Not Just Our Childhood Memory — Reflection on The LEGO Serious Play

When I was young, LEGO was my favorite toy. I spent hours and hours sitting among the colorful bricks and building my own dream city. When I grew older, I started to play games like “Sims”, which is actually a virtual LEGO game that allows you to build your own houses and towns. For me, LEGO is always my way to escape from my real life and just let my imagination build my ideal life. However, after the LEGO serious play session a few weeks ago, I realize LEGO was not just about imagination and escaping from the real-life, it also helps you to visualize each other’s thoughts right here and right now in the present.

For me, the session was fun and yet a bit stressful as there was so little time each round for us to build our LEGO. I spent about the first one whole minute to stare at the bricks blankly, not knowing what to do as there was completely nothing in my brain. I was starting questioning whether I have lost my ability to be creative and imaginative. However, after a while, things became a lot smoother. I found it interesting that all of us have extremely different ways of translating our thoughts into a real, visualizable model. Even when some of our friends have exactly the same idea, they demonstrate it in very different ways. This was a really interesting finding for me. I am really used to do things in a way that is logical to me, and I always tend to assume what makes sense to me always makes sense to the others as well. When we took turns to explain our LEGO models, I realized most of the times, I interpret others’ model very differently from how they interpret it themselves. Even though I paid close attention to everyone when they were explaining their models, it was hard for me to remember. This made me realize that as we grow older, our brain becomes less and less open to very different ideas and logic, and it becomes almost fixated in the way we think. Having a clear logic and way of thought is important for us to be rational and opinionated in our lives. However, it also restricts our ability to be open-minded or to accept different things in a short period of time. This means that we need to strike a balance between insisting on our own ideas and being open-minded and adaptable to better work with others and yet not compromise our ability to be an independent thinker.

During the session, one thing that caught my attention was that Jenson kept asking us “what about the colors? Were there any special meanings when you choose the colors?”. To my surprise, most of us (including myself), always said: “I anyhow choose”. I believe it is true that most of us did not pay special attention to the colors we used, but I also believe that the color choices were always intentionally made by our subconscious mind. When we put all our models together, I did observe different patterns for different people. Some of us like to use a lot of bright colors, while for me personally, I used a lot of green blocks. I remember reading some research articles saying different colors will stimulate different parts of our brain. Perhaps, the different colors we chose means that we use different parts of our brain when we do creative work, which leads to our diverse creations. Of course, this is just a bold hypothesis of mine with absolutely no theoretical basis, but I believe it is true that we can know something from the color choice of a person’s work.

I find LEGO building an excellent tool to express details. Sometimes, when we write or speak, we might overlook some more detailed aspects in order to not be ling-winded. However, when we express ourselves through a model, the entire thought process is completely retained. This is because even the finest details will leave an impact on the structure or appearance of our model. Most of the time, we might not even notice that our brains have already arranged everything in such details. If we do not retain these details right from the start, we may end up spending extra time, later on, to get all these details again. Having a visual model is especially useful for people who are very visual learners, like me. When I revise for an exam, I always end up how a page in my notes look like instead of memorizing the words. And during the exam, I will have the stack of notes in my brain and flip it as I answer the questions. Hence, if I adopt something similar and have a very visual process when I revise, I believe it is going to benefit me greatly.

When I take a step back and remind myself why we are having this LEGO session in the first place, an interesting thought occurred to me. According to Jenson, this LEGO session can help those who are less outspoken to express their ideas better and more comprehensively and also it serves to prevent those who are more outspoken from dominating the conversation as we are only allowed to talk about what is in our model. I find it interesting as this sounds like the exact same objective of most of the facilitation workshops I went to. I was first introduced to the idea of facilitation in JC. We were taught that everyone can be a facilitator in helping the more introverted to speak up and balance the group conversation. Here, the role of the facilitator is taken over by the LEGO bricks. By what I observed in the session, the LEGO bricks actually did an equally good job as most of the real facilitators I have met. Hence, I find this method very useful in discussions in both schools and corporates. Of course, it is not possible to always use LEGO bricks to facilitate, but the moral of this is that we should always have a more visual tool when we present our ideas, be it ppt slides, posters, or anything else. This not only helps others to visualize but also makes sure we do not go off track.

Overall, this LEGO serious play was really fun and enriching. I hope I can always remember this session and really put what I learned into use.

To Whom It May Concern

Your Story

Moving past the initial introductions, the first understanding that most students of the course will realize is this: everyone has a personal stake in Singapore’s food security/ waste problem.
Everyone has a personal story to share regarding Singapore. This is regardless of your relationship with it or the people that inhabit it.

Everyone has a personal statement on the importance of growing problems of food which might come to affect those personally close to us. Although finding a topic which you might be deeply or personally invested in might seem unnecessary, this course provides one of the best spaces for personal exploration into your own pet project to attempt at solving some of Singapore’s most pertinent existential problems of today. And I mean it, not sarcastically, but seriously, sincerely. If you ever wondered where you could find your personal voice regarding Singapore’s food problems, this would be the place.

First, create a little space in you

The next piece of advice is to ‘empty your cup’, to abandon everything that you previously know (except your Vensim fundamentals, you will need it VERY SOON). Your pre-conceived notions of what food security or food waste might entail might be entirely reshaped through the process of 12 weeks. You will be challenged to question your core assumptions that you previously made. All models are wrong. Food security is never certain. A country which imports 90% of all food needs can become the most food-secure nation globally. However, even a substantial 10% of the population in a ‘first-world’ country suffers from food insecurity. The list is inexhaustible. Your time to learn is not.
Prior to joining this course, I volunteered to do food delivery for Meals on Wheels, providing food for low-income (physically/mentally-challenged) elderly. Back then, that was my entire understanding of Singapore’s food security problems. Oh boy, how wrong I was. It was merely a tip of Hemingway’s iceberg. Variables upon variables. Trends upon trends. The systemic locking of people in a poverty trap, or the artificially heightened pricing for aesthetic food to blatant food waste in every food court, hotel, restaurant or buffet are only the starting points. In the coming years where global warming becomes more pronounced and food production becomes increasingly challenging across all countries, every effort to increase production or mitigate waste could very well be the difference between survival and disaster.

Vensim

Now, to the crux of the course – systems-modelling. One improvement I always sought was to be able to think of the bigger picture, to never be satisfied with ‘easy answers’ or even definitive answers. Systems-modelling was the initial step. It gave a fresh perspective of superficial incidents that occur, sometimes innocuously on a daily basis. Isolated incidents can be imbued with meaning – made more complete by being part of a larger trend or understand the interconnections it possesses with other variables. Even the lens to explore the hidden workings of larger systems at work grants better appreciation and nuanced understanding to less pronounced but no less important systemic factors which contribute to the trends, attitudes and behaviors which shape our world today.

The multiple crash courses are very concise and equally very helpful. The back-to-basics Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) provides the foundational basis to begin “relearning” causation. John Sterman’s Dynamic Modelling Steps gives a frame of mind to understand and approach a problem (probably an even greater tool to test your patience with) but it’s worth it. The disciplined methodology imbues meaning to the process as much as the process imbues meaning to the problem it intends to solve.
To every Singaporean, student, teacher, sibling, parent … or even just an interested individual, your perspective adds to a larger tapestry of stories and ideas that come to tell and even shape how Singapore will tackle its future food problems.

To whom I couldn’t do without

Finally, I doubt my team members would see this, but thank you to Team Aliment (Tae Kyung, Bin Ren and Nila) for this memorable journey together. I found our shared experiences fruitful in learning from all your respective strengths – be it Tae Kyung’s decisiveness and being constantly on the ball, Bin Ren’s meticulous nature or Nila’s thought-provoking and constantly curious attitudes which show me the better person I wish to become.

Although this has been a short course, spanning less than a year, it was an interesting stepping stone towards future project work, and even future work life in general. To whom it may concern, and to whoever reads this, I wish you an insightful discovery into the unknown.

What has changed?

I used to be a ‘food waster’ but these 13 weeks of these lessons has turn me into a food lover. Not a food lover as in I love eating food (even though that’s true too HAHA) but to appreciate the availability of food and not to take it for granted.

I realise that ever since I started this class, I tend to be conscious about the amount of food I thrown away. And now most of the time, I will clean up my plate or bowl of food.

Also, I realise that sometimes I would not be able to finish the food in RC4. Hence, I would tell auntie to give me lesser rice and also to not give me the food that I didn’t like.

Especially since my group project is about food wasted in buffet restaurants, I was also conscious of the amount of food i take in buffet restaurant. I went to a Japanese buffet restaurant in Suntec City recently and instead of filling up my plate all the way, I took little by little each time so as to ensure that I do not waste food. As I look around, I realise that some diners have many leftovers which was quite upsetting.

Whenever I buy food, I will always remember to take a look at the expiry date to make sure that I will be able to finish the food before the expiry date. Although, what Daniel Tay said that as long the food smells, looks, taste fine, it can still be eaten but I am still a little worried about eating food after the expiry date. Hence, this means the more i should look out for the expiry date and finish the food before the expiry date.

Even though now I am still taking baby steps to reduce food waste, I will definitely reduce even more food waste in the future!! 

Dear Aliment

Strengths of my Group Mates.

The completion of this module could no longer be possible without the help of my group mates. There were countless days where would allocate a whole night (from 7pm – 10pm) just to complete the class activities. Towards the final few weeks of the semester, my group mates stayed in SR4 countless times to finish the modelling and report.

As such, this post will be dedicated to discussing the strengths of my group mates who have made this arduous journey possible. Take this as an ego boosting exercise…so here goes…

Tae Kyung

Tae Kyung is highly focused and would push the group to do work. He is very goal-driven, spontaneous and sharp. He would always remind the group of the deadlines as well as the activities that has to be done before the next lesson. In fact, without him, I would think that the group will procrastinate far more than we should have.

Every week, he would be the one that coordinating the available dates to meet up. He is very focused in discussion and would already have the Powerpoint and GoogleDocs up running the moment we enter the room for discussion. He would also share about food wastage problems in Korea, and this gave us valuable insight on modeling our problem.

Our group sometimes see Tae Kyung as the leader of the group (although we didn’t actually assign one for our group.) Whenever we were unsure about the reasons why certain things were done the way it was or not sure if something should be included, we would always seek his advice. Most of the time, Tae Kyung was the decision maker. But it was done in such a way that he consulted other members as well.

Tae Kyung takes good cares of his group members as well as he would frequently buy and share snacks with the groups. Even though the descriptions make Tae Kyung appear very workaholic, he is not actually, as he knows when to work and when to play.

Nila

Nila strengths lies on her strong reasoning and analytical skills. This has proved to be very useful during the modelling exercises in Vensim. We were trying to model the relationship between the food discarded, the amount of food redistributed by FoodBanks and food distributed by the Retailers. However, because of the complexities of having three variables intertwining with each other, there was no easy way of modelling such a relationship. Therefore, Nila made the group seat down and go through the thought process of the three variables. She asked us to articulate our thought-process verbally, and she would use her marker to write on the board. After doing so, we had a broad picture what actually was going on. There haD been many times where Nila’s style of drawing things out on the board has made the group better visualize the problem.

Because of the complexities of modelling the relation between the three variables (in fact there’s 3! = 6 ways of connecting the variables), Nila suggested something that no one else would do. She suggested manually hardcoding it. Not literally coding in C+/Python but with the help of IF THEN ELSE statements within other IF THEN ELSE statements. As we were not very familiar with coding ourselves, Nila took the responsibility of writing the code on the board, and explaining the code to us (the code illiterate). She could have just rewritten the code in Vensim and went away with it but she did not. She ensured that we were on the same page as her, as went the extra mile of explaining it to us (even though she could conveniently not.)

Nila also troubleshooted the problems we have experienced in Vensim. For example, we faced ‘simultaneous equation’ error quite frequently initially and had no clue what was it all about. It was all our first time seeing the problem and there was about 5/6 variables involved in this problem. We were all quite intimidated by the sheer number of errors (5/6 variables) and therefore were pretty much discouraged. However, Nila actually went through the manual online, tried to understand the problem herself, before explaining what was going on, even though her morale then wasn’t all too high herself.

She is also the joy of the group as the infectious laughter frequently spreads throughout the whole seminar room, releasing the piled-up anxiety from the project itself.

Joel

When the group is going back and forth about a problem with no end in sight, Joel would somehow pop out in the middle, proposing an alternative way of looking at the problem. His insights are often refresh and thought-provoking, and not something that many of us would think about.

This was perhaps due to his course of study, where he was trained to critically assess statements, and how to frame arguments.

Frequently, due to the lack of time, our group would occasionally type the report in a very haphazard and (not so) professional way. Joel, being very meticulous, would sometimes rephrase our report and would keep us in the loop of the changes that were made. When our group would carelessly gloss over something that we perceive as trivial, Joel would always bring it to our attention. He also ensured that the premise of our arguments was logical and sound, and that we didn’t commit any argument fallacies.

Joel is very dedicated to his work. Even though he has a lot of datelines and submission, he would always make time for the group discussion. He is always on time, and in fact, would appear 5-10 minutes earlier than the meeting time. If he could not, he would always take the onus to ask to update him on what went on during the discussion. He would also work on the project solo, carefully checking for any inconsistencies or lopsided argument for our project.

