On Thursday (5 March), Associate Professor Walter Theseira, a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), urged the government to address the problem of food security in a Supply Debate Speech.
Assoc. Prof Theseira argued in his speech that though Singapore is a rich country, there are still many who struggle to afford sufficient healthy food.
The Assoc. Prof remarked, “Singapore was ranked by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the fourth most secure Food Nation in the world, yet nearly half of a sample of 236 families in Singapore have reported moderate to severe food insecurities. These were the findings of a 2018 report by the Hunger and Food Lover’s Paradise by the Lien Centre of Social Innovation Centre at Singapore Management University (SMU)”.
He added that there were some 125 food support groups operating in Singapore, in addition to food support from ethnic self-help groups and community organisations.
During the Budget Supply Speech, Assoc. Prof Theseira posed a pointed question. He asked, “A basic question is how much food is enough. But the question is, enough for what?”
According to the Assoc. Prof, the 2019 Minimum Income Standards study led by Dr Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy, a single elderly household requires an estimate of S$400 for food, which is about 29 per cent of their budget.
He explained, “More importantly, that study reveals that Singaporeans consider food to be more than calories for the body; it is nourishment for the soul. It includes having meaningful choice and variety, the opportunity to eat healthily but also enjoy the occasional indulgence, and the chance to meet friends at the hawker centre or invite others to a home-cooked meal.”
He added, “It is not three restaurant meals a day. It is three meals with dignity.”
To illustrate his point, the Assoc. Prof Theseira quotes a study by Diana Ong from the Chinese Assistance Development Council and Dr Ong Qiyan from the Social Service Research Centre, National University of Singapore (NUS). The study revealed that lower income families who opt for healthier meals spend S$204 per month, per person.
This sum is much more than what a less healthy diet costs, which is S$168. The big difference in spending is not in eating out, but is in trying to eat a healthier home cooked diet, said the associate professor.
“These results are consistent with the food insecurity–obesity paradox that in a rich country, food insecurity manifests not as starvation, but as an inadequate and unhealthy diet that exposes the poor to risks of obesity and malnutrition,” he said.
Assoc. Prof Theseira also highlighted that though food insecurity here may not indicate starvation, it does contribute to the problem of people making difficult choices to choose between the nutrition of a family and having enough money for other necessities.
Because of this, many food charities have stepped up to bridge the gap that these families desperately require.
“Despite good intentions, charities are struggling to meet this varied needs,” the NMP explained.
Assoc. Prof Theseira then cautioned that though Budget 2020 aims to distribute S$100 per year in grocery vouchers to help needy households over the next two years, there is a need for a full Government food security programme.
In addition to that, the Assoc. Prof also broached the issue on his Facebook post yesterday. In his post, he explained that food security programmes should be designed to incorporate the need to improve health for families and children, not just for today but for years to come.
To him, there is ample evidence suggesting that nutrition in childhood and economic growth goes hand-in-hand. Therefore, he emphasised that there is a need to address and solve this problem.
“Food security programmes can improve health for families and children not just today, but many years later. There is increasing evidence of the link between nutrition in childhood, and economic and health outcomes years down the road. Let’s commit to officially measuring food insecurity and addressing it as a Government priority.” he wrote.