F1 Grand Prix is not a $25 chicken rice race

From ‘Singapore GP not a $25-chicken-rice race: organisers’, 14 Sept 2014, article in CNA

The Singapore Grand Prix is meant to be a great experience and not a ‘$25-Chicken-Rice’ race, said the organisers of Formula One’s (F1) only night race, in response to a report that showed the city-state may not be the most affordable place to catch an F1 race.

Race organisers say Singaporeans consistently make up about 60 per cent of the over 80,000 race-goers each year. This applies to every price category – from the cheapest walkabout tickets to the Pit Grandstand.

“Over and above a sporting occasion, it is a huge social occasion now. Singaporeans like a good party,” said Mr Michael Roche, executive director of the Singapore GP. “I think this loyalty has grown among Singaporeans – they’ve become quite proud of the Singapore Grand Prix and they like it when the world is watching Singapore and the skyline.

“We don’t want to be a ‘$25-chicken-rice Grand Prix’. We want to be a great experience.”

But there is a price to be paid for the chance to experience F1’s only night race. Travel website TripAdvisor ranked the Singapore Grand Prix as the seventh most expensive, out of the 19 races worldwide. It said the price of catching the Sunday final race here is S$622.67. This includes the cost of the cheapest tickets at S$207.33, a meal and a night’s stay at a hotel near the track.

Roche’s analogy of a ‘$25 chicken rice dish’ is likely a snub at the famous house special at Meritus Mandarin’s Chatterbox, which now incidentally costs $27. Curiously enough, the ‘legendary’ chicken rice was created by a German chef back in 1971, who was inspired by the hawker version to create a premium dish, made from COBB 500 chickens, medium grain jasmine rice and homemade ginger and chilli sauces. I wonder what former executive chef Peter Gehrmann would think of the comparison, with Roche suggesting that $25 for a plate is overpriced, overrated when it seems like only top-grade ingredients went into its concoction. Chicken rice will never be ‘sexy’ or ‘glamorous’ like an F1 race no matter how you mark it up. And honestly, thank God it’s not.

While Chatterbox used to be a ‘coffee house’ in those days, today it’s a casual diner and its ‘award-winning’ chicken rice still wins the hearts of some locals who appreciate the generous servings of meat, describe the sauces as ‘sublime’ and the meal as an ‘annual pilgrimage’ (WHAT awards exactly, I wonder). Perhaps the Night Race is more of a $25 XO Chai Tau Quay instead? 20 years ago, Chatterbox charged their chicken rice at $16 per plate (Is $16 too high a price for chicken rice, 17 Aug 1995, ST), which is still cheaper than what you can get for a BURGER at F1 ($17) today.  In 2009, food stalls in the F1 zone were charging chicken rice and HOKKIEN MEE at $8, which was expected since the whole event was designed to milk the most out of rich people, though if I had to choose between a sub-par, measly $8 chicken rice and the Chatterbox dish, I’d rather splurge on the latter. According to Trip Advisor, we also sell the most expensive pint of beer in the history of F1 ($13.58), no thanks to our recent increase in sin taxes. Nobody seems to be overly concerned about a riot breaking out on the grandstands.

But look at the discrepancy between our minimum ticket price vs Malaysia just across the Causeway ($207.33 vs $39.12). The CNA article also didn’t mention that, according to the BBC, Singapore has the MOST EXPENSIVE 3-day ticket OF ALL (1,109 pounds) (2013). The second most expensive ticket in the world was from Brazil, at a distant 745 pounds per ticket. This year, for $42276.50 you could book a GREEN ROOM (Oops, you can’t now, it’s sold out!). What the F1 organisers are avoiding to explain really is WHY so expensive compared to the rest of the region (i.e Malaysia), even for a night race. It’s not that we have the most ardent racing fans so much as we have the greatest concentration of goddamn billionaires  (26) here.

Not to mention the other intangible costs of a night race on our environment, namely the excessive use of lighting. No, the F1 isn’t a $25 chicken rice dish. Ecologically speaking, it’s a $25 triple-decker Big Mac, sinful beyond redemption, greasy, artery-clogging, too much of which will eventually kill you. In the government’s eyes, it’s a billion-dollar baby.