Lastly, Joel would also bring cookies and welfare for the group. There was one time he bought a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice creams to share with everyone. He also shared his jug of cookies with our group and the rest of the class during one of the lessons.

Concluding Words

The project has not been easy, but it certainly has been more tolerable with the quirks and strengths of my group members. All of them came from vastly different backgrounds, and even though we may have differing opinions sometimes, we would discuss them in a civil and accommodating manner. Thank you for being part of this journey and look forward to seeing you guys even after class! (So when was the planned outing for destressing again?)

Dear Junior?

Dear Junior,

As you embark on your own journey to learning about food wastage and security, let me help you by giving you some important tips!

1. Reflect, reflect and reflect some more

Reflection – The most important and used skill in class, while writing your blog and your whole life really. I have to be honest that it wasn’t easy, especially if you’re like me who did not use to practice reflection on a normal basis. But let me assure you, that with constant practices that Brof has prepared for you in class and through blogging tasks, you will surely see yourself progress and improve throughout the 13 weeks. You might be wondering, why reflection? How is this related to the module? Well, instead of thinking of this reflection space as one that’s just purely written for grading sake, you’ll realise this is a safe space for you to pen your thoughts, re-visit what you’ve learnt in class and read what your fellow classmates have to share. It trains you to become more introspective, which is a key skill in life and is something that none of the modules I have taken thus far have incorporated. It’s one of the greatest takeaways and is something that can be cultivated into a good habit even in your daily life where you’re overwhelmed with emotions and information and the best way to consolidate and analyse your thoughts is through penning them down. I hope that by this time you’re sold and excited on this idea of reflection, but then the next question you might ask is, how do I reflect well? Well, I believe that this can be done through constant practice. I think the easiest way to begin is with a 5W1H guideline and after this baseline is complete, start asking yourself – WHY.  Why did you do the thing you did and why did you feel the way you did. 

2. Forget what you think you know, start afresh

Coming into this module, I had my own thoughts about what it was about. Little did I realise that the things I knew about food wastage in the beginning barely scratched the surface. There were many things I was unsure about but I never thought of it any deeper because I felt I already knew what I needed to know about this topic. However, stepping into this module has given me more insight and details as to what really goes on. I’ve been able to learn through listening (in classes), participating (our experiential learning journey to Pasir Panjang) and applying (in our Lego Serious Play session and projects). If you are someone who is generally afraid of the amount of information you are about to receive, I would let you know that this module is structured such that each stage of information is easily digested. And it’s something that I’m sure you will appreciate as well. 

3. Yes, there’s still vensim…

If you tried running away from vensim (but failed), I’d say that I felt the exact same way. Instead of feeling down and exasperated, I hope that you can put down those feelings and clear your mind before entering the class. While it is true that modeling is difficult, but I believe that ridding your preconceived notion of it is even harder. You are what you limit yourself to, and if your first thought about vensim is that “I hate it, I can’t do it”, then that’s what you’ll be. What I liked about Brof’s class is that he understands that students face difficulties in vensim. Instead of only using the traditional method of teaching in class, he takes the effort to record tutorial videos on how to use vensim and even went out of his way to invite his previous students back in hopes that they would be better able to convey the message and share their experience of vensim with us. There are a lot of resources and practices specially crafted for you in this module and its only when you decide to embrace vensim with an open mind will you then be able to see an improvement in yourself. 

Though I know that I’m writing this to no one, since this module will no longer be available, I’d like to think of this as my own reflection as to how much I’ve realised I’ve grown and learnt over the past 13 weeks. I would have to say that it truly was not an easy module, but I really think that it was one which was enjoyable and interesting. Thank you Brof for creating such a wonderful module for us and I wish you all the best in your future endeavours! 

 

Thank You Aliment

A teamwork environment promotes an atmosphere that fosters friendship and loyalty. The camaraderie that was built while going through hardship together, motivate a person to work harder, cooperate and be supportive of one another. Furthermore, as different people possess different talents, weaknesses and strengths, working together as a team has way more benefits than working alone. By working with people different from you, you should be able to gain new insights from your team members that offer differing perspectives and feedback. This means that you will be able to learn something new that would otherwise have not been possible if I were to work alone. All this seems fantastic. Only if group work could always turn out to be like this. Throughout the many projects I have done in my uni life as a business student, it was very difficult for me to actually achieve this ideal situation. There will always be someone who will not put in any effort and I found myself tanking the whole project at times. However, I couldn’t have asked for a better group member for this project and I have actually achieved the ideal situation.

Bin Ren, Nila and Joel for their hardwork. I really enjoyed this module because of them. My group members were all hardworking and as all of us had very different working styles and characteristics, I was able to gain new insights and learn something new through my group members. I am always a person that looks at the big picture rather than the tiny details. However, I found that Joel and Nila had the tendency to focus on tiny details. Of course, focusing on the big picture is not necessary bad and focusing on tiny details is not bad either. They just have pros and cons. However, focusing on a big-picture means that details which could be crucial might be overlooked. As expected, Nila and Joel were able to catch out errors or ideas that I have overlooked. Nila always systematic in the way she approached problems. Sometimes, I have to say that it really slowed down the process of our project but nonetheless, it really helped us to tackle the problem step by step, and made sure that we did not miss out any crucial details of the project. At the same time, Joel and Bin ren were very logical in the way they approach problems. This was very useful especially during SFD and CLD which required a lot of reasoning.

This group is definitely the best group I have worked with so far and it was really a fun 13 week working with my groupmates. Thank you Bin Ren, Nila and Joel for your hard work throughout the 12 weeks and I am really lucky that I had an opportunity to work with you guys in the same group.

A big THANK YOU!

I guess I don’t really have anything to say to the juniors considering that we won’t be having the same course offered anymore, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone in this class for making this journey a pretty memorable one.

Though it was stressful having the dilemmas at the beginning of the semester and I was still in the midst of forming on own opinion on food waste and whether I should even bother about it, I am grateful for this structured time I have been given to ponder about it for 13 weeks.

The semester also had many memorable experiences embedded in it that were literally out of the classroom. I remember thinking “wow a whole day gone for volunteering, and that too during recess week??” and was really sceptical of how much I would even learn considering that being part of food drives where we give out rations was not an entirely new concept for me. I remember being at a loss of words because I couldn’t quite put it in words how easy the entire process was. Yeap. That was it. It is so easy, and it didn’t even take that much of time! Why is food waste still a problem then??

I will always be grateful for all of the lessons I’ve learnt that were not necessarily about food waste. I think I was pretty confident in voicing out my opinion because I never once saw Jenson saying that someone’s opinion is not that insightful. This gave me the confidence to truly voice out what I had in mind without caring much about the judgements that would come with it, and it paid off because honestly no one really said anything about the opinions I voiced out! I remember there was once I didn’t agree with what the motivational speaker was saying in the video, and no one said I was wrong for it. I felt like I was part of a discussion, and that was pretty refreshing amidst the rat-race we run in school.

Thank you for all that you have done! I biggest takeaway from this would be that I would constantly think about this, and I’m pretty sure it has made a profound change in the way I view the food waste problem or life in general.

 

Reflecting on the past 13 weeks

This blog marks the end of my journey with this SS class. I still remember being super worried when I got this module and even though I am glad that it has ended, I feel that I would miss rushing for this 6.30pm class every Monday after ending my previous class at 6pm.

I still remember struggling with my very first reflection on food security. Throughout the semester, Jenson has always emphasized on the importance of reflections. This was a very big hurdle for me because I never had the habit of reflecting. However, after going through the first few reflections, I realised that this really helped with internalising concepts, especially with modelling.

The weeks leading up to the poster presentation were the most strenuous for my group and I. When we first sat down to discuss on a topic to work on, we still felt relatively confident that everything would work out fine. However, when we started to model out the problem, we found that our lack of knowledge on food waste and security resulted in many missing links within our model. This led us researching more and refining both our problem statement and our CLD. There were many instances where we felt lost and even considered changing our whole topic. However, with the help of Jenson, we managed to solve the problems that we had not only with our problem statement, but also with our CLD and SFD.

Throughout the whole journey of working together with my team, I have realised the importance of reflection and iteration. As we built our models, we always had to go back to edit our causal loop diagram and check back to our goal tree to ensure that we were not digressing. The goal tree was also important in ensuring that we did not include variables that were not important in modelling our problem variable. I still remember stressing over the insanely extreme values that emerged after running the SFD and we had to test out many different values for a reasonable graph to appear. We had also encountered other problems like printing our poster in the wrong size and realising some mistakes in the poster which resulted us in reprinting our poster. But that aside, it has been a great 13 weeks working with my group and looking back, I wouldn’t know what I would have done without my team.

I think that my biggest takeaway from this module was to have an open mind, not only to subjects that we are not familiar with, but also to other people’s perspectives. I still remember being apprehensive about taking this module due to my lack of knowledge in it. However, I end my journey with much more knowledge on food waste and security and have even gained valuable experiences from volunteering with Foodbank and the Lego session, where we were able to better visualise the food waste situation in Singapore. And with that I would like to thank Jenson and my classmates for making this module a fulfilling one! Even though this module has come to an end, I am sure that my takeaways from this module would stay with me for a lifetime.

An Adventure Into The Food Waste Journey

As Jenson is leaving RC4 next semester, this blog article might seem purposeless to you Juniors, but as you read on, you will realise that it might be applicable and useful for other SS that you wish take as well! Not only that, this blog article might also spark an interest in you to reduce food waste!

Nonetheless, for those juniors who actually wanted to Jenson modules, my blog article would give you a feel of how his classes would be like.

So welcome on board this journey where you will immerse yourself as a system thinker.

Are you excited? Maybe not yet.. but I will tell you the reason why you should be!!

When I first came into this module, I didn’t know what was in store for me, and actually there are many different interesting components in this class that you will not see in other classes!!

If at any point, you are lost in the content or worried about catching up, fret not as Jenson would always be there to help you! Besides being a teacher, he is like a friend too, you can even call him by his name or even Brof too! As such, you don’t have to be afraid to ask or message him if you have any questions! Once I was not able to attend class and Jenson offered to have a consultation with me. In that 1hr consultation, I was quite confused in a lot of things but Jenson patiently explained to me and ensure that I understand. Jenson also always ensure that the class can follow and grasp the content like for example when the student speakers came to teach us more about the functions of Vensim, Jenson would explain to us in a simpler way such that we would understand. I can also see that Jenson is really a very passionate about teaching us. Hence, his knowledge in system thinking would definitely benefit you into learning more in this class!

At every beginning of the class, Jenson would show us a meaningful video for us to reflect upon. In other words, you are not only learning about modelling and food waste and insecurity issue in Singapore, but also learning important values in class. As everyone would have different opinions on the video, you get to hear the different perspectives from your peers.

Indeed, the workload might be more than what you think. We have to do 5 blog posts, 2 quizzes, a final report as well as presentation. But the good thing is, the grading component are all distributed, so even if you are not great at blogging, you still have another chance at the quiz which you might be better at!

This module also gave me the chance to blog. BLOG! Yes you heard it! I have never blog before and was actually quite shock that we have to blog for this module. Turns out blogging is really fun where you can pour out your thoughts and share to your class through the blog. You can also read the blogs of your peers and learn different things and view from them.

I have to say the quiz is a unique one. For each MCQ, you can split your marks among the options. Cool isn’t it?? Only at Jenson’s class!! And it also includes group component in this quiz as well, where my groupmates and I were allowed to discuss and come up with a mutually agreed answers for the quiz.

Also, if you are part of the waste food club, all the more you should be here!! Through this class you will understand why you shouldn’t waste food and also the effects of food waste. Even if you are not a food waster, this module would reveal to you so many interesting facts about food waste. Especially since food waste is an extremely problematic issue in Singapore, all the more you should play a part in learning about this big issue!!

Of course, this module involved group work as well. We had to sit together in most lessons. As someone who is more of an independent learner and since my course did not provide much exposure to group work, this experience is still rather unfamiliar for me.  But it is a platform that allows us share our thoughts and help one another with our work. As different people would have different thoughts and ideas, it allows me to learn from one another and understand my group mates different style of work.

You would also get to participate in a food volunteering experience as well. We were given the opportunity to interact with other volunteers and get to know why they do not want these foods anymore. Being there in person is so different from just listening and looking at the slides in class. Most of the time, in other classes, you learn abstract information but never ever get to apply in real life. You may think you know but in fact you need to experience so as to grasp the true knowledge. I was astonished by the amount of food that they were giving away. It was a pity that we did not went for the food volunteering experience by AVA.

Jenson would also put in the extra effort to invite speakers. One of them was Daniel Tay, the co founder of SG Food rescue. He shared with us many of his experiences including his experience in dumpster dumping and how he only spent $8 on food for one whole year! His stories are really interesting and inspiring!!!

As week passes by, I was wondering why we hadn’t touch Vensim. Right when I thought about it, we have to head to the computer room and start using Vensim. To be honest, I kind of enjoyed this the most as I learned some extra functions of the software and get to play around with it.

