Ice cream and Coca Cola are Healthier Choice foods

From ‘Healthier choice label: Call for more clarity’, 9 oct 2017, article by Linette Lai, ST

Even as the Health Promotion Board (HPB) looks to further tighten a scheme that labels some food products a “healthier choice”, experts say more can be done so that people do not mistakenly think all these foods are outright healthy.

The Healthier Choice scheme, with its trademark red pyramid label, now applies to 3,500 products – a tenfold increase from when it was launched in 2001. The label can even be seen on ice creams, soft drinks and frozen french fries.

One in five food products bears the Healthier Choice label.

What consumers really need is not a ‘Healthy’ or ‘Healthier Choice’ label, but the ‘Healthiest’ choice. When it comes to beverages, that would usually be water. HPB should be sticking the label on water coolers everywhere. Instead they’re allowing companies to claim the label for aspartame-loaded drinks like Coca-Cola Zero and Light. In other words, that red pyramid has become a marketing gimmick for Big Food. If 100 plus has it, then the folks behind H20 will fight for it too. If McDs has it for a McMuffin, then so would KFC for Popcorn chicken porridge.

It’s like telling you to opt for frozen yogurt in place of ice cream, when the really healthy thing to do would be to eat a fucking green apple. By opening the floodgates to desserts, sauces and curry mixes, the red pyramid becomes meaningless. Having a label-free sinful meal occasionally is a better deal than eating ‘Healthier Choice’ snacks, gravies and strawberry milk every other day. You force yourself to feel good about it, even if your kale-contaminated taste buds and tummy tells you otherwise.

HPB should seriously streamline the options. With every cheese, coke and frozen wantons cutting fats and sugar in order to be awarded Healthier Choice labels, it’s going to make it more stressful on consumers who would like to actually ENJOY their food once in a while. You end up overeating on mediocre stuff and you still die miserable anyway, seething with regret that you didn’t binge on that tub of Ben and Jerry’s Ice cream after a breakup because the red triangle label on the shitty potong next to it was screaming ‘NO! Bad Consumer! Diabetes!’ in your face.

If taken at face-value without really being mindful of our food choices, the Healthier Choice pyramid, like how the ancient Egyptians built it, is more a symbol of your road to an early grave rather than the food-group categorisation it is supposed to represent.

 

 

 

 

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Malay and Indian food less healthy than Chinese food

From ‘War on diabetes: Changing eating habits of Malay, Indian communities an uphill task’, 25 Aug 17, article by Wong Pei Ting, Toh Ee Ming, Today

For Malay food vendor Aida Manapi, 50, the tastiest ayam penyet (smashed fried chicken) must be crispy and glistening, and there is only one way to cook it — “deep fried”.

And when it comes to roti prata, no one serves it by being stingy on ghee (clarified butter), said stall vendor Senthilvel Vedachalam, 43.

Such traditional methods of cooking or serving Indian and Malay favourite dishes, along with mindsets that they have to be cooked in a certain way for best results – have made it difficult for many hawkers and home cooks to change the way they prepare these dishes. For them, unlike Chinese dishes, one cannot produce a healthier, yet still tasty ayam penyet or roti prata by simply using less oil, salt or sauce.

In a related article back in 2010, even medical experts pointed to Malay food as a key reason for the burgeoning rate of diabetes and obesity among the community. Endocrinologist Lee Chung Horn also described Malays as ‘gregarious people’ characterised by social assemblies that revolve around fatty foods. The article above seems to suggest that toned down Malay and Indian dishes would be less enjoyable compared to Chinese food with their ‘bland’ porridges and soups, but that doesn’t explain why the queues for untampered char keow teow (with pork lard) are always longer than other stalls which put healthier choice stickers up on display.

