How Planet-Friendly is Your Favourite Hawker Food?

A Singapore icon, our delicious hawker fare has become a symbol of togetherness and cultural heritage. But do you know which of these are good for the earth — and which are not?

How we produce and consume food is putting an incredible amount of stress on the planet. In fact, food production is the single biggest threat to nature today.

With 10 billion mouths to feed by 2050, food will be the world’s most highly demanded resource in 30 years.

In line with World Food Day today, it’s more apt then, to talk about how we can change that. The aim: providing enough nutritious food for the world while also securing a healthy future for nature.

What damaging impact does food production have on nature? 

Did you know: 33% — a third — of all land on the planet is used for agriculture.
© Morgan Heim / Day’s Edge Productions / WWF-US

When natural habitats are converted to agricultural land, 1) greenhouse gas emissions increase and 2) limited freshwater sources are diverted for food production.

Most of our food today is sourced, flown and imported from various places.
© WWF / Richard Stonehouse

Plus: When food is flown and transported from far away, lots of greenhouse gases are also released. This results in a high carbon footprint, which is bad for the planet.

Below, we put some of our favourite food to the test and rate (out of 5) how planet-friendly they are.

Nasi Lemak

Ingredients: Rice, egg, fish, sambal chilli

hawker food

Good news: We get rice and eggs from our neighbours in Southeast Asia — that’s pretty near. But the fried fish in this dish is usually the yellow-banded scad, an unsustainable species (see our WWF’s Singapore Seafood Guide here to find out what you can replace the scad with). That means if we keep eating it, it will harm our oceans.

Chicken Rice 

Ingredients: Chicken, rice, chilli

hawker food

How good it is for the planet depends on which country the chicken comes from. Remember: The further it is, the higher the carbon footprint, and the worse for the planet. Most of the chicken we eat here is from Malaysia — that’s good. But sometimes, it comes from as far as Brazil and America. The rice comes from Thailand, that’s not too far either. 

Roti Prata

Ingredients: Flour, water, vegetarian curry

hawker food
©krista (CC BY 2.0)

There are not many ingredients used in this dish. Vegetarian dishes usually have a lower carbon footprint (check!). Meat or fish-based curry is less friendly to our planet.

Instant Noodles

Ingredients: Wheat flour, palm oil, salt, flavouring powder

hawker food

Our favourite instant noodles are destroying forests. Why? Two words: palm oil. Up to 20% of the noodles’ weight is pure palm oil. To get palm oil, forests are cleared and animal habitats are destroyed (more about illegal palm oil here). Also, instant noodles are wrapped in plastics, which when thrown away can hurt animals.

See here for the list of Singapore brands who commit to sourcing sustainable palm oil. 

Beef Burger

Ingredients: Beef, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, buns

hawker food

It takes a huge amount of water to produce beef. This not only strains our water resources, but all that transportation (Singapore gets its beef from Australia, Brazil, America and even Uruguay) adds up to a really high carbon footprint.

Insider tip: US-based The Beyond Burger serves plant-based meat patties, as an alternative to beef. The best part? It is now available in Singapore at Grand Hyatt’s Mezza9. 

LIMITED TIME ONLY*: Get your copy of the WWF Cookbook now at a 10% discount here

*Applicable from 16 Oct 00.01am to 23 Oct 11.59pm. Coupon code: WORLDFOODDAY. 

A print version of this appeared on Panda Junior February 2018/Issue 4 titled “All About Food”. 

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