Some tips and tricks (although there is no Jenson class anymore but you still can apply it to your other classes 😊)

If you don’t understand, ask!!  If you never ask, you can’t clarify your doubts and you still be stuck at square one. And pleaseee don’t just dump your notes aside after you finish the lesson. Take some of your time to read through the notes and revise!

Pay attention in class! It is really important to listen to what Jenson have to say in class. Not only you will learn more about the food waste and food security issue, you definitely do not want to miss out important points that might be tested in the quiz!! Also, pay attention to what the experts and speakers have to say. Grab your phones/ laptops and note down important stuffs that all of them say. This would be very important for your blogging especially if you might not remember every single detail.

For the quiz, as mention earlier, you can split your marks to any options. Be smart and split your marks wisely! You can also choose to put all the marks in one of the options and justify your answer below so even if it is wrong but if your justification is good, some marks will still be given! For my class, we had two quizzes but it depends on every different batch. So after the first quiz, note down the mistakes you make and make sure that you will not make a similar mistake again!

And also start early! On your blog or group work! Especially if you have a high workload like me, try to start early so that you will not have to rush in the end.

Also, for those who happen to bump into this blog before choosing SS (and if Jenson is not leaving RC4 ☹), I would have really recommended you to put this as your choice.

The past 13 weeks was definitely a rough ride but I endured it, I enjoyed it and I loved it. It is definitely a pity that Jenson would be leaving RC4 and will no longer be teaching here, but I will never ever forget Jenson’s class. All in all, I want to thank Jenson for not only being a wonderful teacher to us, but also being a caring friend to us as well.

DON’T BITE OFF MORE THAN WHAT YOU CAN CHEW

During the first lesson, Brof told us to check out the SG Food Rescue group on Facebook to find out more about how people like Daniel Tay, who are passionate about food rescue and distribution, use this network to help reduce food waste in Singapore. Since it sounded like a rather interesting initiative, I decided to join the group (and possibly chance upon something I can ‘rescue’ too). In this post, I would like to share my observations about the activities within the SG Food Rescue group, and also other ground-up food rescue initiatives.

Throughout the thirteen weeks in this module, I have occasionally been keeping an eye on the SG Food Rescue group on Facebook and saw many interesting posts. In general, I feel that most people’s posts can be classified into these 5 main categories:

  1. Posts asking people to collect expiring/unwanted food (and to bring their own containers)
  2. Pictures ‘showing off’ how rescued food is turned into delicious recipes
  3. Sharing of articles about food waste in Singapore/other countries
  4. People asking for advice on how to go about handling expired food
  5. Stories on fridge restocking and canvassing of food at wholesale centres

I have to say that I was quite surprised at the extremely positive and supportive atmosphere within the group, and particularly the high response rate whenever someone posts about having unwanted food to give away. I feel that this Facebook group has been successful in allowing like-minded people to exchange useful ideas, give suggestions to one another and create an overall engaging environment that encourages people to keep up their food rescue efforts. Therefore, I feel that other ground-up food rescue initiatives have the potential to be as successful as the SG Food Rescue Facebook group if they can achieve these objectives.

I was quite amused by this – and I also learnt something new about corn silk tea

The NUS Buffet Response Team on Telegram is another example of a food rescue initiative, though limited to the NUS campus. It is a platform that allows NUS students and staff to consume the leftover food from unfinished buffets after events. So far, the group has more than 10,000 members, who are primarily motivated by the idea of having free food without having to travel too far (yes, I am also one of them). I recently also heard about the Makan Rescue app launched a few months ago by a group of students from NUS and SMU, which helps to prevent edible food from being wasted. Although it is currently focused on tertiary institutions, it has the potential of being launched to a wider community in the near future.

UTown is quite the popular place to get free leftover buffet food!

To end off, I am glad to learn that there are so many different channels being tapped on to rescue food and reduce food waste in Singapore. I am sure there are more to come as people become increasingly aware of the food waste situation in Singapore and want to help alleviate the problem. I suppose one of the inevitable drawbacks of these food rescue initiatives would be that even though the food appears to have been rescued and put to good use, we cannot be sure that all the food rescued is being utilized fully. This can result in ‘double wastage’ and a ‘hidden waste’ problem (you can refer to my model in the Lego Serious Play post which conveys this point). Also, we do have to keep in mind that: Free to eat doesn’t mean free to waste! Although not many of us can be like Daniel Tay, spending only $8 a year on food by dumpster diving every day, we can all play a part by being more conscious about our daily eating habits. This can also be considered a way of responsible and sustainable living that is within our means.

ROSES ARE RED, VIOLETS ARE BLUE, NO REGRETS CHOOSING UTC2712!

In the blink of an eye, a semester has passed and it is now time to reflect on everything learnt since the start of the module. Although this module will no longer be offered in upcoming semesters because Brof is leaving, this reflection can serve as a useful guide to students taking other RC4 modules in general. In this post, I will share my most valuable learning experiences and skills acquired, as well as how to succeed in this module and beyond.

Most valuable learning experiences

The main highlights of this module include: Lego Serious Play, Foodbank volunteering, Daniel Tay’s inspirational sharing, and Johnathon and Zac’s sharing on advanced modelling techniques. Out of these, I would say that they are all valuable learning experiences, but in very different ways. The Foodbank volunteering session opened our eyes to the reality of Singapore’s food waste situation and taught us the value of seeing the problem ‘on the ground’. The Lego Serious Play sessions sparked our sense of creativity and taught us the importance of communicating the hidden meaning of our models. Daniel Tay’s sharing gave us interesting insights on how he managed to gather like-minded people and organizations to participate in food rescue; and the seniors’ sharing showed us what it truly means to be active systems citizens.

Certainly, there are also valuable lessons gained in the classroom. There is never a mundane moment of learning since we get to watch videos and participate actively in group discussions. During the last session of the module, Brof reiterated the importance of these 3 points when it comes to systems thinking:

  1. Context and perspectives are key to understanding complex problems
  2. Feedback structures dictate problem behaviours
  3. Mental model locks problem behaviours in place

Learning in the classroom can come in many different forms

Useful skills I have acquired

Despite being an engineering student, I have always liked writing, but it is often in the form of essays where I write from a third-person view. In contrast, writing a blog post involves a much more personal reflection that comes from a first-person perspective, which I was not very used to. Initially, it was difficult for me to find the right words to express myself and I tend to take a long time to phrase my ideas properly. However, I now find it a very enjoyable process and have noticed that my ideas flow more easily. Through the writing of reflection blogs, I also understand more about the way I think, and how to refine my thoughts to make it a coherent piece of writing. In fact, I feel motivated to continue this habit of blogging on my own – It gives me a sense of accomplishment since I am creating some form of tangible and original content.

On the other hand, I have also developed useful presentation skills. I used to prefer having a lot of preparation beforehand and liked writing detailed scripts for my presentations. However, this module has given me numerous opportunities to present my ideas to my peers in a safe and encouraging environment. I realized that I actually enjoy the challenge of having to think on my feet and giving an impromptu presentation; and it does not have to be perfect all the time. Sure, having the right body language and audience engagement are important, but what is more vital is that the crucial parts of the presentation are successfully conveyed. On hindsight, I would say that I am now more confident in expressing my views and driving the relevant messages home.

Through working on the project, my Vensim skills have undoubtedly improved as well. The repeated attempts to get the model working have trained me to become more familiar with the simulation steps and advanced modelling techniques (such as the Monte Carlo simulation and optimization). I am also more aware of the various types of equations or functions I can use to define the stocks and variables in the model. Sometimes, I would find myself having to google ways to resolve error messages, or even shortcuts to understand more about how Vensim works (just out of curiosity). Although these technical skills may not be directly relevant to other aspects of my life, I believe that the never-give-up and independent learning attitude cultivated along the way will certainly be beneficial.

How to succeed in this module and beyond

In most of the #STORIESINSTCLASS videos shown to us at the start of every lesson, a recurring takeaway is that consistency is key, and this was regularly emphasized by Brof too. Many of the skills we have learnt – be it Vensim, writing or presentation skills, need to be consistently honed and not just learnt at the last minute when a project is due. Some may think that this would translate to a heavy workload, but something as simple as paying attention in class and taking down notes can be very useful. This can apply to other modules as well.

The fear of Vensim is a common one among RC4 students. However, systems thinking is not all about Vensim! It is also how you define the problem and explain the factors that generate the problem behaviour within a certain context. I like to think that Vensim is merely a tool to help us visualise the modelling process and there is nothing to be afraid of, as long as you have the desire to learn and put in effort to constantly practice. Of course, it can get very frustrating when we can’t seem to obtain the desired graphs; but with each attempt to improve the model, you can be sure that there will be progress. Moreover, with Brof around to offer advice and suggestions, I find that everything will eventually work out in the end.

Lastly, it would be wonderful to always do your best, and even go the extra mile if you are truly passionate about the topic. Brof frequently shares interesting articles and videos with us in the Telegram group, which can give us many potential ideas for what to include in our blog posts and projects. The learning doesn’t have to stop when the lesson ends; and I think it can make a difference if we are willing to change our mindset. Rather than thinking “This is just another RC4 module I have to clear”, if we can focus on truly enjoying and learning something useful from the module, then I believe it will make the time spent more worthwhile.

A final reflection

“Hard to secure, easy to waste – Singapore’s food story” – This module truly lives up to its name in allowing us to understand Singapore’s food security and food waste situation through diverse experiences. But as this module comes to an end, it does not mean that the story stops here. I am inspired to be an active systems citizen like many other seniors who have taken this module, and to continue to delve deeper into understanding Singapore’s food story. Thank you Brof and fellow classmates for making this module a fun and fulfilling one. 😊

End of the food waste journey

When I got assigned this module, I couldn’t believe that after a long day at school, I would still have night classes and on a Monday… I thought that it would be a nightmare, but I truly enjoyed the lessons the past 13 weeks. There were many hands-on activities that made the 3 hours pass very quickly each week. From making mind maps to Lego Serious Play, each class was never boring. Personally, I think that this is the best part of this module. I got to learn in a fun way and it is especially effective because it allowed me to absorb information better. It is easier to learn through participating in activities rather than sitting down and listening to a lecture for 3 hours. Especially since I get restless quite easily, sitting down for 3 hours would be very torturous.

Throughout this module, I got to experience many things and I was exposed to the harsh reality of food waste and security in Singapore. The journey to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and redistributing the food would be something I would never be able to forget. Not only was I able to understand the food waste and insecurity situation in Singapore, I could even help those in need by doing so. This learning journey is definitely the highlight of this module for me. The learning experiences are not confined to within the classroom and I get to learn so many things beyond academics that I believe other modules would not be able to achieve. I still remember when Daniel Tay came to share with us his experience. It was really eye opening to hear about how much food is being wasted based on a personal recount, and comforting to know that there are people who want to make a change in this society. Not to mention the Lego Serious Play Session where I learnt about system dynamics thinking in a fun way. It was fascinating to realise what we had been building was just Vensim in Lego form.

However, one part of this module which I did not enjoy so much was the blogs. I found it hard to write in a semi-formal tone and reflecting on what I learnt was very difficult to put into words. Nonetheless, I think that being forced to write blogs helped me to internalise what I learnt, because I had to think very hard to recall what we did and what I lesson I took away. I realise that among other things about this module, the blogs were like bitter medicine, although not enjoyable, it works very well.

The learning experiences that this module brings is what differentiates it from other modules, which I have reflected on. I think that beyond content, this module has brought me many memorable experiences that I would never forget. It is a pity that this module would not be taught anymore, but I am glad that many of us had experienced this module and learnt under Brof.

Fin.

And this is it. The end of the 13 weeks journey taking this module. And before it comes across as just another “closing of a chapter and start of a new journey kind” kind of post, it isn’t. Because this is really the end. This module won’t be offered in the next coming semester. There will no longer be another new chapter for the next batch of students to write. Perhaps that is why I see can see the purpose of blogging now – not only to reflect, but somehow a sense of relief in knowing that whatever is written here remains here, for future internets lurkers to see, and for those who had taken this module to reminiscence and laugh about the past. Having said that, I would like to take this opportunity to blog about the most important things I’ve learnt from the past 13 weeks.

To Lead and Inspire

Interactions with guest speaker Mr Daniel Tay from SG Foodwaste have made me have huge admiration and respect for him. It’s inspiring to see people being passionate for what they believe in. Rescuing food waste can be an inglorious task. It’s backbreaking, dirty and uncomfortable. People may scorn you for doing something that isn’t esteemed. But if it’s something that you truly believe it, then why does the view of others matter? I’m sure for Mr Daniel Tay himself, he probably faced many obstacles to get to where he is at now. The world can be as discouraging as it is, but the biggest strength comes no other than the simple yet strong faith of believing in yourself.

Another thing I’ve learnt is about humility. These are people doing noble things. But never was there once where it came across to me that they had a higher moral ground because of the great things that they’ve done. To quote Mr Daniel Tay, “I’m not doing this to save the world.” This is as down-to-earth as it gets. He’s not doing this just so students like us can look at him in awe, give him compliments and for him to feel good about himself. Neither was he using his anecdotes as neatly packaged civil lessons, somehow expecting dazed students like us to suddenly rise from our ordinary lives and start making extraordinary changes. No, this was never his purpose. He’s just an ordinary guy who had a passion, followed it and got to where he is at now. He’s not here to sell us his inspiring story. But it was inspiring anyway.

