Unsightly issues such as food insecurity and hunger have been left in shadows of Singapore’s strictly regulated and orderly social structure. This report by CNA Insider lifts the lid on those starving in a foodie’s paradise.
In a nation ranked No. 1 on The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index in December 2019, what makes putting food on the table a struggle?
And if the Lion City is renowned for its inexpensive hawker food, including the most affordable Michelin-starred meal in the globe, why are instant noodles both a staple and an emblem of resignation?
Aside from two other indicative reports, which factored in affordability, availability, quality and safety of food, there is no national data on food insecurity in Singapore.
Food insecurity not uncommon
The United Nations, however, reported that some 4.1 per cent of Singaporeans faced moderate to severe food insecurity between 2016 and 2018, according its 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.
A study conducted by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation at the Singapore Management University (SMU) found that nearly 1 in 5 of 236 Singaporeans surveyed in four low-income neighbourhoods reported severe food insecurity in 2018.
John Donaldson, an associate professor of political science at SMU, said it was surprising because in a country like Singapore, where the stereotype is that there is no hunger, they were expecting to find just a handful of people. He stressed that the findings didn’t represent Singapore as a whole.
Generally, food insecurity refers to the lack of access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food because of financial or physical constraints.
According to Nichol Ng, co-founder of The Food Bank Singapore, being food secure is not just about being fed. He pointed out that you could eat instant noodles every day, but they wouldn’t provide you with enough nutrition.
Surprisingly, food insecurity was not limited to the lowest income households. Of the Singaporeans in the SMU survey, 27 per cent had an average household monthly income of S$2,000 and above.
Little coordination between providers
Although there is a range of food support initiatives in Singapore, with 125 such groups online, there has been little coordination among them.
Why then do some Singaporeans fall through the cracks? And who are they?
As CNA Insider discovered, those who experience food insecurity are a surprisingly diverse group, one that can’t be defined by housing type, family size, age or income group.
Universal basic income needed
But Walter Theseira, an associate professor of economics at Singapore University of Social Sciences, is doubtful that food assistance should be a long-term solution to food insecurity. He believes something more fundamental, like a universal basic income, is needed.
“Singapore is a very rich and abundant society. And if you feel that you constantly have to make very constrained decisions, there’s going to be a long-term effect on your ability to feel like a regular member of society,” Theseira said.
“Food insecurity isn’t just a problem of nutrition. It’s also a problem of whether people psychologically feel like they’re part of society, and whether they fit in.”
- Poverty and caring for the aged: Singapore’s dirty little secrets (video) (AEC News Today)
- The Hidden Hunger in Asia’s Wealthiest Nation (Brink)
- Food insecurity in Singapore (The Karyawan)
After graduation she worked at the Philippine Broadcasting Service performing transcription and business news writing, before moving to Eagle Broadcasting Corporation where she worked as a news editor, translator and production assistant.