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Changi Airport food street hawkers not from original stalls

From ‘Airpost’s hawker stalls: Not so famous after all’, 2 Aug 2014, article by Rebecca Lynne Tan, ST

THE week-old food street at Changi Airport, which was touted as offering 13 popular hawker stalls from different corners of the island, is not what it has been made out to be. The Straits Times has found that of the 13 stalls at the 10,800 sq ft Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3’s transit area, seven bear no direct links to the original famous stalls.

Some are new start-ups while others are named after streets or areas well-known for particular dishes, but have no connection to the original brands. For instance, Jalan Tua Kong Minced Pork Noodles at the airport food street is not an offshoot of the famed 132 Meepok in Marine Terrace, which was located in Jalan Tua Kong in the 1990s. It is also not related to Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee in Bedok Road. Instead, it is run by Mr Tan Dee Hond, 33, who told The Straits Times that he had worked at the Lau Lim stall for about two years.

The owners of two popular char kway teow stalls at Old Airport Road, Dong Ji and Lao Fu Zi, said they did not open the Old Airport Road Fried Kway Teow & Carrot Cake stall at Terminal 3. Nor is Mr Elvis Tan, 54, who owns East Coast BBQ Seafood at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, behind the airport’s new East Coast Lagoon BBQ Seafood stall.

When asked if naming the stalls after a street or an area famed for a particular dish was a misrepresentation, Select Group’s executive director Jack Tan, 45, said: “If you use the name of the stall, then you’re in trouble, but if you don’t use the name and just use the street, it’s a free-for-all.”

…It is a common practice for hawkers to capitalise on the name of a well-known location-specific dish such as Katong laksa and Jalan Kayu roti prata. But the prevalence of the practice does not make it right, said Mr K.F. Seetoh, 50, street food advocate and founder of street food guide Makansutra.

He said: “The new stall will be living off someone else’s reputation, someone else’s good will. You cannot register a street name and there is no law against it, but it is not right.”

When the ‘food street’ was launched last month, it boasted ‘household hawker names’, yet with a surprising omission of a dish that even Gordon Ramsay swears by; Laksa. Otherwise, it came across to me then as a rather obvious tourist trap and I was skeptical that our hawker heroes would sell out to a place that calls itself a ‘street’ when it’s actually in a building. Changi Airport’s media release was also damningly cringeworthy, describing the assemble as ‘specially curated’ from all over Singapore, as if they sent hawker archaeologists out with a bag of money to hunt down the holy grails of local delights.

If even our locals could be fooled into thinking that the char kuay teow in Terminal 3 is the same as what you get in an old-timey hawker centre, what more foreigners? Location, location, location. One reason why ‘Katong Laksa’ wasn’t in the list could be that food enthusiasts have been doing so much detective work over the years on a brand notorious for its copycats, that it would have hawker geeks up in arms in protest should anyone even have the cheek to ‘borrow’ the Katong name once more. According to Leslie Tay, the real Mccoy, the ‘Janggut’ style, is from an unassuming stall in Telok Kurau. Fans of prata would also appreciate that there’s only one ‘true’ Jalan Kayu stall, the Thasevi one.  Some hawkers continue to exploit the good name of a place that doesn’t even exist anymore, like ‘Blanco Court’ Kway Chap.  Ponggol Nasi Lemak and Punggol Nasi Padang  are also two completely different entities.

In 2010, a relative of the man behind the original Tai Hwa Hill Street ‘Minced Pork Noodles’, or more affectionately known to Singaporeans as bak chor mee, was brought to court for claiming that his own version in Vivocity food court was the original and in the process ‘misleading the public’ with this ‘publicity gimmick’. Since then, we’ve only heard of such name-stealing suits from the big boys in the FnB industry, like Subway trying to take down Subway Niche for example. If anything, ST’s reveal on the Changi Airport Food Street misnomers helps to raise awareness of where the real deal is located, and if you’re a savvy traveller in transit who’s done your fair share of culinary homework, you would skip the wannabes and go for something less pretentious like Ya Kun Kaya Toast. If you’re a Singaporean and you’re willing to travel all the way to Changi Airport to queue up for counterfeit char kuay teow on a weekend instead of going to Old Airport Road hawker centre, then shame, SHAME, on you.