Another thing I’ve learnt is that people do great things not because they’re extraordinary. People tend to take a story, repackage it, and retell it as some truly awe-inspiring stories. But stories like Mr Daniel Tay himself is as ordinary as it can get – a normal office worker, who one day decided to collect unused groceries from his neighbor, and now has created SG Food Rescue and amassed other equally passionate people about rescuing discarded food. I think is what makes Mr Tay’s story so captivating, because of how ordinary and raw it is. I’ve also come to realize that if you want to do something, go for it. Just stay rooted and firm, don’t waver, and maybe one day you’ll get there eventually.

Having said so much about being inspired and learning so much about food waste, I hope the readers are not thinking that I’m somehow going magically follow his footpath and start making a difference.  I’ve definitely learnt something – but who says I have to use it on something about food waste too? Maybe one day, when my passion for something has started to waver, maybe I’d return to this blog post to remind myself of my takeaway from Mr Tay’s story.

Was it more than just food waste?

I’ve learnt a quite a lot about food waste in Singapore. But I’d like to think that was not the biggest takeaway. It’s always possible to learn this through the internet, or volunteer in some FoodBanks trips to know about food wastage problem in Singapore. The soft skills amassed in this module was probably the biggest takeaway for me.

The module was designed in such a way that you’re assessed on a multitude of ways, and to do well, you really have step out of your comfort zone and to do things that you’ve never imagined yourself to do before. Good at Vensim? Okay, but can you present your idea to the wide audience? You’re good at presenting? But how well can you write? You’re good at writing, but how well are you at the technicalities involved in Vensim?

For me, I tend to not be active for class participation, nor can I write very well. I’ll just hustle and do Vensim. But if I really wanted to do well, then I better step out of my comfort zone and start volunteering to present in class and start writing more. I’m glad that somehow this module made it compulsory for me to write (through blogging). I find blogging to be period of introspection where you organize your thoughts, reflect your learning and pen it down. The occasional reflections in class also forced me to think about what I’ve learnt instead of just leaving class and forgetting about it the next class. I also appreciate the occasional mandatory class presentation sprinkled throughout the semester. For example, this form of presentation started small and we only had to present to our peers. Subsequently, it moved on to having to present to the class, and finally the grand challenge of presenting your posters and evaluation by the class and Brof Jenson himself. Initially I was quite reluctant to speak up in class, but somehow, I found myself presenting our group’s model for Lego Series Play. And no, I wasn’t force to do it, I volunteered to do it. And it honestly wasn’t as intimidating as I thought, in fact there was a feel-good feeling because I finally saw myself stepping outside of my comfort zone.

I may not be able to write or present well. But at least compared to the past, I’m doing something about it and there’s progress – and that’s the most important. Apart from food waste itself, the module taught me about growth and progress.

Conclusion

Food waste is something that everyone should pay attention to. But beyond that, this module has shaped me to be more confident in thinking, writing and presenting. The invitation of guest speaker have also taught me to believe what I am passionate in, and to not waver even if the whole world seems to be pitting against you. Perhaps if I find myself wavering and losing my passion, I’ll come back again to this blog to remind myself of my sense of purpose.

Thank you Brof Jenson for specially crafting this module that teaches me about soft skills in life beyond just food wastage. Thank you everyone for being part of this learning journey and best wishes to all.

Bin Ren

Start of Something New

Now that we have approached the end of the semester, I would like to share some reflections on my UTC2712 journey. Despite it being only 13 weeks long, the knowledge and skills I have acquired can be easily extended beyond the classroom.

I am particularly drawn to the experiential learning aspect of this module. To be immersed in real-life complexities of an idealised problem is not an opportunity everyone gets to experience. From the expert sharing by Daniel Tay to LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®, these experiences have kept me engaged throughout the entire course of this module. Personally, the one which has impacted me the most was the volunteering session with Food Bank.

To provide a backstory, I was not able to join the scheduled session with the class due to a prior commitment. I was disheartened as this was honestly the only thing I look forward to when the course outline was laid out. Motivated by not wanting to miss out on the experience, I decided to reach out to Food Back directly. Luckily, they had a session for me to join over the weekend. Then, I was not aware that my volunteering experience would be different from the rest. Indeed it was a blessing in disguise. Having read the comments here by Jenson, Joshua and Ivan, the experience dissimilarity has provided us with an understanding of the same issue from a different perspective. With a small gesture of taking the initiative to reach out, it has benefitted not only myself but the people around me as well.

Furthermore, the volunteering session has reinforced how and why context and perspectives are key to understand complex problems. This was particularly prevalent during LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY®. I could comprehend and break down the complexities of food waste and insecurity in Singapore. Also, I was able to share the context and perspectives behind what I built with my classmates. Surprisingly, my models left a lasting impression on one of them! As mentioned here, I too agree with Qizhao that this together with systems thinking would help us understand the complete problem systematically.

A key takeaway for me is to do what you think is right at any particular point in time. Somehow or rather, good things will come your way and unveil itself in ways you least expect them to be. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Jenson for providing us with experiential learning opportunities as well as staying up late for consults. Your absence will be felt for sure, all the best for your future endeavours!

Thanks for the mmrs

I’m sure that I’m not speaking for myself alone when I say, “wow, these 13 weeks passed by really quickly.” Although this module was focused on food waste, that wasn’t my main takeaway. Knowledge about food waste can be learned from the internet, but the takeaways that I have come from the 13 weeks of experience.

The Importance of Consistency

This wasn’t an easy module. It required consistent effort, from making semi-regular blog posts, to consistently working on our group projects. When I heard of the workload in week 1, it was certainly daunting. What do you mean I have to write 6 blog posts, do a site visit, take 2 tests and still have a final report and poster presentation? To be fair, when I signed up for this module, I did not realise the true extent of the workload. Although there will not actually be any juniors, I’d say that to succeed in this module, you’d definitely need consistency.

However, in retrospect, without the blog posts or the site visit, the learning would’ve probably been less effective. Which brings me to my next two points: reflection and experiential learning.

Reflection

Every day, we take in massive amounts of information and take part in multiple activities. We do so many things but we rarely take the time to reflect on them. What did I learn today? Could I have done better? This is what blogging aimed to achieve in this class. By blogging regularly after significant events (e.g. Daniel Tay’s talk, the food bank visit, lego serious play), it provided an opportunity for us to reflect on our own takeaways, and perhaps how it could be applied to our lives later on, outside of the module. Jenson heavily emphasised on reflection, even asking us to use one word to describe our feelings during the first couple of lessons. After all, it is through reflection that we learn. In fact, I found myself trying to actively reflect more on my daily activities, to find out what I could have done better, for a better tomorrow.

Experiential Learning

The two highlights of my 13 weeks in this module are the trip to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre + Kichener Road and the Lego Serious Play experience. Why? Because they gave me a first hand, hands on experience that helped me to better understand the journey of food in Singapore. Experiential learning is definitely a better way to learn than to sit down and passively absorb information.

I remember being particularly surprised by the number of people who came down to collect the redistributed food. I did not expect that the few hours of effort we put it to canvass the food could potentially make a difference in the lives of so many. It was truly an eye-opening experience on how food wastage was so unnecessary sometimes, and also shed light on the problem of food insecurity in Singapore (it is perhaps an overstatement to assume that everyone who collected the redistributed food are food insecure, but it is definitely safe to say that it helped them, even by just a little).

As for Lego Serious Play, as I said in my previous blog post, it brought loads of fun to learning, and was immensely helpful in aiding our understanding of how everything was connected to one another, and how a change in one of the factors in the food chain could have massive downstream effects. I suppose that it can be said that it was systems thinking through lego?

Lastly, When in Doubt, Ask and You Shall Receive

UTC2712 wasn’t an easy module for me. If you ask Jenson, he’d probably tell you that I looked confused half (or maybe even ¾) of the time. Vensim was not my strong suit, so naturally whenever that was involved, I would inevitably run into some problem. Although Vensim was difficult, it was made easier because my groupmates and I could ask Jenson for help whenever we had any obstacles, and he would patiently draw it out on the whiteboard to help us understand. I don’t think I am exaggerating if I say that our project would have looked a lot different without Jenson’s help. While I wasn’t exactly the best / model student, I really appreciated how Jenson always offered to help to clarify my doubts.

Hence, one of the key takeaways will definitely be, to ask. Although it isn’t exactly in the Singaporean culture to actively ask questions to clear our doubts (we often prefer to go home and search it up the web ourselves, or alternatively, forget and just never find out), it is indeed the best way to learn. And that helps you succeed anywhere, not just in NUS.

Although we are the last batch to ever take this module, it is not the topic of the module itself that matters. It’s the soft skills we take away that lasts us for a lifetime. Although I’m not sure if people outside of this module will actually read this, I’m sure that if you apply the abovementioned skills anywhere, I can say with absolute certainty that you will be doing yourself a favour.

Signing off for the last time,

Yingjia

THIS IS NOT THE END, BUT THE BEGINNING

Dear Juniors,

BAD NEWS First 🙁 This SS module is no longer available, but please keep reading this blog as I will tell you what I have gained in this module that you can apply it to your other SS/SSU classes!

You may be wondering why we need to write blogs for this SS module as most of the SS modules are Vensim-based. Jenson said this is a way for us to internalize all our experiences. Indeed, it is. Through writing blogs, I need to keep addressing what I had learned to myself and reflecting how can I promote my learning experiences. To be honest, I was struggling for my first blog, I did not know what to write and how to express what I have learned in class on paper. It took me many hours to write my first blog, but after that, I gradually knew how to internalize my learning experiences in my blogs. This blog writing thing also comforts to RC4’s theme—being a systematic citizen! So, try to write blogs for your SS or other modules as well, it is very helpful indeed to immerse yourself in the module and improve your writing skills!

Some background introduction of this module (in case you do not know), the title of this module is “Hard to secure Easy to waste—Singapore’s Food Story. Through this module, we were shown statistical knowledge of Singapore’s food waste and food insecurity problems. You may not know how much we waste every day, how many people are food insecure in Singapore. Go check it, the statistics will surprise you! Moreover, Jenson invited Daniel Tay to share his real-life experiences to made us feel inspired by a real-world role model. To help us further understand the food waste situation in Singapore, Jenson organized us to canvass for food from Pasir Panjang Wholesale Center. Unfortunately, I could not make it. But I will go by myself in the future as I believe that if you are really interested in something, you need to take action and use the skills to solve practical problems.

I am sure Jenson’s class is the only SS in RC4 where you can play with LEGO! We were instructed to use LEGO bricks to simulate food security and food waste in the context of Singapore. To my surprise, given a certain prompt, Different people had a deep impression of different aspects of the problems, so it helped me to know more aspects of the problems and think things in multiple views. It also allowed me to articulate what I thought about when given a certain prompt and generate more ideas in a short period of time. Then we used different kinds of LEGO bricks/chains to link all the models together and we saw a CLD in a LEGO format! Instead of using Vensim or writing on the board, LEGO bricks helped us to create a CLD to show the food waste and food security problem, you can image how magic and interesting it was. I may not have a chance to use LEGO bricks again, but what I acquired from this LEGO Serious Play was: Not only organize and express your ideas but also listen to others’ views as everyone thinks the same problem from different perspectives.

This module did not only honed my writing and presentation skills but also constantly pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. To be honest, I was not comfortable with using Vensim because I was easily confused with all the flows and stocks (and my Vensim crashes often). In the first stage of our group project, I was so frustrated and depressed so that I could not get anything right. The results were ridiculous that supermarkets wasted billions of food in Singapore?! During the consultation, Jenson suggested us to simplify our model and see the problem from different perspectives. So we tried different approaches to optimize our model and finally, we got the SFD right! The whole process did not only pushing our project to the next level but also pushing me out of my comfort zone. In the policy formulation part, I took Jenson’s advice that I consolidated all my ideas first and thought from multiple views, then I was able to get the results correct! That was the first time I discovered fun and joy in a Vensim project. Therefore, step out of your comfort zone and try different approaches. You will succeed!

My classmates and I are so lucky to be the last batch to take this module! This module improved both my soft skills and hard skills and allowed me to achieve what I hoped to achieve at the beginning of this module. I believe that this learning experience will benefit my future studies and I hope this blog could benefit my juniors in your modules as well. I must say Jenson created a supportive environment for us to learn and I definitely enjoy this minds-on and eyes-on learning journey with Jenson and my fellow classmates. All the best!

Best regards,

Qizhao

Another Chapter Concluded

And so, in a blink of an eye, 13 weeks have passed us by yet again. In order to write this final blog post, I believe that some self-reflection is necessary. Hence, I would like to present my three main takeaways from the conclusion of this module, which coincidentally, also happens to be the last Senior Seminar that I will take in RC4.

1. Biases and prejudices shape your thoughts

When dealing with certain problems, we often apply the same mental models that help to define our behavior and actions. For example, when learning math, everyone knows that it is impossible to score if you only attempt to understand the concepts without any actual practice. No one can get great at math without having any practice. Similarly, coming in to this module, this was the inflexible mindset that I held.

