Are CNY Food and Snacks Ruining the Planet More Than Your Waistline?

Forget calorie counting.

Most of us look forward to Chinese New Year for its intensive rounds of spring cleaning (can Marie Kondo save our planet?), get-togethers and dressing up.

But if we have to pick one? It has to be the food.

Whether you are selecting premium seafood ingredients for a steamboat dinner to getting crowd-favourite snacks like kueh lapis and love letters, you and I are probably guilty of eyeballing food labels (if there are) — mostly in the name of calories.

This Chinese New Year, while it is heartening to hear Singapore restaurants sharing positive reactions after they’ve phased out shark’s fin for one year, we think it’s apt to take one step further and put our festive feasting to the sustainability test.

Here, we break down these festive dishes in three categories — and decide what we should consume more or less of:

Sustainable palm oil

Did you know: Palm oil and palm oil derivatives are found in more than half of packaged supermarket products. As the most used vegetable oil thanks to its versatility and low cost, and you can find it in almost everything from beauty products to the food we eat everyday.

What you may not know: More than two million hectares (akin to 300 football fields) per year is cleared for palm oil plantations. This results in heavy air pollution and choky haze, which can be detrimental to our skies and health.

a) Bak kwa

It’s not Chinese New Year without snaking queues for the must-have snack. If you’ve ever wondered how the meat delicacy is made, it comprised of minced or sliced pork that is flattened, then grilled as a last step. Good news is, bak kwa is cooked in its own fats, not cooking oil, making it palm oil-friendly. But since it’s made up of meat, high carbon footprint is possible depending on where the pork is from.

b) Pineapple tarts

Another staple in every reunion gathering. Not only are they high in calories (as high as 82 calories apiece), they are most likely baked with margarine. Just so you know, margarine is made out of 100% palm oil. Gulp.

c) Kueh lapis

Most snacks and goodies are baked with margarine, including the perennial favourite, kueh lapis. Calories-wise, it isn’t looking so good either. Unless you’re prepared to climb 100 floors of a HDB block for every slice of kueh lapis consumed.

d) Noodles

Preparing a mala hotpot for steamboat night? Then instant noodles or packaged noodles are everyone’s favourites you can’t afford to miss out on. But sadly, they contain a lot of palm oil. Up to 20% of the noodles’ weight is pure palm oil.

Want to consume snacks or food that are palm oil-friendly? Support brands that use sustainable palm oil! Find out who they are from our Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard.

Sustainable seafood

Did you know: Singapore consumes 120,000 tonnes of seafood per year.

Overfishing is a global crisis that is the pushing our ocean resources to the edge. Fact: 85% of fishing grounds in the world are already overfished or fully exploited. And we are still feeding a growing demand of 75 million people around the world.

Knowing that, can we try to consume seafood more sustainably this new year?

a) Steamed fish

3 out of 4 popular seafood species consumed in Singapore is unsustainable.
© skyqxb from Pixabay

What’s a reunion dinner without it? Instead of shopping for John’s Snapper (more popularly known as ang zho), red grouper, sea bass barramundi and silver promfret — which are in our ‘Avoid list’ for being overfished — you could consider choosing cod, chilean sea bass or scallops instead. They are equally tasty and according to our seafood guide, sourced from better managed fisheries.

b) Fishballs

Most mass market fish balls sold in the supermarket are made from white fish meat — which is likely to be shark meat. Opt for freshly made fishballs at the wet market instead. This way, you are more aware of the type of fish they use.

e) Crabmeat

Likewise, processed crab sticks are also made from white fish meat.

d) Prawns

How seafood is farmed, from poorly-managed fishers to inappropriate fishing methods, is important information in determining if they are sustainable. Vannamei prawns aka king prawns are to avoid if they’re farmed in Southeast Asia. Ones farmed in Vietnam should be our go-to choice.

Download the full list of our Singapore Sustainable Seafood Guide here.

Carbon footprint

Did you know: The more distance food has to travel, that is worse for the planet. When food is flown and transported from far away, lots of greenhouse gases are also released. This results in a high carbon footprint.

a) Oranges

Most of our oranges sold in the local supermarkets are imported from various countries like China and Korea.

b) Homemade dumplings

There are a variety of vegetarian fillings as alternative yummy options.
© quinntheislander from Pixabay

Is making dumplings with your family a new year tradition? Varying from minced pork to smoked duck, there are many options to fill them, depending on the recipe. We’d recommend vegetarian dumplings stuffed with shiitake mushroom, spinach or tofu. Pro tip: serve with the original ginger and black vinegar sauce.

c) Chicken stock

Chicken stock is usually made by simmering bones for many hours, giving a more full flavour to the broth.

Opt for vegetarian stock cubes that are available in supermarkets. Popular German food and beverage brand Knorr not only stocks them, they provide easy recipes.

d) Vegetables

According to AVA, Singapore imports over 90% of our food. That’s a lot in carbon footprint chalked up just to get food on our plate.

An easy step would be to ask where your food comes from. The nearer, the better (and fresher as well). And if the food doesn’t need to be flown by air, that’s a lot of carbon emissions reduced.

Start by purchasing vegetables from Malaysia or Singapore to reduce your carbon footprint. Do also look out for farmers market in Singapore (there are a couple of occasional pop-ups) that make great options for fresh farm produce.

Main image credit: @xuepatisserie’s and @pohkhimlye’s Instagram.

Read more about how nine companies in Singapore are reducing plastic usage, Netflix Originals to watch, and why plastic is not the villain.

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