PM Lee queuing for fried chicken wings

From ‘PM Lee spotted queuing 30min for chicken wings at Redhill Food Centre’, 13 June 2014, article in Asiaone.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was spotted at Redhill Food Centre, queueing for 30 minutes to buy fried chicken on Thursday night. A passerby took a photo and uploaded it on Facebook with the tongue-in-cheek caption: “Just your regular 50-60 plus uncle queueing half an hr for famous fried chicken wings. Albeit swarmed with guards. Lots of em.”

According to Lianhe Wanbao, the photo of him started circulating this morning, with many excited to see the PM dining at the hawker centre located at Blk 85 Redhill Lane. Netizens have praised the prime minister’s willingness to do queue for food himself just like any other member of the public, as well as immerse himself in the public community.

The Chinese daily learnt that the stall is the popular chicken wings and fried bee hoon stall Yan (#01-19). Online reviews recommended its two eponymous items, and cited reasonable prices and large portions as other plus points besides taste. Bee hoon costs 60 cents, while a chicken wing costs $1.20.

The minister also posted a picture of a dessert stall at the same hawker centre on his Facebook page, mentioning that the ‘Lucky Cat’ in front of it seemed to bring it popularity and business indeed. He also thanked an anonymous person for giving him a bowl of green bean soup.

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Wing Commander

Imagine the field day that ‘netizens’ would have if PM Lee had queued up for pork soup instead. It’s not a common sight to see a leader of his position actually queuing for stuff. Even less so for half an hour, enough time to make some key decisions of national importance. PM Lee looks solemn and pensive in the pose above, probably meditating on the fate of the nation, or plotting  to get Roy Ngerng to shut the hell up once and for all. I wonder what dessert he ordered after chicken wings though. I’m sure more people are interested in what he had than his musings on ‘Lucky Cat’. Ice Loong-an Jelly, perhaps?

‘Wayang’ or not, the person who snapped PM Lee has inadvertently promoted this humble breakfast bee hoon stall in Redhill, which blogger Hungry Bunny says is actually known as ‘Eng Kee’. I trust our PM has great taste in hawker fare. He’s known to be a fan of Tiong Bahru Tau Huay and Zion Road Char Kuay Teow too. Spotting him  at these stalls is like catching a rare migratory bird. You’d hit the jackpot if you catch him queuing at a Malay stall for Mee Siam (Just plain Mee Siam, thank you very much).

Here are some queuing PM Lee ‘memes’, sans bodyguards, of our leader simply blending in with ordinary Singaporeans in everyday situations other than buying hawker food, like the ‘People’s PM’ that adoring fans know him to be.

PM Lee in a Hello Kitty queue

PM Lee buying Lim Chee Guan

The lucky cat follows him EVERYWHERE.

PM Lee at Krispy Kreme

PM Lee taking peak hour MRT

And a World Cup bonus image.

Viva PM Lee

Viva PM Lee

 

Tourists charged $707 for Alaskan king chilli crab

From ‘One meal equals to one meal’, 11 May 2014, article by Melody Ng, TNP

Seafood meals can be expensive. But a Filipino family on a trip here were stunned when they were hit with a bill for $1,186.20. Just the crab alone cost them $707.

Their meal on April 26 at Forum Seafood Village Restaurant at Boat Quay also included prawns, a fish and a plate of vegetables. Mr Santiago Caaway, 54, said the total bill was more than what the family paid for their flight here and back. The restaurant had been in the news previously after tourists accused it of over-charging. But Forum Seafood spokesman Thomas Tham said the restaurant clearly states its prices and patrons know how much the dishes cost.

And it was no ordinary crab that the Caaway family ordered. They had chilli Alaskan king crab, which other restaurants and seafood suppliers say is expensive. Was Mr Caaway aware that he was getting the Alaskan king crab instead of the more common and cheaper mud crab?

Mr Caaway claimed his family did not know there were different types of crab on the menu but said they wanted it cooked in chilli gravy. “We heard that Singapore is known for its chilli crab, so we thought we must have this,” said Mr Caaway, who has since returned to the Philippines.