“It’s just another SS module with Vensim.”

“We will probably get a few boxes of discarded food.”

However, as the semester progressed, and as someone who knew little about Singapore’s food waste and insecurity problem, I believed that the various experiences that I had throughout this module helped shaped my thinking. As someone who enjoys learning by doing, having the chance to recollect and redistribute food that was considered as waste really opened my eyes to the issues that surround us in Singapore. Listening to Daniel Tay share about his “freeganism” lifestyle and not being ashamed of it challenged my preconceived notions of how life should be led. Mr Tay could have gotten a normal job, just like all of us. However, if he had done so, it would not have led to the food recollection efforts that have brought about so much change. Who am I to judge his lifestyle if it worked so well for him?

Certainly, moments like this were not far and few between throughout this module, which have broadened my perspectives, beyond just focusing on the issues that are happening around me. It’s definitely proven to me that learning should happen with an open mind and not one that is prejudiced. It is okay to have your own ideas, but never possess a mind that seeks to only prove what you think is right. I’ve learnt that the times where I was proven wrong were the ones that taught me the most.

 

2. Experiences are the best teachers

I’m a big believer that what your individual experiences are the one of the most valuable aspects of pursuing an education. Beyond what you learn in the classroom, the memories that you create are bound to leave the largest imprint. Through volunteering experiences at FoodBank and food redistribution at Kitchener Road, these outside-of-class experiences aided me in framing the food insecurity and wastage problem in Singapore. I saw with my own eyes what being food insecure is like, whilst encountering food wastage that at times, was unbelievable. Some of the memories that have left a lasting impression on me:

  1. Getting our hands and feet dirty and breaking into a sweat whilst carrying boxes of discarded food items.
  2. Seeing so many residents queue for these items without any bargaining or complaining.
  3. The appreciative glances and thanks that we received, even when it was only a one-off event.

Even though it has been a few weeks after that experience, it made me remember how apparent food insecurity and wastage is in Singapore. The large majority of us turn a blind eye to such issues, because we never had to worry about where to get our next meal. I may forget the multiple ways to model a food insecurity problem in Singapore, but I will never forget the experience I had volunteering, which will continue to stay with me long after the module has ended. Brof Jenson also makes it a deliberate point to impart lessons beyond the normal class syllabus, with thought provoking videos at the start of every formal lesson. These are the experiences that have the most impact on me, which I am very grateful to have. Should anyone have the opportunity to take this module again, enjoy the memories that you create. Keep them close and remember what they have taught you. Looking back,I’m grateful that I was able to go through many unique experiences, beyond the scope of the classroom.

 

3. Ask questions

During one of the lessons, Brof Jenson brought a couple of his ex-students to share their modelling experiences, as well as any elaborating on any modelling techniques that they used for their modelling project. Even though we started on the modelling techniques pretty late into the semester, the overall Vensim modelling process was very different from what I encountered in the previous JS and SS modules that I took. Optimization, sensitivity analysis, as well as extreme conditions testing were all new concepts that I had to relearn throughout the module. Being unfamiliar with many of the new concepts, I struggled with modelling during our group project. However, together with my group mate, Ivan, we were fortunate enough to have Brof Jenson help us during our group discussions at the computer lab, whilst also figuring out our models with trial and error.

When learning, most of us reach a point where we become unsure about something. At that point, we can choose to ignore it, or act upon it. Asking questions about concepts and ideas that you don’t understand is imperative to getting the most out of your learning experience. Fortunately for me, having great peers and a helpful professor made the learning more enjoyable and less painful than trying to tough it out alone. Even during our quizzes, Brof Jenson made sure to include a group component to help give us the chance to learn from one another. Be attentive to what your peers have to say and ask insightful questions. Learning together, if done right, is more productive than going it alone.

 

Conclusion

Upon further reflection, it has truly been a wonderful journey learning about food waste and insecurity through the many experiences that I have gained in this 13 weeks. With unconventional yet memorable learning experiences, this has definitely been one of the more unique modules that I have taken so far. Brof, thanks for coordinating so many interesting talks and sessions in class and all the best for wherever you go to next!

 

 

 

 

Reflecting My 13 Weeks of SS

To anyone that is considering taking Jenson’s module, here is my reflection that can hopefully give you more insights on what this module is about and aid you in making your decision on whether you should take this module.

 

Learning Experience

I have heard bad things about this module. People have told me that this module has too many components and it is difficult to consistently do well for every single component. I have also heard that this module is content-heavy, and it is very time-consuming. On the other hand, I have people who told me they enjoyed this module as they have learnt a lot of new things. Thus, I was very reluctant to take this module as I was worried that I will fall into the “I don’t like this module” category (but I had no choice as the majority of other SS didn’t fit into my timetable). After taking this module for 13 weeks, I cannot deny that this module is very content heavy and requires a lot of time and effort. Nonetheless, I have to say that this module was really interesting, and I am glad that I took this module. Unlike many of the modules that I personally feel I do not learn anything, this module has really taught me a lot of things.

The main selling point of this module is the way Jenson approaches teaching system thinking. Even though we are always told that system thinking is not vensim, from the way our modules are designed, it is not a surprise that many think of it this way. However, for Jenson’s module, he really teaches us how to be a systems thinker instead of being a student who knows how to use vensim. There is no way a student will thinking of system thinking as vensim after taking this module.

The teaching style of Jenson is also very interesting. His lessons were never boring or mundane as you really do get to learn new and interesting things every single lesson. Who would have thought you will get to play Lego? I have mentioned in my previous blog but really, I am amazed how Jenson was able to teach system thinking through Lego play. I really applaud for his creativity and it really shows how much effort he has put it in designing the module, in order for students to learn the most out of it. Attending a talk by Daniel Tay, who is an expert in the field of food redistribution, was eye-opening. I have learnt valuable lessons and information which I would have otherwise not learned through books. Furthermore, he made us go for food bank volunteering in order to really experience what food redistribution is like and to see for ourselves how severe food wastage problem is like in Singapore. What I really liked about this lesson is that Jenson makes an effort to teach beyond systems thinking. The first 10 minutes or so, will be spent on learning life lessons and skills by watching a video. I really liked this part of the lesson as it really helps us shape a better future for yourself.

How to Succeed in this Module

To whoever that is reading this blog, I am sure you are interested in knowing how to succeed in this module. I have a few tips:

 

  1. Speak Up, Ask Questions!

Jenson class are structured in a way so that the classes are comfortable for everyone to raise their own opinions. He really likes it when we give opinions that are different from him or from our peers. In fact, that is what he wants us to do. LEGO play was designed for this purpose: sharing our viewpoints.

In addition, there are never right or wrong answers (when discussing food wastage and food security problems) in his SS class as he is open to new ideas. I remember my group was telling Jenson we do not agree with some of his viewpoints and he told us our options were definitely valid as well and he was actually glad that our group raised a different viewpoint from him. Even during the quiz, although my answer was different from the answer key, Jenson still accepted my answer because he told me the way I approached the question was something he never taught of, but it totally made sense.

  1. Enjoy the Learning Process, not “A”

This module is very content heavy. There is no way you will enjoy this module or succeed in this module if all you want is an “A”. You will enjoy this module only if you are thirsty for knowledge and enjoy the learning process. I am sure if you are willing to learn, your “A” will come along. Jenson always emphasizes that he wants us to learn and improve along the way, not about being perfect. I have really enjoyed taking this module because I was interested in this topic and also, I wanted to learn more about them. Going through many components in this module was thus not a hassle for me.

  1. Be Open to New Ideas

As I have mentioned previously, you should speak up and ask questions in order to succeed in this module. But this also means that you should be open to new ideas. After all, everyone has differing views of what is the most pertinent problem that causes food waste and food security problems. Our group felt that ugly food wastage was the main problem that had to be tackled in order for food waste to decrease and food security to improve. However, there were groups that focused on food wastage from restaurants or focused on reducing reliance on imports to improve food security. This module is mostly based on exchanging ideas and opinions and this is one of the reasons why I really liked this module. You will definitely gain new insights about food wastage and food security from your peers.

 

Looking back on the sem

The UTC2712 module has concluded and I am happy to say that I have found my experience to be a meaningful one. 

I learnt a lot about the issues of food security and food waste in Singapore. Having never interacted with food as anything more than an end consumer, I was surprised to find that our food has to step through so many processes before it reaches us, and that so much wastage occurs at each stage. I learnt about how entire pallets of food can be rejected due to the blemished appearance of a small sample, while 1 in 10 Singaporeans is still food insecure. I was shocked by the sheer amount of food that is wasted at supermarkets and restaurants, but was heartened to learn of the growing movement to collect and redistribute unwanted food to the needy. I believe that the issue of food wastage has its roots at the consumer level. If we are more careful about not over-ordering food, are less particular about the cosmetic appearance of food and are able to better organise the food that we keep in our fridges, our efforts to reduce food waste will ripple up the supply chain, eventually leading to a meaningful reduction in food waste. 

I enjoyed volunteering with Foodbank to redistribute food. I was happy to help with giving food that had been rejected due to poor appearance to someone who could consume it, rather than letting it go to waste. It also showed me that plenty of food is discarded at wholesale centers on a daily basis because consumers have high standards for the appearance of their food. 

I also learnt about how system thinking tools can help us solve large scale problems. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the modelling process that involved CLD and SFD usage, is that there is a need to investigate feedback loops that drive system behaviour, before attempting to solve a problem. Reinforcing loops that contribute to a problem must be tackled, failing which the problem will perpetuate. Reinforcing loops involving solutions can be constructed so that the effects of the solution are self-reinforcing and will grow over time. These feedback loops are in turn based on mental models (or intrinsic thought processes) that must be identified before the loops can be worked with. 

I enjoyed the Lego Serious Play sessions, in which Lego models were built to help us express our ideas and better appreciate others’ ideas. This taught me how physical expressions of ideas can help to enhance discussion about a certain topic. This is very similar to how product designers use 3D printed prototypes or cardboard models to explain concepts to a prospective user. Perhaps I could consider using a physical model to explain complicated concepts in the future. 

I feel that I could have done the following better: 

  1. Brushed up Vensim skills 

When it was time to use Vensim to work on assignments and our actual group project, I realised that my Vensim skills were sorely lacking. I had forgotten most of what I had learnt during JS, and I had not taken the time to re-learn them (although we were asked to). As a result, I faced quite a lot of difficulty doing the assignments (especially learning the advanced Vensim techniques), and did not manage to contribute as much as I had wanted to for our group’s SFD. Hence, it would have been wise to have taken the time to brush up my Vensim skills. 

  1. Been brave enough to reach out to food waste/ food security experts 

When doing research on the problem that our group wanted to address, I found that there were quite a few things that the Internet did not provide sufficient information for. For example, perceptions towards farming as a career, and the reasons as to why people continue to waste food although aware that they should not. I feel that we could have gotten a better insights into these issues if we had plucked up enough courage to ask those who might have had experience on the matter. 

All in all, I enjoyed learning about food waste and food security though UTC2712. Although this is the last semester that Prof Jenson will be teaching this module, I hope that there will be other opportunities for RC4 students to learn about these issues. Also, it would be nice if other modules could also have an “on the ground” experience for students to learn about issues through being physically involved, like how we got to volunteer with Foodbank.

For a Future That No Longer Exists

29 Oct 2019, 1:45 am. Week 11, Tuesday morning. Real early morning. This is the time I’m starting on this blog article that is supposedly due at the end of week 13. Why am I starting on this so early, when I’d normally just take a few hours to write the other blogs and be done with it? Maybe it’s the thoughts I have about this module that I’d like to log down before they fade from my memory. I guess this also says quite a bit about the type of work and effort needed for this module. The first thing about this mod that really stuck with me was the two words: consistent effort. On hindsight, no, I do not spend a few hours in one sitting to come up with one blog article. Each article is an accumulation of experiences, notes and pictures taken on the fly, and memories logged down before they fade.

That brings me to my first point: Consistency. It isn’t so much of avoiding procrastination so much as consistently noting down your thoughts while they are fresh in your mind. Sure, you could do up a high quality blog article in an hour, but that’s if you have all your points, thoughts and statistics noted down beforehand. Reflecting and noting down something you just did 5 minutes ago is way easier than trying to recall what happened 2 weeks ago. Consistent preparation is key, and it will definitely make your journey through this mod a much smoother one.

I think another important point would be don’t be afraid to try hard. Certain elements in this module (like blogging) have marking schemes that (at least to me) depend on how much effort you put in. Comment and post more than is required = more marks than those who didn’t. Cold logic dictates that if you want to do well, put in the extra effort to secure all these “bonuses”. But all the reflecting I have done throughout this course kind of got to me. Why would Brof even allocate marks to these components when they could have easily been placed elsewhere? I believe it’s to really maximise our learning experience. YES, the marks are there to incentivise this, but in putting in effort to read other peoples’ perspectives and experience, we broaden our own horizons and gain new insights about the problems and issues.