Inevitably, the focus is always on hawker fare, food so rich and so close to our heart it’s often blamed for slowly destroying it. But that would be too simplistic an explanation for the diabetes epidemic. Due to our hectic, stressful lifestyles, it’s often challenging to prepare and indulge in homecooked meals, where one could at least regulate the amount of sugar, salt and fats, whatever race you are. Still, most of us don’t eat hawker food every day, we tend to go for variety across all cuisines, and articles like these also tend to avoid mentioning fast food for some mysterious reason. I would want to know if eating 1 Mcflurry is worse than a chendol, for example.  Of if a chicken chop at the ‘western’ stall is a healthier option than Spicy McChicken.

But if you’re talking about Chinese food being healthier than Malay/Indian food, here’s a quick rundown with a few shockers. References here , here and here.

  1. If you’re choosing between beef rendang and char kway teow, you could have 2 servings of the former and still take in less calories than the mother of all fatty foods. (312 vs 744 kcal)
  2. Roti prata vs Ang Ku Kueh? The Indian breakfast wins – minus curry I suppose (209 vs 240kcal)
  3. Goreng Pisang or Tau Huay? Of course the deep-fried banana anytime. (197 vs 317 kcal)
  4. Cantonese pork porridge with century egg has more cholesterol than mee rebus (370 vs 206g)
  5. Bak Chor Mee has more total fat than Mee Goreng ( 22.7 vs 20.4g )

Being accused of  gastro-racism aside, the fact of which race is more diabetic compared to the rest seems as clear as day, but putting the blame on some generic heritage foods alone without an assessment of other lifestyle habits may mislead some into preferring the wrong foods as ‘healthier’ alternatives, without controlling for hidden carbs/fat/salt in beverages or condiments. Further, just because something has less calories doesn’t mean it has more ‘nutritional value’. Take carrot cake vs nasi lemak as a single meal for example, the latter packed with more essential nutrients and fibre if you include fish, cucumber and egg. If we take this obsession with calorie counting and sugar content too far, we may neglect our B and C vitamins, calciums and omega-3s.

The adage ‘eat in moderation’ never seemed to cut it with me, perhaps ‘Eat Less, Move More, Occasional Treat, Screw Macs’ may be a personal mantra that could work in the long run.

Maki Kita means ‘curse us’ in Malay

From ‘Sushi chain Maki San apologises for making a mistake with name of National Day themed rolls’ 6 Aug 2017, article by Fabian Koh, ST

Puns can be creative and hilarious, but puns can also go so wrong. Local sushi chain Maki-San launched a special chicken char siew sushi roll for Singapore’s 52nd birthday, calling it the Maki Kita.

The name is a play on the lyrics of Singapore’s National Anthem, in which the first two words are “Mari kita”. In a Facebook post on Friday (Aug 4) afternoon, the chain explained that the name aimed to reflect “the cheeky and playful side” of the company, and means “Our sushi”.

Unfortunately for them, in Malay, while “kita” refers to “us” or “me”, “maki” means to curse or insult.

Thus, the name Maki Kita essentially means “Curse us”.

The sushi chain acknowledged the kerfuffle and announced in another Facebook post that night, just seven hours later, that it was changing the name to Harmony Maki.

If there’s any consolation, this is not the worst pun to pull off when it comes to promoting limited-edition culinary creations. In 2015, Breadtalk made a grave mistake with its commemorative LKY bun following his passing. While naming a pastry over a dead person was in poor taste, the Maki Kita appears to be an honest, but unfortunate, screw-up (Incidentally, Makikita also translates in Tagalog to ‘You’, though using that as a defence would probably backfire horribly as well).

Whether it’s getting hopelessly lost in translation or bastardising our food heritage, everyone seems to be jumping on the SG52 bandwagon, from pandan souffles to salted egg yolk panna cottas. Unlike McD’s Nasi Lemak Burger, there’s nothing distinctively ‘local’ about the renamed ‘Harmony Sushi’, unless we can claim ‘chicken char siew’ as a Singaporean delicacy (The other ingredients are egg, cucumber, fried shallots and coriander mayonnaise)

Tricky names aside, at least this brainchild of 4 Spectra secondary school students doesn’t strike one as an overdecorated, pompous travesty. Check out the ‘atas-trophe’ that is the ‘Satay’ : a ‘skewer of roasted Japanese eel, king prawn and squid served with a peanut-based sauce’ from French diner Saint Pierre.  Part of a $248 set that includes Nasi Lemak with goddamn King Crab, this is one luxurious starter that not all Singaporeans can afford. Or if you want something slightly less pricey, dig into Jamie’s Italian’s version of Chicken & Rice ($19.65).