The Alaskan king crab rip off aside, Caaway paid a remainder of almost $480 for ‘prawns, fish and vegetables’. They may not have heard of the Newton Tiger Prawn saga back in 2009, when a group of Americans were charged $239 for EIGHT tiger prawns at the iconic hawker centre. NEA ordered Tanglin Best BBQ Seafood to shut down for 3 months after STB relayed the complaint. Not sure if the prawns the Caaways ordered were of the tiger variety, but it was fortunate that they didn’t order the lobster, which was priced at $348 for 1.6kg in 2011, incidentally the target of an expat’s complaint. For the price of 1 Alaskan king crab, the Caaways could have had 6 servings of Sin Huat Crab Bee Hoon instead.

A case of following bad advice dished out by their hotel concierge, the Caaways could have avoided getting fleeced by Forum if they had read TripAdvisor’s reviews of the place, where hopping mad patrons reported the following prices and called the place a blatant tourist trap, with little being said about the actual quality of the food. Wonder if anyone told them about this other thing we have called ‘zi char’. Not in STB’s brochures or website, I suppose.

Fish – $115
Broccoli – $27
Asparagus – $20
Fried rice – $18
BBQ King prawn – $23. Each.
A ‘tofu dish’ – $30
Plain rice – $1.50

Philippine media also reported that a STB director had apologised personally to Caaway and made sure that they were ‘properly remunerated’ since this arose from a case of miscommunication between patron and staff. Despite the online flak, calls for boycott, and demands for closure, this place is still in business, just like how tourist traps remain viable in any other country. Rival Boat Quay restaurant Fuqing Marina Bay Seafood also has a reputation for charging ridiculous prices, with STB having to deal with a similar PR fallout after an American complained about his $210 crab a few years back. No wonder expats have rated us the most expensive city in the world.

It takes a savvy or experienced traveler to avoid such scams, and I’m not sure if we’re spoiling visitors by giving them partial refunds if they aren’t very streetwise when it comes to identifying potential daylight robbery. You can imagine other ‘crabby’ tourists exploiting STB’s niceness by claiming that they were ripped off by a seafood restaurant and expect compensation. In 1986, an exasperated Briton called it the ‘Singapore Rip’, after having to pay $30 for chilli crab at Punggol Point. These days, that’s the price you pay for a BBQ Prawnzilla. Buyer beware, especially if the menu reads ‘Seasonal prices’ and the staff spotted you entering the premises with your DSLR hung conspicuously around your neck. Not all foreigner complaints are valid of course. In 2001, one K. Will whined about paying TWO DOLLARS for one prawn at a East Coast seafood restaurant. Pretty average in those days if you ask me, unless he was talking about belacan-sized prawns instead.

A holiday gone terribly wrong for the Caaways, and such a shame and irony that it takes a national dish sampled in a wrong place to put all the efforts spent on a recent STB promo ad to utter waste.  Singapore always has a surprise for you indeed.

Crystal Jade bought over by LVMH

From ‘LVMH adds Crystal Jade to Singapore Jewel Box’, 30 April 2014, article by Cai Haoxiang, Business  Times

After three years of courtship, L Capital Asia, the private-equity arm of French luxury goods giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has bought home-grown Chinese restaurant group Crystal Jade in a deal that market sources place at around US$100 million.

As L Capital adds yet another Singapore name to its growing collection of brands, Crystal Jade is set to soar in coming years. The restaurant group will tap LVMH’s expertise in branding and marketing, as well as its relationships with landlords worldwide to place outlets in strategic locations.

It plans to expand to Europe and the Middle East in addition to other parts of the world. An initial public offering (IPO) could eventually also be on the cards.

“The business has come to a size that is quite big, and my age is not suitable to carry the business to another level,” Crystal Jade group chairman and CEO Ip Yiu Tung, 65, told The Business Times over dinner at Paragon’s Crystal Jade Golden Palace restaurant, confirming market talk in the past month that the company had been sold.

“The new owner … is good in planning, promoting, marketing, know-how that we lack,” he added.