Which brings me to my next point: learning is more important than grades. There are several unique aspects of this module that really shocked me. The experiential learning component of visiting Pasir Panjang Wholesale Center to canvas food followed by redistributing it at Kitchener Road was a real treat as it helps you be more in touch with the problem, as compared to just seeing it on VENSIM (I can almost hear you cursing under your breath at the mention of it). The structure of the mid-term quiz was… unexpected… to say the least (it was kind of like an allocation process with your marks based on your confidence on the correct answer and how you justified it). Playing with LEGO was SERIOUSLY (haha) eye-opening, and helped me to further relate with the problem. If you’ve got S/Us to burn, or actually even if you don’t, I would strongly recommend just enjoying the learning process. CAP is temporary, learning is forever.

Perhaps you’ve been wondering, why the title? What has it got to do with anything? It’s a reference to a movie I recently watched, Terminator: Dark Fate. Although this particular blog article is supposed to be a reflective blog for our juniors, we were going to be Brof’s last class, and that he was going to leave RC4 soon. I may forget what you said. I may forget what you did. But I will never forget the way you made us into more reflective students who give meaning to and enjoy the learning process. All the best for wherever you’re going next, Brof!

Looking Back and Looking Forward

After our project presentation and quiz yesterday, we have officially come to the end of our food journey in this class. It felt extremely unreal as I can still remember clearly how we awkwardly introduced ourselves during the first class. We have come so far since the start and though there are some painful experiences, especially when we were trying to get our models right, everything turns out to be fine and we improved so much in all aspects.

As for me personally, I found it interesting that even though this module is not as “Vensim-heavy” as the other SS modules, I improved my Vensim skills most from it. Building a model from Scratch always sounds pretty scary and intimidating. I remember when my group first started building our model for the project, we were so frustrated and we panicked so much as we just couldn’t get anything right. Our problem variable either shoot up to an insanely huge value that did not make any sense or fall exponentially to zero. There were so many times when we were so beaten up and wanted to give up and change our project completely. However, we managed to pull through all the difficulties we faced and obtain a functional model that give us results very close to the reference mode in the end. All these would not be possible without a lot of help from Jenson. When we were at the most intensive modeling stage of our project, Jenson happened to be overseas. Nonetheless, Jenson always replies to our questions very quickly. He always provides us with many alternative approaches that we can consider to optimize our model instead of telling us what we were doing was right or wrong. Though we came up with our solutions, in the end, it would not be possible without all the prompting and suggestions from Jenson. After successfully obtaining our model, I realized a huge leap in my Vensim skills. I have always been decent at Vensim — I am comfortable with using it, but I will never be the one capable enough to “carry” in any Vensim projects. Now, I am more than comfortable with Vensim, and I surprisingly find it very therapeutic when I can just sit there, concentrate on the Vensim model, and focus on getting all the equations and parameters right. These few weeks made me reflect on myself on what I am good at and what do I like. I always thought I am a very science person: I enjoyed dealing with a lot of theories and being in the lab. This is the reason why I chose pharmaceutical science as my major. I never considered anything related to computers because I thought I would never be good at anything on the computer besides watching Youtube videos. However, now I think I should be more open to other options in life and be braver to try new things. I decided to take a bioinformatics project as my UROPS project next semester and explore more things that are not in my curriculum. I hope wherever I go in the future, I would never forget my experience throughout this semester and never confine myself to the things I think I am good at.

Besides my Vensim skills, I also improved my writing skills throughout this semester. I can’t remember when was the last time I have written so many words. Initially, I thought I would hate this blog writing thing as writing in English was never something I am good at (neither am I good at writing in Chinese, to be honest). Surprisingly, I haven’t had any trouble writing so far. I believe this is because when I am writing the blog, I never had to worry about my bad grammar, funny expression, or having to impress the teacher with good language. Instead, I can just put my hand on the keyboard and let my thought flows freely. I think I will miss this feeling in the future, especially when I am struggling to impress the teacher in IEM next semester.

During this course, I also developed my presentation skills greatly. I always thought my presentation skills were decent as I am usually the type who is not afraid to speak in front of people. I knew there were a lot of things I could do to improve my presentation skills, but I had no clue how exactly should I do that. Throughout this semester, we had a few presentations in class, and Jenson always gives us specific advice on how to make a good presentation. Now, I can pay more attention to the various details in presentations, such as body language, audience interaction, and vocal strength. This would help me with all my other presentations in the future and even when I enter the workforce.

I also enjoyed our learning journey to the Pasir Panjang Food distribution center very much. I always believe a lot of problems of ignorance are results of us not able to visualize the severeness of the problems. This learning journey is an excellent way to visualize how much food is wasted. This also taught me that the only way to understand an issue is to see it using my own eyes. Hence, in the future, if I am doing any projects, I will always try to go down to the community or the site to see using my own eyes where the problem is, instead of sitting in the office and speculate.

All things have to come to an end. As much I did enjoy this module, it is ending soon. Reflecting upon myself throughout this semester, I am glad that I put in my best effort all the assignments and every piece of work I hand up. I have no regret at all, and I think this is more important than getting good grades (of course, we all like good grades). I hope I can always remember the lessons learned in this module and apply it to my other class and even in the future when I enter the workforce.

LEGO? What?

Before the start of the session, lego was just building blocks to me. In fact, the last time I was in touch with it was through a 3D – modelling course in the previous semester. Being physically out of touch with lego, I was confused as to how these small building blocks would come into play in systems modelling.

During the two sessions, I was pleasantly surprised at the potential that these building blocks hold. It was insightful to see that everyone had different interpretations of the various models that we were told to build. For example, when we were asked to build a tower ending with the flower, some people built a tall one while others paid attention to details such as colour coding the different levels, or even building a sturdy base for the model. At the start of the exercise, I was confused at the lack of direction but proceeded to start building due to the time limit. I felt that the time limit really helped with forcing me to think on the spot and organise the elements that I desired to convey through the blocks in an efficient manner.

Through the exercises, I felt myself developing a structure to the way I went about building my models. Firstly, I would start with the first word that came to my mind after the instructions were given. From then on, I would think about how I could build a model of what I was thinking in the most efficient way, with the least number of blocks. This was why my models looked significantly simpler than those of my groupmates.

Modelling problems in food waste and security

For my model on food security, I decided to model the overreliance on food imports to ensure food availability in Singapore. The man in red represents Singapore trying to negotiate with other countries, represented by the man in white, for Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). The white man is standing stably on a higher platform with the flower, which represents food, while the red man is standing precariously on one leg, representing that we are at the losing end. The blocks in the middle represent the barriers to a successful FTA.

As for my model on food waste, I decided to model food wastage due to overstocking of fridges. The man in white represents an everyday consumer buying loads on fresh vegetable, represented by the green blocks, and meat, represented by the pink blocks. The other blocks represent the food stocked in the fridge. The first layer of black is so high that the consumer does not see the food behind which get closer and closer to their expiry date. The white blocks represent food that is approaching their expiry date while the red block represents food that is beyond consumption but are still in the fridge. The cobweb represents the negligence of the consumer.

We then proceeded to link all our models, and simulated a crisisr to see how it would affect each model that we had created. I found it interesting that by cutting off all FTAs, it resulted in a decrease in food waste due to the decrease in imports. This made me realise that small crisis may lead to a big change in mindset, and this could be an important factor to consider while crafting for policies to target both food waste and food security.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I felt that through these 2 lessons, I now have a better understanding of the dynamic links between food waste and food security. By modelling the problem individually, then sharing as a group, I was able to see the different perspectives of people on the same issue, which helped while we were constructing the links between the individual model. Through the intergroup sharing, we were also able to see how different people modelled the same issue, both with different lego bricks and also accentuating different focal points within their model. Moreover, after the intergroup sharing, we went back to correct our model with the feedback from the other group, which reflects the iterative process of modelling.

Wow my model makes no sense

It’s literally what I thought of the whole time I was doing my models. I don’t do very well under pressure, and having the time limit really stressed me a lot. I was most of the time in a trance and I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I started picking up the basic blocks in hopes that I would get reminded of something I’ve learnt while doing it.

Turns out, everything turned out fine. I actually came up with models that made sense and added value to the entire discussion. The first model tried to show the discrepancy that exists between the food insecure and food secure. The second model was about what kind of food was available to the food insecure (the pink, black and blue colours represent how these food items are difficult to prepare and people usually do not know how to utilise them).

I was given the opportunity of presenting our entire model to the class, and boy was that fun! I honestly didn’t want to do it because it looked way too intimidating but when I started connecting the models it became fairly easy. Even I was pleasantly surprised at how easily everything connected. Though the models looked very different, the underlying theme was the same. All of the models were intentional and that made connecting all of them very easy. I realised the importance of simplifying some of the terms we used during our discussions because the other group was not present in them. I believe that narrating them in a story form helped all of us to understand the models a lot better. I caught myself having a deeper understanding of how the models worked while I was explaining it too.

Another observation that surprised me was that the other group’s model looked completely different! Though some underlying themes were the same, the way they were represented was vastly different and it was refreshing to have this “new” perspective.

 

 

There was a part of my model that I included but didn’t realise its significance. While explaining to someone else, Alvin tried to take out the basket that was around the supply I had for the food secure and illustrate that once they get mixed up everyone will be affected. That’s when I realised I had subconsciously added those as the “safety net” around the supply for the food secure. It was really cool to find out that even when I was panicking to come up with a decent model, my mind kind of already knew what affected me the most and tried to illustrate that.

The penultimate activity of joining the models using a string and shaking one to see what other models it affected was really interesting to observe because even though we knew theoretically that affecting one model technically affects every other model, having a physical representation of it made it a bit more real. Coming up with a unique reason as to why another model comes with a little practice – for it is easy to state a generic one.

When we tried to simulate a crisis in the models, we realised that having a food shortage will actually alleviate the food insecurity and wastage situation. It turned out to be a necessary evil that could potentially solve all of the problems. This gave me a lot to think about because the very thing we should avoid turns out to be good for us if used strategically. It is obviously not ethical to induce a crisis, but having some restrictions and introducing some sort of healthy discomfort might actually make people come together and solve the food crisis. They don’t always have to be in the form of a crisis but introducing a heavier penalty might make people think more about the issue. Some of us waste food out of convenience, and when this convenience is greater than the price we pay for wasting food we continue to do so. Having people to pay more might induce the necessary discomfort needed to make people start thinking about this issue.

I am actually quite glad that I had this opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and think about issues that I normally might not, in a fun way. Ever since school has started, I became more consumed by all of my school work. I don’t normally volunteer to present or voice out my opinions as much anymore, and this particular lesson helped me to create a safe space among my peers to do all of those in a fun manner. Going through this process helped me to realised what I have subconsciously registered during class and what affects me the most. Even though my group’s project does not tackle this problem directly, I am sure that I am going to be more aware of this issue and it will definitely influence the way I make decisions concerning food waste and food security for those around me henceforth. This class, albeit fun, helped me to visualise the problems and it made it easier to view it as a tangible problem.

WE ARE PLAYING WITH LEGO???

Honestly, I can’t remember since when I have last touched LEGO® bricks and hence, I was looking forward for this class! I am sure many of you guys played LEGO® when you were young. We played LEGO® bricks to learn and develop our creativity. Now that we have pass the teenage days, LEGO® bricks can still teach us a lot. When I heard about LEGO® serious play, I was wondering how it is going to link to modelling or system thinking.

LEGO® creation is a form of art, where we can use different shapes, sizes and colours of LEGO® bricks to create a LEGO® design that is up to our imagination. We can also use LEGO® to explore our creativity. In fact, there is no right or wrong in times of Lego design, hence it is a class where I can comfortably build a model that I think of.

While in many cases, pamphlet and instructions would be provided to show us step by step on how to build a model but while in this class, we were given the opportunity to build what we want based on the topic given. Hence, this class really helps in developing the ability to generate ideas. Especially since we had a time limit to build the model as well, we had to think of ideas on the spot and as such this allows our imagination to take over rather than taking time to think of which model would be the ‘best’ to build.

During our first mini session of LEGO® serious play. Our first task was to build any tower that we like with a base and a flower on top. As I finished my model and look around, everyone has built a different kind of tower. Some built sturdy ones, some built tall ones and some built unique ones. We took one round to share our thoughts on our model and how we came up with it. It was very interesting to hear everyone’s opinion on their own tower creation.

As more and more tasks are given, it gets harder and harder. Next, we were to build a design as shown on an instruction sheet. I choose the one that appeals to me to the most, and at the same time it does not seem that hard.  I had time to build another piece. Afterwards, we were told to modify the model that we built to be an experience in RC4. I decided to link my two designs together and explain. My original design includes long LEGO® pieces which I explain it as a pathway. For my other design, I described it as a snail. I placed a flower at the end as the goal I have set for myself before entering RC4. I explain the design as a whole that even though I am a slow learner, RC4 has nurture me into slowly realizing new things about myself, improving and growing myself as a person. Even though I thought LEGO® would only teach us how to be a better system thinker, in the end it also allows me to reflect and learn important values in the process.