Sometimes you just gotta call a risotto a risotto. And it’d rather have cucumber slices than some half-arsed broccoli. If you see any local delight corrupted by the word ‘infused’, take your money and run far, far away.

 

In the spirit of ‘maki kati’, I have a suggestion for a novelty dish that every Singaporean can enjoy. Fishball Meesua in Laksa broth. Or F.M.L.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Chinese on NTUC Foodcourt signboards

From ‘Lack of bilingual signs a wrong move’, 8 July 2017, Voices, Today

I am appalled at the removal of Chinese language on signboards at NTUC Foodfare’s food court in Block 303, Choa Chua Kang Avenue 4 after its facelift.

Many elderly patrons were perplexed on the first day of its recent reopening and had asked staff at the counters to translate the menus before they placed an order.

This oversight is detrimental to Singapore’s efforts to foster a bilingual environment against a backdrop of today’s younger generation being increasingly unable to master their mother tongue.

I hope that Foodfare could at least use Chinese on signboards in its locations where many of the residents are elderly, for their reference.

No, making signboards bilingual will not train our mother tongue. If I want to order Rojak from a foodcourt stall, I’ll look for ‘Rojak’ and not 罗惹.  I’ll also never use the Chinese translation of rojak in everyday speech. Nor will I say the words 豪大大鸡排 (hao da da ji pai) out loud without feeling slightly uncomfortable.

Has the writer even taken a look at signboards of MRT station names? Buona Vista, for example, translates to Many Beautiful Songs. Is that how we want our children to pick up Chinese? What if I want my kid to learn Malay? Is he fated to eat Nasi Padang for the rest of his life?

Removing Chinese from menus may well be a smart business decision, simply because not ALL our elderly are Chinese as the writer presumes. It may confuse non-Chinese speakers, or even turn some off altogether, like this writer who felt left out because the electronic signboard at the Arrival Hall in Changi Airport that welcomes Singaporeans home lacks Malay and Tamil translations.

Yet, at the same time, you can’t afford to have all 4 languages to describe something like mixed economic rice. It’s like watching a movie with 3 sets of subtitles. For reasons known only to civil aviation authorities, airport signboards directing human traffic are selective in the languages used. If you’ve travelled enough, you’ll wonder why signs only have English and French, others English and Korean/German/Chinese etc. If all is to be fair in this world, we should have signs in EVERY KNOWN LANGUAGE on this godforsaken planet.

There’s a more practical reason for avoiding excessive translations of signs – The tendency for the people in charge to screw things up, like insert a curse word in the Tamil version Lau Pa Sat, or make you squirm in embarrassment at the Chinese translation of Bras Basah. 

Also, this image below is exactly why we should leave Chinese-only signboards in the Geylang eateries the hell alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millennials spending money on avocado toast

From ‘Reality check for the avocado generation’, 28 May 2017, article by Olivia Ho, ST

Are millennials the avocado generation – expensive, high-maintenance and incapable of surviving in the long term?

Australian millionaire Tim Gurner made the assumption earlier this month, when he slammed millennial spending habits during a news programme and drew outrage from Generation Y worldwide.

“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” the real estate mogul, 35, told Australian current affairs programme 60 Minutes.

…The price of avocado toast in Singapore can range from $9.50 for the basics at Monument Lifestyle cafe in Duxton Road to $20 with a scoop of ricotta at The LoKal in Neil Road.

