Our guest writer today is Akshi Sarin. She has two kids and is constantly seeking out ways to make the food habits of the family healthier and sustainable. Hence she is the ideal candidate for penning this article on how practical and possible is it to consume “organic food ” in Singapore. She is an innovative cook and a master baker. Akshi currently freelances for a B2B market research firm. Previously a banker, she has worked across India, USA and Singapore. In addition, she actively volunteers with the SPD and Touch care services in Singapore.
My kids think I’m a freak because of my obsession with the kind if food we eat. Over the past 4-5 years I’ve slowly been trying to change our eating and food buying habits – we now make our own bread, cakes, cookies, nutella, etc, have considerably reduced our consumption of processed foods -sauces, cereal, snacks, sodas and tried to increase our consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. I can’t seem to completely rid ourselves of processed food (my kids complain that no one wants to come to our house for a play-date because there are no chips & Oreos!!) but can safely say that we have come a long way.
The dilemma of the modern world – man has been to the moon and back, astronauts have actually lived on the space station for a year, driverless cars are about to be launched and so on, but unfortunately we are unable to trust the food that we eat. Farmers are increasingly using pesticides to increase food production, injecting animals with hormones and antibiotics to increase milk production and shorten the growth cycle of chickens, etc. Also let’s not forget the GMO foods that are gradually creeping into our lives. It sometimes feels like one needs to take a step back and restart the concept of kitchen gardens & small farms simply to be sure of what we are eating. Living in an apartment in Singapore, a kitchen garden isn’t easy but I do grow a few herbs in my balcony and have a few friends growing brinjals, tomatoes etc in their balconies too. We keep each other inspired! The concept of vertical farming is catching on but nonetheless the reality is that we can’t grow enough in our limited spaces and do need to buy fresh produce from the market. [Who is offering Vertical Farming in Singapore?]
Before I move to buying organic it’s important to know where our food comes from. Singapore imports over 90% of the foods consumed. As of 2011, as per the statistics from Agri-food & veterinary authority of Singapore (AVA), the local farms only produced 8% of all vegetables and fish and 26% of all the eggs consumed in Singapore [Refer to the info-graphic from AVA website]. To be precise- these local farms produce mainly leafy vegetables and bean sprouts. As much as we love to support local farmers, we have to buy produce from other countries. It makes me a wee bit nervous to see China feature as the second-largest source of fruits and vegetables given their fantabulous track record with food scams -plastic garlic, waxed apples, tainted meat, etc. AVA ensures that the food imported is safe for consumption based on international standards, but these international standards are being questioned now as well.
Add to that, it’s tough when it comes to making a choice between buying organic or not, specially the way organic foods are priced in Singapore. So, is buying organic necessarily a better choice? Where should we buy organic food from? What organic foods should I buy?
There are plenty of articles and lists on what to buy organic and what not to, which can be confusing. After doing a considerable amount of research and based on what we consume as a family I try and buy at least the following organic items – berries (we are a berry smoothie obsessed family), apples (given all the hullabaloo about waxed apples), green leafy vegetables, dairy products (we aren’t very heavy consumers of dairy products, but I still feel we can do without the extra hormones and antibiotics), corn and soy (since otherwise most corn & soy is genetically modified) and fish & meat (again don’t need those extra antibiotics and hormones).
The concept of organic food has caught on in Singapore and the availability now is much better than what it was a few years ago. I’m just listing a few sources that I have bought my organic produce from:
-Fruits and Vegetables – I’m actually fairly impressed with the variety and prices of organic fruits and vegetables available at FairPrice Finest in Singapore. My other favourite is the Tiong Bahru wet market which has a stall that stocks Zenxin produce (the supplies only come in on Tuesdays & Thursdays and sell out pretty fast). It also has stalls that sell local produce (maybe not organic but at least fresher than the stuff flown from across the world). There are many others I have frequented or in the case of a few, ordered online from, such as Little Farms, Four Seasons Organic Market, Supernature, Zenxin (Zenxin offers a 10% member discount if you buy goods worth $50 directly from their retail shop in Pasir Panjang), Cold Storage, PasarBella farmer’s market, etc. However, with FairPrice and the wet market, I no longer order online or frequent the farmers’ markets. I would like to mention here about local organic farms such as Quan Fa, Fire Flies, etc, as they use organic farming techniques and have websites to sell their produce (you may also find their produce in FairPrice, Cold Storage, etc)
-Dairy – Not sure if what I’m doing is right or not but I keep changing the brand of fresh organic whole milk and cheese that we consume (I do this also because of availability issues). I’ve bought Living Planet/ Organic Valley and Sherwicks from FairPrice, Horizon from Cold Storage and Barambah from Little Farms (which was a bit too creamy for my liking). I’ve heard that Hay Dairies (a goat farm producing fresh and pure goat milk locally) provides home delivery to selected locations in Singapore but we’ve never tried it. We don’t buy any yogurt because we make it at home.
-Fish & Meat – I do tend to buy some local fish and sea prawns from the Tiong Bahru wet market (I’ve finally found a lovely stall where they understand my complicated instructions of removing the skin, and filleting the fish as per my requirement). For hormone and antibiotic free chicken and New Zealand Alpine Salmon (non-GMO and antibiotics feed) my favourite is the Barbie Girls. There are others though that have a similar range of products such as The Alaska Guys and Fishwives. Huber’s Butchery, The Butchers Dog and The Butcher also stock hormone free meat.
I can’t sign off without mentioning Mustafa. As unappealing as it may be to your olfactory and visual senses, Mustafa does stock a huge variety of organic produce. The fruits & vegetables section has a limited choice (and I’ve never ventured into their meat area) but they carry a large variety of Bob’s Red Mill products as well as organic rice, pulses, etc.
I’m still trying to find my way around the complex balancing act of buying organic/ local without making a hole in my pocket, but hopefully some of my inputs will help you make good choices too.
We would love feedback and comments on your experiences in Singapore balancing between buying right and not overspending, so do leave your comments below, or on the Secondsguru FB page or via email to email@example.com!