Afterwards we were to build a design of how we think a role model student in RC4 should be. I built mine as a colourful design which surround an empty space in the center like a room. I explained how I expect a model student to be a vibrant and cheerful student. Also, for the empty enclosed space in the middle, it represents inclusiveness. This means that a student should make everyone feel welcome especially since RC4 is a place where it should feel like home. I actually had a similar design to Nabil and hence the facilitator told us to explain our designs first. Turns out that even though we had a similar model, our perspectives were totally different. As we go one round around the table, everyone has different ideas on what they expect of a model student. Other models represent resilience, having fun, stepping out of comfort zone and integrity.

At the next lesson, we had our main LEGO® serious play. For the first task, we were to build a model based on food security. There were models depicting the domestic production, storage of food and imports of food. There were also many models on the accessibility of food to people of different social status.

Next, we had to build a model based on food waste. I was amazed by everyone’s different perspectives on food security and food waste. In food waste, it contains stages starting from the producers all the way to the consumers and our models depicts each of these stages.

Afterwards, we had to bring all the models together and establish a story for the models. We classified the models that represent similar opinions together and started the story with food insecurity then continued on with food waste.

Then, we had to connect the models using strong or weak links. We conclude that government intervention would cause the biggest impact to our model. We then moved each one of the models and see how they affected the other models that are connected. Through this, I got a better understanding of how this relates to modelling.

Not only would I learn about modelling, at the same time, I get to know my peers better. Especially for the model regarding our experience in RC4, you can see things from everyone’s perspective. Also, for the role model they expect in RC4, I can see what kind of person each of my peers want to be.

This activity requires teamwork which promotes bonding and encourages an environment for interaction. Teamwork comes into play when we had to bring all the models together to tell a story about them.

 

For every model we build, we have to take turn to explain our model. As we comment on our LEGO creations, communication skills come into play as well. This gives us the opportunities to share our ideas, the process of making it as well as any difficulties in the process of building them. By being open to different people’s perspectives, we can learn and gain more awareness regarding food waste and food insecurity issue.

In fact, little did I know that LEGO can become a form a storytelling as well. This makes it easier and more efficient for my group to understand the other group’s model and vice versa.

Therefore, we should know that LEGO is not just a toy for playing but it allows us to manipulate and modify around our models using creativity, explain our ideas to our peers and expand our knowledge on modelling and food waste, food insecurity issue.

 

‘BRICKING’ FREE FROM TRADITIONAL LEGO PLAY

Some may say, “Playing with Lego is easy; just build something.” But what if we give it a touch of imagination and creativity – to tell a story with Lego? Yes, this was the lesson that I looked forward to the most since the start of the module. Initially, I had guessed that we would simply be using the Lego blocks to model the issue of food waste and food security. However, the last part of the lesson where we added causal links to the model gave me a pleasant surprise. This post will be my reflection on the two Lego Serious Play (LSP) sessions and how they have helped me become a better systems thinker.

The first LSP session was meant to be a warm-up – We were tasked to construct a tower, as well as simple models relating to our lives in RC4. It was up to our own imagination as to how to build the models; naturally, everyone would have a different interpretation of the questions given. Then, we would have to give meaning to the model by explaining why we chose to build it a certain way. It was interesting to observe that although some of our models had similar parts (using a flag to represent goals/milestones was a popular one), each person’s justification of the story behind it can be very different. When I was listening to my peers’ sharing, I found it useful to first look at the model from a ‘macro level’ – what message is the model generally trying to convey? After that would be the ‘micro level’ – zooming in to certain parts of the model which appear to have significant meaning. The size and shape of the bricks, the creative use of space and viewpoint, and even the colour of the bricks, can symbolize different concepts that I would not have thought of at first glance. This session was an eye-opening one in terms of familiarizing myself with associating meaning to the Lego blocks, and also appreciating the fact that everyone has a unique perspective to a common problem.

The second LSP session was definitely a full-scale one. Everyone no longer received the same type of basic Lego blocks; instead, there were huge boxes filled with a plethora of Lego blocks in the classroom to be shared among all of us. This time, we were tasked to model the issue of food waste and food security in Singapore. One of my models was on the problem of rescued food by organizations (such as Foodbank) being ‘wasted again’ when it reaches the needy, represented by the red and black bricks hidden behind the underprivileged individual. This was meant to imply that while we tend to look at food wastage as a whole, we should also consider the fact that even the food donated to the needy may be unutilized and thrown away. Because there is a lack of understanding about the types of food the needy people actually want (represented by the huge grey barrier between the privileged and underprivileged), the donated food may end up being wasted a second time.

My model on the issue of ‘double wastage’ when rescued food reaches the needy

Since the topics given were quite broad, it was interesting to hear my peers explain about their models which focus on vastly different aspects of food security and food waste – such as storage and distribution, differences in social status perpetuating food insecurity, and even the issue of food portions in RC4! Though there are some overlapping aspects, each person’s model brought out the main point in a different way. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to put the pieces together and come up with a story for our group’s collective model. Even though we first classified the models into two groups (food security and food waste), it was not easy to come up with a chronological story that flows well, especially as some models can be considered to overlap in both groups. This is analogous to a common situation we face when modelling – having to go through the variables and links in an iterative way. Eventually we figured out an appropriate storyline, and I found that this storytelling process really tests our understanding of Singapore’s food waste and security issues, from the food source, to the supply chain level, and all the way down to the consumer level.

We then added causal links to our food waste and food security models – flexible strings were used to signify weak links between models; whereas more rigid connectors can be used to symbolise that a change in one model will definitely lead to a change in the other connected model. At first, I thought that this only made the overall model look messy and it was difficult to tell where the links originated and ended. Afterwards, we were asked to choose vital parts of the model in which effective policies can be implemented to solve the problem of food waste and insecurity – and to give the selected model a shake. It was then that I realised that the strength of the links represents the extent to which a change in one variable affects another variable in the model! The learning point was that policies should be implemented on variables that are strongly linked in order to see effective results, just like how we should try to identify variables that lie within more than one feedback loop in a causal loop diagram. It is crucial that we make use of these important leverage points in our model to our advantage.

The big picture – Causal links model of food waste and food security issues in Singapore

All in all, it was a fun and constructive (pun intended) LSP session. However, I thought that if we were given slightly more time to build the models, I could have embedded greater meaning to my models. After all, it was our first time being exposed to so many different types of Lego blocks, some of which I did not even know existed. Nonetheless, I appreciate having the short time constraint as a challenge to think on my feet and bring across my point in an efficient way. I feel that Lego Serious Play had indeed exceeded my expectations as a creative and modern way of learning. Who knew Lego and systems thinking had so much in common?

Thumbs up to the only SS in RC4 where you can play with Lego!

Playing with Lego once more

We had 2 sessions of “Lego Serious Play”. The first was to familiarise ourselves with the process of articulating our thoughts with models constructed from Lego, while the second was to use this process to develop a comprehensive understanding of the issues of food security and food wastage. I thought that this was a refreshing twist to the usual lesson style, in which we learnt through words, diagrams and models.

During the first session, we were given small boxes of pieces. We were asked to build a tower, with the only constraints being that it had to start with a grey/ black baseboard and end with a flower. I thought, somehow, that it would be nice to build a really tall tower, and started to stack bricks on top of one another. When the time was up, I looked around and saw many interesting “tower” designs. Some were constructed from multiple pillars, while others had pleasing colour schemes. I realised that this “open ended building process” allowed us to articulate what we thought about when given a certain prompt (in this case was to “build a tower”), thereby revealing a bit about our beliefs, value systems, and past experiences. For example, it is possible that those who thought of towers as having to serve a defensive role built forts, while those who were more concerned about the aesthetic appeal of tall structures build colourful towers. This activity warmed us up to the process of generating ideas when given a certain prompt. 

Next, we were asked to build models (while following a certain set of instructions), and thereafter using those models to tell a story about what we liked about RC4. There was great variation on the stories told by those in our group, from how they found RC4 to be a “home away from home”, to how they appreciated the diversity of interests and faculties in RC4. I found that this activity had shown us how we could attach meaning to the models that we created. 

The last activity of the first session involved building a model that represented a model RC4 student. This activity combined the teachings of the earlier 2 activities: idea generation and attaching meaning to our models.

The second session involved us building models to illustrate different aspects of the issues of food security and food wastage. 

We started off by constructing models of an aspect of food security or food wastage. I was quite surprised to see that everyone had chosen to pick a different aspect to model! The end result was that almost all aspects of food security/ wastage were represented: from the difficulty of obtaining a reliable and safe supply of food from other countries, to the distribution of unsold products. This could be due to how the aspect that each person had a deep impression of, or cared about the most differed between individuals. The great variety of bricks that we had access to could also have spawned many different ideas. 

Next, we were asked to link our models together, and tell a story about food security or food wastage. After some discussion, we decided to organise our models according to how they related to one another in the food supply chain. 

Subsequently, we used Lego pieces to link the models physically together. Two types of links: strong and weak, were used. This helped us to visualise how each model/ aspect could potentially connect with one another. We identified “root causes” as models that had many strong connections with other models. Disrupting these “root causes” would give rise to ripple effects throughout the system, changing other aspects and potentially the behaviour of the entire system. This brought to mind the idea of how we could use the CLD/ SFD to identify key variables to leverage on in order to generate the desired system behaviour. The greater the number of feedback loops the variable is involved in, the greater the effect when the variable is disturbed. Our group identified governmental policies on food waste and security as a key leverage point. For example, policies to change consumers’ attitudes toward food could contribute to a direct reduction in food waste at the domestic level, as well as a reduction of food waste that the retailer level due to less cosmetic filtering. 

The final task was to simulate a “shock event”, which was a disruptive scenario we were to subject our system to. For our group, this was the “breakdown of ties with all countries”. Through this activity, everyone got the opportunity to look through the connections made by others to see how individual components of the system could be affected. This served to highlight system leverage points. The variables that were most susceptible to change (and whose change would most likely have ripple effects on others) were those that had the most connections with other variables. 

I found the “Lego Serious Play” sessions to be an effective way for us to better understand the issues of food waste and food security. Using Lego bricks to construct models helped us to organise and develop our ideas, while putting models physically together illuminated the ways in which different aspects could potentially affect each other. The 3D nature of the models that we created allowed us to explore and articulate insights that we were unlikely to think about if we had only used whiteboard diagrams. 

HOPE TO PLAY LEGO AGAIN!

When I first heard that we would have a LEGO SERIOUS PLAY this semester, I was a bit confused that how LEGO bricks related to food waste or food insecurity? Are there any relationships between LEGO and food waste? After week 9’s experiences, I must say that LEGO SERIOUS PLAY indeed consolidated our learning across the past 9 weeks and deepens the reflection process.

To help us better understand how to use LEGO to express our ideas, we had an introductory session first. We were asked to build a tower which had to start with a black baseboard and end the tower with a flower. I have not been played LEGO for a long time, so I was very confused about how to start and what kind of towers that we were supposed to be built. Due to the time constraint, I just built a symmetrical and tall tower for sightseeing. I thought everyone else would have a similar tower as mine. To my surprise, given the same instructions, we got different towers with our own interpretations of the tower. At that time, I realized that there is no right or wrong answer in this modeling practice, all we need to do were just let the bricks represent what we were thinking in mind. After modeling the tower, our subconscious was being simulated and I started to enjoy this experience.

The next task was telling a story about why you love about living in RC4 before modifying our tower. I definitely love living in RC4 as all of us are caring about each other so that it makes me feel like home. More importantly, we support and help each other when we were struggling and facing challenges. Without thinking too much, I just let my hand to do what I had in mind. Eventually, I used flowers to represent my friends in RC4 and the ladders were used to represent how we overcame those challenges we had faced. Our last task was to build an ideal role model in RC4. Even though we were given same instructions, we ended up with different models as different people had different understandings of an ideal role model in their minds.

The warm-up exercises ended, then we proceed to the next stage. Firstly, we need to build a model of aspects of the food insecurity problem in the context of Singapore. The first thing that came into my mind was the food shortage on the consumer level, especially for the lower-income groups. Singapore heavily relies on imports, especially for food products (90% of food is imported from other countries). That is one of the reasons why food is relatively expensive in Singapore, the high price of food results that not all people have equal access to food, especially for the lower-income people. Government may only subsidize the underprivileged groups of people, so the lower-income group may not have enough income to purchase enough food for their daily basic needs and nutritional requirements. Some of our group members have similar ideas, but we still ended up with different models describing different factors of this problem. I focused more on the price of imports part, some focused on the elderly part (the elderly also have less access to food) and some talked about the barriers between the food secure people and food insecure people. Through this process, it also helped me to fill gaps in the knowledge of food insecurity. I always ignored the storage level also plays a vital role in the food insecure problem. As Singapore is hot and humid, food is easily spoiled. It is important to store the food properly before distribution. This session also helped us to comprehend the problem completely and systematically.

After building a model of food insecurity, we then built a model of food waste. Actually, we can only think about what was the most important factor in this problem for ourselves due to the time constraint. Subconsciously, I thought the mentality is the most important factor in this problem. I built this model in the context of RC4 that closely related to us and we can personally see the food wastage in our lives every day. In my opinion, there are 2 kinds of people in general, one will take whatever food they want, this is because we already paid the fees, why not just take everything to maximize our expenses. The second mental model represents the people only take whatever they need. For others’ models, they showed the food waste in the buffet and in the different stages of production.

