get their hands on them. Food aid is a supplementary but significant source of food that serves as a “back-up” plan and an “indirect” form of financial assistance as funds for food would be utilised for other needs.
From our study, a strong narrative about food being merely a basic need for survival emerged but what was equally interesting and important was the social and cultural significance that food held for many we spoke to.
“With food you can show care and love also, like when other people got less, you can give, and when you got more, you can give.”
This person then recalled fond memories of neighbours sharing food and getting to know each other better.
Food was also equated with meaningful family experiences:
“Yes, yes, I remember eating dumplings … Like Mid-Autumn Festival, eating mooncakes. … Like some festivals, if we can go out to eat a meal, that’s the best. … Most importantly, we can bring our mother out to eat. That is the most happiness. Because my mother is very old. … No matter what I’m eating, eating with my mother is the happiest for me.”
Listening to quotes from those who responded to our study, moved me, and got me wondering if food support was only about filling people’s stomachs. Obviously, food is imbued with positive experiences and is a source of pleasure and happiness. In our attempt to meet basic needs, could we not consider pleasure and happiness as needs to be met too?
If there was one quote that I would find difficult to forget, it would be this one about how a piece of dessert triggered immense delight.
“Because long time right never go out … long time never eat the kuih, you know, the Malay kuih … that time got one [donation],they give me one only you know. … My heart, oh my God … long time never got the taste of this. I got the taste of the putri salat, the durian.… It is like, at last. … Because I envy the taste of kuih for a long time. I lucky I get one … one time only … Then my son ask, ‘Mummy, why you so happy you get this kuih?’ Then I say I long time never eat this kuih.”
Obviously, we should not be serving desserts in abundance but perhaps we can be a little less righteous about providing the occasional indulgence.
Wishing you good health and peace of mind.
Good food is the foundation of genuine happiness. – Auguste Escoffier