Food Wastage In Army Camps Triggers Singaporeans

A concerned mother appealed to the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to investigate food wastage in army camps, in a Straits Times forum letter published on Sat (27 Jan).

She alleged that both her sons witnessed food wastage on a daily basis, while in camps during Basic Military Training (BMT) and reservist training.

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Curiously, Madam Vicky Chong’s letter has garnered mostly mixed responses from netizens. Some support her observations, while others criticise her and her children for being picky and complaining about first-world problems.

In order to get to the bottom of this, let’s take a quick look at her allegations.

Reasons for food wastage in army camps

According to both her sons’ experiences in the army, Mdm Chong observed that,

  1. Food servers ignore requests for less rice during BMT
  2. Large amounts of leftover rice are discarded regularly
  3. Caterer Foodfare should conduct better research on in-camp food
  4. NSFs mostly detest ladies’ fingers, eggplant, and bitter gourd vegetable dishes
  5. On morning of live-firing exercise at Pasir Laba Camp, “very spicy noodle dish” was served
  6. Food wastage should not be viewed as a “normal affair”

The article shared on ST’s Facebook page subsequently went viral, with about 3,600 shares at the time of writing.

Netizens’ responses were generally as mixed as the mixed rice style meals National Servicemen (NSmen) enjoy in camps.

Army camp is not a resort

This highly upvoted comment pointed out that an army camp was not a resort. And that it’s impossible to cater to “thousands of different taste buds in the army”.

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Instead, parents should teach their children to not be picky eaters, or alternatively dabao food from home.

Some netizens claimed that it wasn’t a matter of disciplining children, but directly tackling problems of food wastage.

Mothers of NSmen agree with Mdm Chong

Others thanked Mdm Chong for raising the issue, saying that they would have written in too because “food wastage must stop”.

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Her suspicions were confirmed by mothers of other NSmen, who said the situation was similar in other army camps.

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But what did netizens who actually served in the army think?

Less rice means only 3 tablespoons less

A netizen who had just finished serving NS generally agreed with Mdm Chong’s points, pointing out that overly large portions are an issue.

When he had asked for less rice, barely “three tablespoons” were removed from a portion equivalent to “three full bowls of rice”.

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He alleged that certain food items were also left uneaten because they “taste[d] so bloody bad” or “just look[ed] like it’s rotten”.

This resulted in huge dumpsters filled past the brim with “ridiculous amounts” food waste.

Creative solutions for repurposing leftovers

A creative netizen then shared that in order to reduce food wastage, he once got cooks on duty to convert all the leftover rice, eggs, and food into fried rice.

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The fried rice was then sent to appreciative troops out in the field as a yummy night snack.

However, this suggestion was deemed unhygenic – who explained that health and safety rules dictate that leftovers shouldn’t be used.

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He elaborated that in the event that food poisoning occurs, lawsuits may even be filed.

Feedback for feedback’s sake and emotional blackmail

Responding on Reddit, this netizen explained that a possible reason why food didn’t taste good was due to feedback, for the sake of feedback.

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He said that “SGTs” or sergeants would be positioned next to feedback machines to encourage NSmen to give good feedback.

Other methods to manage expectations would be to give talks, or use “emotional blackmail”, by claiming that the aunties who serve food “would lose their jobs and bonuses” due to negative feedback.

Ban on all outside food after company flagged for poor feedback

One netizen on Reddit claimed that his company was even “flagged for giving poor feedback”.

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Which resulted in a ban on all outside food, where members of the company were not allowed to bring in biscuits as snacks from home.

During their next lunch, everyone went back to tossing unwanted food again. Completely defeating the purpose of the feedback system.

What has MINDEF or SAF done to reduce food waste so far?

To be fair, MINDEF and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have introduced measures to repurpose food waste before.

In collaboration with National Environment Agency, several SAF camps – Kranji Camp II, Kranji Camp III and Maju Camp – piloted a food waste recycling project in Oct 2017.

Food waste from camps’ cookhouses were collected daily and driven to a recycling plant nearby at Ulu Pandan.

Recycled food waste was then broken down using microbes and enzymes, to generate biogas which could then be converted to electricity.

Of course, this solution seems more like it’s focused on fixing the result of the problem and not the root cause of it.

Food waste not, want not

In 2016, Singapore generated a shocking amount of food waste, equivalent to the weight of over 3,500 MRT trains. This amount has gone on to increase by 40% over the last 10 years.

Clearly, we do urgently need to solve the issue of food waste, but we cannot say for certain how much food waste actually comes from army camps.

If Mdm Chong’s claims are true, however, we should consider if we can help reduce food wasted in army camps, even before they enter the bins.

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Featured image from MINDEF, Facebook, Facebook, Reddit, Reddit.