February 10, 2022
Robert Swan once said, “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it”.
Our environment is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. To give an example, in 2020 alone, the amount of food waste generated was 665,000 tonnes. Living sustainably matters now more so than ever, and that happens to be what eco-warrior, Yeo Pei Shan, 27, has been advocating for since her early 20s.
On a Monday morning, we met up with Pei Shan at Ugly Duck Café, where she is currently working at. In our conversation, the sustainability advocate shared what motivated her to make a change, and how she is also empowering youths to do the same.
From a young age, Pei Shan was taught to finish all the food she is given. If she were to have any food left on her plate, her family, especially her grandmother would nag at her to finish them. Aside to learning to finish her food, Pei Shan soon learned about the importance of cultivating healthy eating habits. While in university, her grandmother fell ill and that became a turning point for her to understand how food impacts one’s health. This sparked an interest in her to explore issues related to food wastage and sustainability.
At Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Pei Shan conceptualised solutions to curb food wastage and advocate sustainability — “UglyFood” was birthed. It is a social enterprise that sells ugly but perfectly edible fresh produce to people.
Upon graduating in 2018, she decided to bring “UglyFood” into the real world.
“Food production takes up a lot of resources and because of inefficiency, we see things like land erosion and water pollution happening. If we want to continue to live, then we need to look at how we are producing food and choosing the type of food we are eating. That’s why I started UglyFood, to let consumers know that these ‘ugly’ items are still good to eat and inspire the possible ways they can use these fruits and vegetables.” She added.
Now, UglyFood operates as an e-commerce store that sells excess or blemished groceries at a reduced price. Additionally, they also raise awareness about food waste through educational problem-solving workshops, school visits, corporate talks, and social media campaigns.
To date, the business has been effective in battling food wastage in Singapore and has rescued over 400 tonnes of produce. In 2020, Pei Shan even received the Eco-Business Youth A-list award.
“That was one of the proudest moments in my career, as it’s a recognition that we are doing something that can create an impact.” She said, smiling.
However, it was not all sunshine and rainbows for Pei Shan at the start of her journey. Unlike her peers who pursued the corporate track, she took a leap into the unknown and decided to start her own business with little to no experience under her belt.
“There were expectations because I just graduated from university. So rightfully, I need to earn a sustainable income. But when you start an initiative or a business, especially without experience, it’s really hard. I spent too many hours on it and did not prioritize my own time to rest.” She recounted.
Despite the initial uncertainties that were in her way, Pei Shan kept going as she was very passionate about making a change to the environment. She shared that her family’s constant and unconditional support strengthened her when these challenges rose — “My family has been very supportive, they want me to do what I love, because they see value in what I do.”
Her greatest inspiration, the late Mr Tay Lai Hock, the founder of Ground-Up Initiative was also one of the reasons why she embarked on the journey to becoming an eco-warrior — “He was very determined and full of passion, and I really liked that. When he believed in something, regardless of what people told him, he would continue in the direction he believed.”
Pei Shan shared that changing mindset and encouraging people to make sustainability a part of their life is challenging.
“People already have the habit of choosing. If you put them in a retail space (e.g supermarkets), they just want to get what they want. It’s difficult to change their mindset at that point in time because they are there for their personal needs, and not there to learn about fruit and vegetables, or purchase sustainably sourced goods. But we are still trying to change that.”
An Electrolux Ugly Food Survey found that 83% of Singaporeans only buy foods or fruits that look fresh; Most people have the misconception that all ugly fruits are bad fruits. However, that is simply untrue. During her time in UglyFood, Pei Shan conducted workshops for schools and corporates and utilised social media to educate people on how they can make informed choices while purchasing fresh produce.
Every year, one Singaporean household throws away an average of $258 worth of food, with improper storage, overbuying, poor planning, and confusion over labels as the top reasons for food wastage in Singapore.
Pei Shan explained, “Food will go bad after a certain period of time, so when we purchase fruits and vegetables, it is really important to know how you can best keep them in terms of shelf life.”
“Recently, I did a little experiment. A lot of people say that blueberries cannot be kept for long, but what I did was wash them with a vinegar solution, dry them, kept them in an airtight container. I found out I could keep them for 6 weeks. I was quite amazed myself too!” she laughed.
One can play a part in combating food waste by storing their foods properly, planning meals in advance, and buying foods in moderate amounts. Pei Shan also reiterated the importance of finishing all our food on our plates, as it is one of the simplest, yet most effective way to reduce food wastage.
“Don’t just think of throwing food away as the only option when you cannot finish your food. Be more mindful about how we can save food, for example, ask for less food next time, ask your friends to take some of your food, taking away leftover food.”
– Yeo Pei Shan
In addition, the eco-warrior also suggested ways that people can incorporate sustainability in their everyday lives. For example, rejecting single-use times such as plastic utensils and and buying second-hand items are some of them.
“It’s really about making small changes to your lifestyle. We do not want to impose a huge change, to the point that people don’t want to even take a step.” She said.
To see the change, be the change; That was something the 27-year-old believed throughout her journey as a sustainability advocate. In 2021, She spoke at the Food Sustainability Workshop with Greeneity, Career Talk at Serangoon Gardens Secondary School, and was even part of the judging panel at IdeateComm. Her endless resilience in raising awareness about living sustainably, and inspiring people around her to do the same is truly commendable.
Last year, Pei Shan left ‘UglyFood’ to start her new initiative ‘Food Warrrior’, @kindfoodwarrior, with the aim to empower youths to make a change and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
“I see the potential in youths. Schools are a good ground for them to start initiatives and pick up skills. I think more often it’s finding the right space to educate, for example, in a classroom setting, people are keen to learn.” She said.
Pei Shan explains that recycling the waste in recycling bins is one aspect she intends to explore— I want to change the environment in schools. Instead of just throwing them in the bin, is there something else we can do before it reaches the bin?”
This year, Pei Shan is also working at UglyDuck Cafe, a socially responsible enterprise that encourages upcycling. With Pei Shan’s influence, the café is taking sustainability up a notch by using leftover pulps from making nut milks and making them into sauces, as well as incorporating them into smoothies. In addition, they also extract coconut flesh from used coconuts to make coconut shakes.
“Always believe that we are never too small to make a change.” The 27-year-old said.
“For myself, I started as a student thinking that a project that will create change. If you believe in something, just do it. Small changes are fine too, and eventually, if you want to do something big, just start small and people will be there to support you.”
Pei Shan is advocating for a change, and she wants you to make a difference too.
We hope that sharing her story as an eco-warrior will inspire you to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, reduce your environmental impact on the earth, and together, let’s make this planet a cleaner place to live in.
We hope that sharing her story as an eco-warrior will inspire you to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, reduce your environmental impact on the earth, and together, let’s make this planet a cleaner place to live in.For more stories head on over to our website! Also, check out our works on our website and Instagram! www.writehaus.asia and @writehausasia!
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