The Crystal Jade Empire first started out in 1991 at the now demolished Cairnhill Hotel, and it took one customer (Hongkonger, now Singapore PR) to pump in 2 million dollars to revive what was then a flagging business. That same customer would take the ‘home-grown’ brand international, become chairman and CEO, and later sell it to a luxury conglomerate which also owns Sincere watches and Charles and Keith. Interestingly, the founder of fierce rival Imperial Treasure is Alfred Leung, brother-in-law and ex-partner of Ip Yiu Tung, Leung being the one who founded the original Crystal Jade in the first place, later splitting from Ip over ‘differences in philosophy’.   As far as I’m aware, Imperial Treasure hasn’t ventured into Vietnamese yet. Maybe with LVMH taking over, you’d see baguettes on their menu too. Seriously, if I craved for Viet food, I’d go to a Viet place, not C-Jade Viet Cafe (formerly C-Jade HK Cafe) at Bugis Plus (formerly Iluma).

The group was doing rather well in the mid-nineties. One of the owners Tan Ban Cheong was staying in a bungalow in Holland Road in 1996, with a ST report revealing that he owns a total of 3 Mercedes Benzes. Unfortunately, in the same article, it was reported that his wife was caught parking one of them in a disabled lot at Ngee Ann City, of which a ST photographer on assignment happily snapped away. This was a PR disaster which tarnished the chain’s reputation, accounting for their media ‘reticence’ from then on. And this was before the existence of STOMP, when it was ST journalists, not CITIZEN journalists, exposing people at their most vulnerable.

If you wanted Chinese banquet-lite or yum cha in the past, Crystal Jade was the place to be, but the chain developed some interesting ‘culinary concepts’ over the years. From its flagship high-end Cantonese diner in Ngee Ann City, management decided to diversify to insane Hydra levels. Today, Crystal Jade boasts an array of fine, family and casual dining for the discerning and, in this case, confused, Asian gastronome, from Seafood Steamboat to Korean Ginseng Chicken, even a Korean BBQ buffet at Nex. What next, Crystal Jade Tom Yum Hotpot?

FnB is a cutthroat business of course, with younger upstarts like our homegrown Paradise Group, Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung (Lim Swee Say’s favourite for dumplings and toothpicks) and HK’s Tim Ho Wan all making strides in the Chinese dining scene. Crystal Jade hasn’t been immune to bad business decisions either. Here’s a list of faux pas in their bid to trump the competition and become the creme de la creme of all things yum cha.

  • Crystal Jade CAKERY, which I suspect later evolved into Crystal Jade My Bread, to catch the bakery wave. I’m amazed that ‘cakery’ is even a word.

Only time will tell if the hip ‘C-Jade’ branding, seemingly aimed at the younger crowd, would catch on. It’s already confusing telling the following apart: Crystal Jade Restaurant, Crystal Jade Dining Place and Crystal Jade Kitchen, when all I want is to eat char siew bao. There’s even a C-Jade Express ‘fast-food concept’, which sounds like the lovechild of Bakery and Kitchen. Hopefully LVMH would sort these names out once and for all, without touching the actual menus too much. Admittedly I’m a fan of the La Mian Xiao Long Bao restaurants, and the last thing I want to see is my favourite dishes Frenching out on me. Tiger Beer, after acquisition by Dutch Heineken, still tastes like Tiger Beer (save for the much misunderstood Tiger Radler). Let’s hope their Har Gaos and Siew Mais, the ‘piece de resistance’ couplet of all Dim Sum,  stay the same too.

Crystal Jade menu Google Translated

Crystal Jade menu Google Translated

Erratum: Steamed chicken feet with Black Bean Sauce should be translated as ‘pieds de poulet cuits à la vapeur’. The Chinese character for ‘melon’ and ‘talon’ differs by two tiny strokes. Yes, chicken feet is literally ‘phoenix talons’.

Han’s cafe sueing Japanese restaurant Han

From ‘Han’s Cafe sues Japanese restaurant over name’, 9 April 2014, article by Selina Lum, ST

HAN’S, the well-known local cafe chain, is trying to stop a Japanese restaurant from calling itself Han, saying it might confuse the public. Han’s Cafe, which has 21 outlets in Singapore selling Hainanese and Western food, has accused Gusttimo World, which owns Han, of infringing on its trademark. It is seeking a court order to restrain Gusttimo World from using the name “Han” and its Internet domain name www.han.com.sg.