Avocado is the Greek Yogurt of fruits. On its own it’s bland as fuck, but mash it with some seasoning and spread it on bread and it becomes a symbol of millennial decadence. Just like how eating sashimi in the 80’s made you stand out as the class epicurean, eating (and snapping) ‘handcrafted’ avocado toast these days is one of the prerequisites for becoming a micro-influencer or trendy food blogger. Alas, there’s nothing groundbreaking about ‘smashed’ avocado. The Aztecs invented a similar dish in the days of conquistadors and smallpox. It’s called guacamole.

Some curious footnotes about this Superfood:

  • Avocado was first cultivated in this region sometime in the late 1920’s, when it was referred to as the ‘avocado pear’. Presumably because it looks like a pear (though that doesn’t explain ‘pineapple’)
  • In 1937, an Avocado Salad recipe called for cantaloupe, vinegar, chopped cucumber and paprika. Yes, that hipster cafe version is at least 70 years old.
  • Thought stuffing seafood in an avocado pit is the hottest culinary trend? Nope. It was done with crab meat. In 1958.

So why don’t cafe owners call a spade a spade and call guacamole guacamole? Simply because when you see guacamole on a menu, nachos come to mind. And nachos aren’t hip or cool. Unless you rename them ‘hand-cut baked corn crisps’ or something.

Random browsing through the #avocadotoast hashtag on Instagram led me to this. The green mother of all avocado toasts. It’s Ciabatta Hulk, with a rooftop garden.

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 10.08.27 AM

As unnecessarily ‘atas’ as the avocado toast phenomenon is, it’s probably unfair to lay the blame on this dish as the reason why millennials are being foolish with their money. The reason: nobody eats it EVERY DAY. If there’s one food that exploits the millennial economy, a food that is daylight robbery personified, it’s the morning and tea-break Venti-sized coffee from your friendly neighbourhood Starbucks.

There’s one way, though, to kill this fad and make the Millennials run back to their beloved artisan lattes – When McDonalds’ comes up with its own Avocado Burger (which is really just putting guacamole sauce in a Cheeseburger) and charge you $7.50 for it with fries and avocado mayo sauce. Oh wait. It’s already been done before.

In the meantime, I’ll skip the $20 avocado toast and get my avocado fix from Alexandra Fruit Stall ($2.50 avocado shake), thank you very much.

The danger of running with durian for charity

From ‘Running with a prickly companion for charity’, 28 May 2017, article by Tay Hong Yi, ST

A quirky charity run is raising a stink on social media. In the Run for Good Durian on July 13, each runner will get a durian to run with for 5km. After that, he can eat it.

The cause is nothing to sniff at, as proceeds will be donated to the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Community Development Welfare Fund.

…Said Twitter user Gwen Guo: “(This is) possibly (the) most Singaporean charity run I’ve seen.” But there was room for some thorny questions too. In the comments section of the community centre’s post, Facebook user Ho Shigure asked: “Has anyone conducted a risk assessment?”

The run’s official website encouraged runners to “be creative” with transporting their durian safely.

“At 8am sharp, the race will be flagged off by the special guest and participants will carry, lug or hug their durians for a 5km distance until the finish,” said the organisers.

However, no recommendations on safely handling the King of Fruits were offered, beyond suggesting that “a backpack, plastic bag, gloves or other creative ways” could be used to minimise the risk of injury to oneself and others.

Participants will receive a T-shirt, while those who complete the run will receive a medal, a coconut and, of course, a chance to win a mao shan wang durian in a lucky draw.

People have done things worthy of the Darwin awards in the name of charity, of course. You could walk on flaming charcoal barefoot over 100m, volunteer to be shot with 21,000 paintballs, or be like Jack Neo and lie on a bed of glass. The difference is you don’t risk hurting anyone else other than yourself.

Safety is always the number one priority for any kind of race, whether it’s imposing restrictions on light sabres for the Star Wars Run, ensuring that zombies don’t actually bite people during ‘Race the Dead’, or that nobody sneaks anthrax powder into the Color Run.  The record shows, however, that more people have died running an actual Marathon than all these gimmicky events combined.

