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Monday September 9, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Monday September 9, 2013 MYT 8:08:05 AM
by s. indramalar
Sue Ann Hennings and her peers learnt that eating local produce could help reduce costs.
A group of students learn that food is about more than just taste.
A FEW months ago, a group of culinary students from KDU University College, Selangor, went on a journey of food discovery where they learnt, among other things, about food sustainability and the merits – economic and environmental – of eating homegrown produce. They also got to see first-hand how the food they eat gets from the farm to their table.
These students were part of a Food Revolution Day project by The Star, part of a larger global campaign to promote better eating. Food Revolution Day is a worldwide food event mooted by British Chef Jamie Oliver last year to get people to cook and eat healthy. The main idea of Oliver’s campaign is to empower people, through education, to make positive choices about food – whether by cooking and eating healthy food or simply reducing food wastage.
“We Malaysians love to eat. I mean, it’s almost our national pastime. But many of us don’t realise how much food is being wasted,” said Sue Ann Hennings in a video detailing their journey produced by Switch-Up TV, The Star’s web TV.
“More than 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted every year and Malaysians throw away up to 930 tonnes of food daily. Food wastage is higher in urban areas because of the vast difference in income levels. When food gets wasted, two other precious commodities go to waste too – the energy used to produce food and the water used to produce and cook the food,” shared Hennings.
In an effort to learn more about the food chain – where the food they eat comes from – Hennings and her peers took a short trip north to Tanjung Karang in Kuala Selangor where they visited a farm and an oil palm plantation to learn about local food production. They also compared the prices of fresh produce bought in Tanjung Karang to what they got in the wet markets in city with the same amount of money. They wanted to find out if food really was cheaper if bought closer to the food source, hence eliminating additional costs of transportation, etc.
Another group of six first-year culinary students visited 8Acres, an eco-friendly resort in Raub, Pahang, where they learnt how it is possible for communities to live off the land and eat sustainably. The students, led by culinary student Tan Kel Vin, got their hands dirty, building a clay oven in which they baked their own bread, cooked fish (which they caught) and mushrooms (which they foraged from the forest) for their dinner.
The first stop in Tanjung Karang was an oil palm plantation in Kampung Sungai Sirih where they met homestay guide and farmer Mohd Faeez Abu Bakar who spoke to them about the two agricultural produce from Kampung Sungai Sirih – rice and palm oil.
“Agricultural produce is the main income earner here and this includes palm oil. Listening to Mohd Faaez speak, we were not only amazed at the vibrant red colour of the ripe fruit but at the multiple uses of palm oil for cooking and even to make cosmetics,” said Hennings.
As at 2012, 5.08 million hectares of land in Malaysia were used for oil palm cultivation, producing 18.79 million tonnes of crude palm oil and 2.16 million tonnes of crude palm kernel oil last year. Malaysia is one of the largest producers and exporter of palm oil in the world, accounting for 11.3% of the world’s oils and fats production and 25.6% of exports of oils and fats.
The oil palm tree first made it to Malaysia in the early 1870s, brought by the British from West Africa mainly as an ornamental plant. It wasn’t until 1917 that the first commercial planting of the tree took place in the Tennamaram Estate in Selangor. The cultivation of oil palm increased in the 1960s under the country’s agricultural diversification programme to reduce the country’s economic dependence on rubber and tin. Land settlement schemes were introduced to help eradicate poverty for landless farmers and the sector steadily grew to what it is today.
Red palm oil, derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree, is regarded as one of the most nutritious edible oils because of its dark red colour (indicating how rich in carotenes it is) and its unprocessed natural state. This differs from palm kernel oil which is largely used for non-edible purposes – for making soaps, cosmetics and detergents.
Kel Vin shared that he uses red palm oil for cooking for various reasons. “I prefer to use red palm oil not only because it’s nutritious but being locally produced, it is also widely available and affordable. We save on cost because we don’t have to pay the cost of fuel for transportation,” he said.
Using palm oil for cooking is also ideal because of its stability and high smoking point.
The experience for the students was indeed eye-opening. Being taken out of their comfort zone and challenged to cook with basic resources, they learnt how to cook sustainably, thereby reducing wastage.
Student Shirlene Si said she learnt to cook flavoursome food with limited ingredients and seasoning. “Not only did we build our own clay stove, we only had salt and pepper to season our food. I thought it would be a little difficult with limited ingredients but it was good,” she said.
A little change, a big difference
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Lifestyle, food, palm oil, food revolution
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