…Han, which opened in 2012, specialises in kushikatsu, or skewers of deep-fried food. In its lawsuit, Han’s, represented by Mr Mark Goh, contends that the use of the word “Han” is likely to confuse the public.

…But Gusttimo, represented by Mr Suresh Damodara, argues that its Han brand is dissimilar to the Han’s trademark and the public is not likely to mix up the two.

…Gusttimo contends that patrons of Han’s are able to distinguish between the service provided by the cafe chain and its restaurant which serves old Osaka cuisine in a kaiseki – or traditional multi-course Japanese dinner – style.

Both companies are relatively big names in the FnB business, Han’s growing into a Superbrand empire from its humble origins as a bakery in Upper Thomson Road, while Gusttimo World owns high-end diners like Sarang and Gusto. The history of Han’s reads like a typical household name success story, specialising in Western food prepared the ‘inimitable Hainanese way’, while Gusttimo sounds like a company run by wine glass-chinking expats. At first glance, this appears to be a no-brainer as to who’s getting their way.

Or perhaps not. In 2012, sandwich giant Subway tried to sue a small-time nonya kueh stall called ‘Subway Niche’, but failed as the judge ruled that there’s no evidence of any risk of confusion between the two brand names, even if both companies were selling common items, namely sandwiches. The food at Han is, of course, nothing like Han’s fare. You have Terrapin Stew at Han instead of Mushroom Soup of the Day at Han’s, and although you have beef on both menus, Han’s’ $16.80 NZ Sirloin Steak is a far cry from the Ohmi Beef Steak Alacarte at Han worth a whopping $120. Han’s is a place for the lunch crowd, Han is one for very special occasions, where homely food items like ‘Pork Chop’ and ‘Fish Congee’ don’t exist and the waiter is likely to give you a funny look if you ever asked for ‘Ice Lemon Tea’.

Speaking of Fish congee, why didn’t Han’s turn their attention to this stall specialising in fish soup called HAN KEE? Or this Korean BBQ place called Han Geun Doo Geun? In 2011, Australian namesake Han’s Cafe actually tried to sue a SHAN Cafe. This ‘Han’s’ was established only in 1995, about 15 years after our own Han’s set up shop. Not sure if naming rights extends across continents, because both Han’s appear to sell Pork Chop Rice and Vegetarian Fried Rice.

On the basis of risk of cuisine ‘confusion’, I doubt the Chinese Han has a strong case against the Korean/Japanese one. If a precedent is set for this suit, Jack’s Place may start going after Mad Jack.  There may be a problem, however, if you want to arrange for dinner at either restaurant, that you need to be extra careful not to omit the ‘s if you wish to dine at the cheaper Han’s. Or if you’re a food writer describing the menu items as ‘Han’s delicious Kushikatsu’ which may have readers asking for deep fried skewers at HAN’S instead, though this can be readily prevented by adding the standard disclaimer ‘Not to be confused with Han’s the cafe’.

Still, I doubt the risk of communicating the brand name inaccurately is sufficient grounds to force the newer Han to change its name. Like saying Mac’s (cafe at Fusionopolis) when I mean McDonald’s because only ‘McDonald’s’ is registered and not its short form. If anything is to come out of this accusation of brand theft, it’s publicity for the victim, just like what litigation did for Subway Niche.

Now, how about some terrapin stew for a change?

Having a ‘fat tax’ to combat obesity

From ‘Combat obesity with fat tax’, 1 April 2014, ST Forum

(Dr Edmund Lam):…The obesity epidemic has become a worldwide phenomenon. Singapore has not been spared – our adult obesity rate increased from 6.9 per cent in 2004 to 10.8 per cent in 2010.

…The Health Promotion Board has done its utmost to encourage healthy eating through public education and collaboration with the food and beverage industry to provide healthier options. But gorging is still common in food centres, fast-food outlets and eat-all-you-can buffets.

In tandem with existing efforts, a “sugar” and “fat” tax of at least 20 per cent to 30 per cent ought to “shock” Singaporeans into changing their eating habits. Taxes on vices are not new – we already have high tobacco and alcohol taxes. Taxing unhealthy food, such as sugary drinks and junk food, will hopefully induce people to opt for healthier food, which needs to be cheaper than unhealthy food.