The number of ways a Durian Run could go wrong is easy to imagine. Though unlikely to kill anyone since this is a horizontal run and not a race up a building, one probable scenario is that people may drop the King of Fruits along the way. A runner behind could be injured not so much by stepping on the fallen durian or falling face-first onto it and getting iris incarceration, but from a rear-end collision with the durian dropper. A heated argument could result in the prize being used as a mace to hit someone in the face, like what happened to a bus driver in 1985. Yes you could go home not just with a durian but a few minor skin punctures along the way but at least that beats a fatal cardiac arrest near a 42 km finish line. 

Common sense would tell participants that under no circumstances should you, no matter how creative you are:

  1. Tape a durian to chest while running
  2. Walk in stilts while juggling durian
  3. Or go dressed like this

Still, all these hazards are at best hypothetical. The only scientific risk assessment one could ever conduct for a race of this nature is to determine if the combined odour of durian and sweat is potent enough to knock passers-by out cold.

A pity that the race doesn’t end at the Esplanade, though.

Singapore must steal other people’s lunches

From ‘Singapore must steal other people’s lunches to stay ahead of competition’, 30 Apr 2017, article by Toh Ee Ming, Today

Amid growing competition, and workers hungry to learn in places like Chengdu and even further away such as Russia, Singapore must not only protect its lunch but steal other people’s lunches, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged.

…Ms Zuhaina Ahmad, a career guide at the NTUC Youth Career Network, said she has spoken to a few young Singaporeans “who feel that they’re in an era where they’re entitled or privileged to what the Government is giving”.

“If you study up to a degree level, this is what you’re entitled to. Not all of them are like that, but I think we need to manage their expectations as well,” she said.

Mr Lee said in reply: “It’s something that we have to work on, always. You must always want to do better, but you cannot always want to hope for the sky, and that’s the challenge. Because if you’re not hungry, you wouldn’t try, but if you’re unrealistic, you’d be disappointed.”

Of course our PM meant ‘stealing other people’s lunches’ as a figure of speech, just a darker version of ‘punching above our own weight’. The language of success is often filled with bloodthirsty metaphors:  We’re told to ‘seize’ the day and ‘conquer’ our doubts, words usually used in military parlance to mean plunder and destroy. We ‘grab’ the bull by the horns and ‘eliminate’ the competition in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. The harsh truth is just that – success usually means having to tread on some heads along the way, and there are people who excel in their careers at the merciless expense of others’ ‘lunches’. These days, others’ trust seems to be an even bigger bounty than actual money. Just ask Kong Hee and gang.

Even Teamy the Bee, our forgotten productivity mascot, makes a living by ‘stealing’ nectar from flowers. Corporate banditry happens all the time; a small start-up gets chewed to bits when a bigger company copies i.e ‘steals’ its ideas. Aspiring inventors fall prey to patent disputes with entities armed to the teeth with lawyers. The use of the phrase in the context of ailing productivity, though, seems to suggest that it’s time for workers to switch to survivalist fight-or-flight mode, that in the event that we may not be able to punch above our weight, sometimes we just have to hit below the belt for our lunch money. But still, the only thing stealing our lunches eventually will not be other people, but robots, which makes our PM’s statement, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately redundant, like what most blue-collar workers will be in the silicon age. Needless to say a politician’s job is robot-proof and he doesn’t need to worry about lunch for the rest of his life.

‘Lunch’ is always a sensitive topic for food-loving Singaporeans. You could tell by how aggressively we reserve tables at hawker centres. When an ex Transport Minister told Singaporeans that ‘there is no free lunch‘ during a public transport hike, we went ballistic as the Toa Payoh couple refusing to share their table with an old man would.

Yes, there’s a time to be hungry and rise up to the challenge when it comes to our precious lunches, but we are also in desperate need for compassion. Beg, cheat and steal like Robin Hood if you have to, but share your ‘lunches’ with less fortunate human beings, especially those who can only afford 3 meals a day at a hawker centre instead of restaurants.

So let’s take PM Lee’s metaphor with a pinch of salt, and sprinkle it on our lunch of the day before someone sneaks up from behind to steal it.