…In short, take the scourge of obesity seriously – now.

Singaporeans are getting fatter, just like people from most developed countries. In 1992, the rate of obesity was half  of where we are now, yet we’re throwing away more food, 796,000 tonnes of it in fact, just in 2013 alone. Can you imagine how much fatter we’d be if everyone actually finished all their food?

In 2011, the Danish government decided to impose a fat tax of 16 kroner or $3.76 per kg of saturated fat in products. Before the tax was implemented, the Danes behaved like how most Singaporeans would: HOARD all the fatty stuff they could get their hands on. Within a year, the controversial tax was scrapped because it was detrimental to the economy and led to loss of jobs. Moreover, Danes who had a lust for fat were crossing the border to do their grocery shopping in next door Germany. You can imagine the same situation here with Malaysia. Lesson learnt: You can’t change our eating behaviour overnight. We’ve been nursed on fats since birth through our mother’s milk, we’ll die without it, and we’ll die for it.

Dr Amy Khor stressed that there’s no scientific evidence that increasing the cost of guilty pleasure foods ever reduced the rate of obesity. Not only would it affect lower income Singaporeans, but those who consciously refrain from eating fatty stuff may overcompensate by gorging on CARBS, which add to the flab but with half the flavour and enjoyment. The slapping of monetary disincentives also undermines the ability of consumers to exercise willpower (that includes the willingness to EXERCISE). It also doesn’t help matters when it comes to preserving our hawker culture, which is centred around high-calorie, high fat (hence delicious) food.

Fast food giants are not going to take fat taxes lying down either. Even if you raise the price of a Happy Meal to exorbitant levels, all you need is a Hello Kitty promotion to get people biting the bait again. Raise Krispy Kreme doughnuts by 30%? No problem! Just run a promo 1 for 1 and all your revenue problems are solved. Gong Cha pearl topping up by 20%? Borrow a friend’s Watsons discount card! Restrict menus to serving wholemeal buns only? Well, introduce a double bacon with cheese McMuffin, dammit!

It’s easy to point a finger at food as the primary reason for our ballooning weight, and they make easy targets to tax while there are in fact other factors that may contribute to weight gain. Maybe we should have a cable TV tax because people who’re glued to the googlebox tend to put on weight. Or tax people for using the lifts and escalators instead of climbing the stairs. How about a fat tax on driving less than 1km to any destination? Conversely, in order to encourage people to lead active lifestyles, marathons should be FOC and the Government should sponsor a Brompton bike for every commuting Singaporean. From all that fat tax revenue of course.

We need to work on empowering consumers through nutritional information, not introducing artificial scarcity on fat food like how a diet is supposed to work (It doesn’t). Businesses will do anything to survive at the expense of our waistlines, like it has been for the longest time. You can’t overcome human psychology with taxation. It’s like putting bloody disgusting pictures on cigarette boxes; people still smoke that shit anyway. Even if you manage to cut down obesity levels through severe psychic starvation, you’ll probably see a corresponding increase in people getting warded in IMH for depression because every morsel of lard they chow down has become as unappetising and unfulfilling as swallowing a stack of 1 dollar coins.

If you’re going to charge $1 more for Char Kuay Teow, I’d still eat it as per normal anyway, except that instead of a Coke to go with it I’d order the other version with the artificial sweetener aspartame, which has been linked to cancer (unproven) in some studies. So, instead of getting thinner, I stay just as fat, but expose myself to unnaturally occurring chemicals because I refuse to pay extra for sugar. If I’m unsatisfied by that combination, I’d refuel during tea break by mindlessly chewing on ‘organic’ assorted nuts, misled into thinking it’s the ‘healthier choice’ when I’ve already far exceeded my daily calorie requirements compared to having my original Char Kuay Teow with normal Coke without a nut snack in the first place. I can’t possibly eat a stick of raw carrot in my workplace without being oestracised by everyone on a normal diet.

Why stop at taxing just sugar and fat then, how about going the whole hog and tax SALT too, too much of which is bad for your blood pressure and kidneys? Or caffeine? I’d might as well eat tree bark for the rest of my life.

 

 

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