Following which, we used all our models to tell a story about food waste and food insecurity situation in the context of Singapore. The story helps us to produce a deeper, more systematic understanding of the problem.

After that, we linked the models with different kinds of connections. The flexible connection may take a long time for the model to reflect whereas the rigid connection affected the other models immediately and directly. All the linkages showed that the models we built linked to each other and how changes in one factor could change the other factor or many other factors. It aided us to better perceive the relationship among these models and how the problem of food security and food waste in Singapore interacted with each other.

Our group chose government intervention as our shocked event case, then we were asked to place flags on the models which we thought would be affected by this event. In my mind, government intervention could be more educational campaigns to the public or subsidized the domestic production companies, therefore, people may purchase less unnecessary food and the domestic production of food in Singapore may be improved due to the subsidies. Besides these, I found out that changes in government intervention actually affected nearly all the factors in our system. Therefore, in our own project, we may not only consider the factors that have rigid connections, but also the factors that take a long time to reflect.

(From the picture, you can see that this is a truly LEGO CLD graph! We just used LEGO to complete a CLD!)

This LEGO SERIOUS PLAY helped us to apply what we had learned across the 9 weeks into practice. Given the same problem, people have different perspectives on this problem and may have different interpretations of the same model. This hands-on, minds-on learning produced a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the food waste and food insecurity challenge in the context of Singapore and consolidated my learning. It is also indeed a very helpful and meaningful session for our group project, it sparked our thoughts in the policy formulation and evaluation part.

LEGO (R) YOU SERIOUS?

If my memory serves me right, I have not really played with Lego® since I was in Primary school. As a child, I remember that being handed a box of Lego® bricks was one of the happiest things ever. It was as though the world was giving you the right to build your imagination with no limitations whatsoever. Eight years later, sitting in a University seminar room and yet my inner-child still could not contain her excitement once she laid eyes on the boxes of Lego® bricks. 

Coming to the lesson, I truly had no expectations or idea how this session would go. What were we suppose to build? How would we model systems using Lego®? I think the most shocking thing to me was that there were actually certified facilitators for the session, which I realised later on how important their presence was in enhancing the whole experience. 

Introductory Lesson

As we started on our first task of building a tower, excitement truly filled the room. Being able to use our creativity after a day of school was pretty liberating and we all quickly got to work. After the time was up, we were asked to explain why we built the tower the way we did. This was interesting because I had actually never stopped to think about this. I always just felt that I went along with my creativity. However, by thinking about it and listening to my friends’ sharings, I was actually able to gain more insights about myself. In terms of the building process, some people prided in aesthetics such as choice of colour and symmetry, while others prioritised the structure and placement such of height and ladders. Furthermore, in terms of thinking process, I realised that while some others took things very literally, such as building a table and a lamp to signify studying, others, like myself, had a more abstract way of thinking such as putting an “eye” on the top to signify watching out for people. By thinking, reflecting and sharing our process, it allowed all of us to better understand one another just through the simple act of building using Lego® bricks. Furthermore, it was extremely interesting to see how our sub-consciousness was reflected through our Lego® models. It had never occurred to me that Lego® , which is generally seen as just fun and games, can be used as a method of teaching and an enabler of revealing insights about ourselves that we would have never known. At the end of the lesson, I was more than excited for the next one, but also afraid of the challenge which was to come. 

Applying it to Modelling Food Waste & Security

At the start of the lesson we were immediately left shocked by the sheer amount of bricks present for us to use for modelling. Similar to the first lesson, we were all shown a task then given time to build our model before lastly to explaining it to the group. However, the difference lay in the need to apply our model to food wastage and security. I would say that this lesson was much more challenging as we had a variety of bricks to choose from and that we also needed to apply it to food wastage and security. For the food security task, I decided to take what I had learnt from the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and modeled the dumping of food waste from wholesalers which included food that were either thrown away because they were spoilt or were cosmetically unappealing. Given the pressure of time, everyone was left scrambling through the boxes of Lego® to create their model. It was interesting to see how everyone had chosen to model different scenarios even though we were all given the same topic. The same went for the task on Food Wastage. I feel that by this time, most of us had gotten comfortable with the process of building, reflecting and sharing, which was great. These tasks were useful in helping us to recall the different things we had learnt from previous lessons as it made us have to put thought into reality (through the bricks) and with everyone’s visual representation, it also allowed us to better internalise each scenario. 

Putting it All Together

I would say that while this segment required the most thinking but was also the most fun. This time, the first task we had was to gather each others’ models to tell a full story. This was difficult initially because we were literally overwhelmed by the number of Lego® models we had built. Not only did we have to ensure that the story made sense but we also that the meaning behind the model was not lost. Thankfully, our group decided to organise each model under similar branches and we realised that our models either fell under the import, wholesaler, retailer and consumer category. This allowed us to tell the story in different parts, going down the different categories as said previously, helped us better understand how everything was linked. It was also funny to see how we had grown attached to our models to the point that when someone misunderstood the meaning of another person’s model, the other person quickly clarified the misunderstanding. 

The next task of linking our models using different strength “strings” was very interesting and educational. To show the impact of the relationship between two models, we used different types of Lego® tools that ranged from a rigid block (strong) to a string link(weak). As we all went around to explain the reason for the link, it was quite interesting to see how everyone actually agreed with the loops created. Furthermore, when we put our thought process into words, new loops were created, allowing our model to get much more detailed each time. I believe that this showed how almost all of us had a similar understanding of the module and also showed the importance of always voicing out our thought process as this would allow us to check if what we said made sense or if we had left out anything. 

After that we got a chance to move our models. The strength of the impacts immediately showed through this exercise as we saw how some displayed immediate and huge impact while others showed a more lagged and small impact. This was really important as it provided us with greater insight on which variables were more sensitive, giving us some direction on which variables we could focus implementing our policies on.

Our group’s finalised links!

Conclusion

All in all, these two lessons truly brought the two words “serious” and “play” to Lego®. Through this creative yet highly thoughtful and engaging process, it truly allowed me, as a much more visual learner, to understand modelling as well as the topic on food waste and security in greater depth. Other than just being a space for modelling purposes, it also allowed us to get to know our classmates better and emphasised on key skills such as reflection, communication and teamwork, which are skills that can be neglected in a more rigid classroom setting. This was such a unique and enriching experience, so thank you Brof for holding this session for us!

Why so serious?

Previously I was not aware that the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) methodology is an existing facilitation tool to enhance innovation and business performance. So the idea of merging nostalgic elements of LEGO® with something tangible got me pretty excited. The first session was an introduction for us to get the hang of LSP. Essentially, it was for us not to be too serious and rigid in our thought process. It also served as practice for us to articulate the meaning behind what we built. Despite given the same set of LEGO® bricks, no two models or stories were similar – each one of us had a unique approach to the same task.

The following session was when we relate LSP to the context of the module. It included conceptualizing various food waste and security issues in Singapore into LEGO® models. I was able to see how a particular issue can be represented differently depending on how it was framed by the modeller. Listening to everyone’s thought process behind every brick choice was particularly interesting. These small yet important details may have been easily overlooked if not for the peer sharing aspect of LSP.

I constructed the models based on my Food Bank volunteering experience. During the LSP session, the idea for both models came quite naturally. The reason behind so was probably that I had situational knowledge, albeit limited, of the current food waste and insecurity problem in Singapore. Together with the experience at the senior activity centre, it has helped me to better frame the issue that I wanted to model.

To represent food insecurity, I modelled the portion size of the recommended dietary intake by the Health Promotion Board – 25% brown rice & wholemeal bread (beige bricks), 25% meat & others (cow), 50% fruits (non-green bricks) and vegetables (green bricks). Due to redistribution constraints, some fruits and vegetables may not be able to reach the plates of those who are food insecure. As such, it was modelled to be detached from the ‘healthy plate’.

Whereas for food waste, I attempted to model the dilemma faced by 2 groups of people – Food Bank volunteers (blue) and senior citizens who are food insecure (white). Generally, senior citizens would prefer to receive fruits (non-green bricks) as opposed to vegetables (green bricks) as they do not cook at home. However, at any given day, volunteers are unable to gauge the number of fruits and vegetables that they can collect from Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. Consequently, when more vegetables than fruits are redistributed to senior citizens, it will end up going to waste as it will not be consumed. The model was to highlight the supply and demand mismatch between Food Bank and its beneficiaries.

By linking our models together and simulating a shock event, it provided me with a comprehensive overview of the food waste and insecurity problem in Singapore. Identifying weak and strong links between different models was especially important in addressing issues which bear significant impact on the system as a whole. Furthermore, having familiarity i.e both prior knowledge and the first-hand experience of any issue would be advantageous when modelling any problem. It is also important to effectively communicate your findings to any person with or without systems thinking background. In conclusion, I concur with what has been stated on the LEGO® website on how the LSP methodology deepens the reflection process and supports effective dialogue for everyone in the organization – or UTC2712 in this instance.

Best SS Lesson Ever?

I’ve never been a fan of sitting and passively absorbing information in a classroom setting, especially so when it is for extended periods of time, so the two Lego Serious Play sessions were easily the highlight of this module for me. I found that it was a way to express our creativity, share knowledge while also gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the complex interactions between different stakeholders that are involved in food wastage in Singapore.

In the first session, we started off easy, by using Lego to answer more personal questions about ourselves and also our experience at RC4. It was a good warm up for us to get used to expressing our thoughts using Lego, to think of creative ways to use symbolism (this appealed to the ex-lit student in me) to answer the questions that were posed to us. In particular, it was rather interesting to see how everyone in our small groups had different ways they thought about and represented things – while some built models that were rather straightforward, there were also others who incorporated multiple layers of meaning in their model, which they then had to explain to the rest of us.

The second session was more related to food waste in Singapore. We were told to build models that represented the food waste and food insecurity problems in Singapore. As we know by now, “food waste” and “food security” are broad topics, and naturally, we each had different areas that we focused on in our models. For instance, while I focused on the “accessibility to nutritious food” aspect of food insecurity, some of my group mates constructed models around the “affordability” and “sufficiency” aspects. We then put other models together to give us the big picture: the different aspects of food insecurity – the statistics (1 in 10 being food insecure), the disparity between the food insecure and those who are not, the different communities who are food insecure, and the reasons that may have contributed to food insecurity. Similarly, when asked to construct models about food wastage, we had models focusing on food wastage at different levels: the wholesalers, the restaurants, and the individual consumer (households).

Around the halfway mark, we each had 3 Lego models that answered the 3 questions that were posed to us. We were then told to place all of our models together, and come up with a story that involved both food security and food wastage. It was then when I saw how it all came together, starting with the source (importing from other countries), to the wholesalers, retailers and all the way to the consumers. The relationship between the different stakeholders was further accentuated when we used “connections” to link the different models together – the strong links being represented by sturdy Lego bricks, and the weaker links being represented by a fine string. By moving one of the models, we could then see the downstream effects. For example, if there were a problem with the food import (e.g. due to a breakdown of ties with other countries), there would subsequently be an increase in prices that makes food even more unaffordable. The impact will be more apparent when it comes to those who already had problems with accessing nutritious food (the model I built), and less so on those well off, which may continue to overconsume (a model one of my group mates built), until it reaches a point where the price hike due to undersupply is so significant such that the effects are felt even by the most affluent. At the end of the day, this would result in the proportion of food insecure people increasing (two of my group mates built models that represented this). By visualising which model had the most connections to the other models, we could then identify the leverage points that can be used to target policies at to maximise impact.

TLDR: Lego Serious Play was fun. It was an opportunity to exercise our creativity and express our thoughts in a symbolic way. At the same time, it was an educational experience. Through visualising the downstream effects and the leverage points, Lego Serious Play furthered our understanding of the complexity of food waste and food insecurity in Singapore.

Singapore’s Food Story through Legos!

“Next week we’re going to use Legos to help you visualise food waste and food security problem in Singapore, ” Jenson’s words echoed throughout the class…

If you’re reading this and confused, you’re not alone. It was as vague as it get – how could seemingly trivial little plastic bricks help us visualise systems thinking? I was skeptical, but looked forward to the Lego series play lesson anyway. At least it was a refreshing change from the conventional talking-listening style of teaching typically done. Besides, who would rather listen in the class than and say no to playing with Lego bricks for class?

First Lesson

The Lego series play lesson spanned over two lessons. The first was an introductory lesson that exposed us to the different types of Legos that we could play with and gave us a preview of how the second lesson was going to be like. For a start, everyone sat in a really close circle and all were given the same set of Lego bricks. A question would be given to us, and we would answer by building a Lego model and explaining how our model tied in relevance to our answer. The questions, however, caught many by surprise (though I would say it was a pleasant one) as these questions were not about food waste but on personal values and ideals that we believed in. One question involved us building a model describing what “an ideal RC4 resident mean to us”. In the beginning, many were quite hesitant to volunteer or share the story behind their model probably because never had a lesson been so intimate, close and personal. However, with the help of the facilitator, people started becoming more comfortable and was more willing to share why they built their model the way it was. I thought it was a good get-to-know each other session as behind every model was a personal story about themselves that I wouldn’t have otherwise know about. Some were stories about how they came to RC4 to learn how to step out of their comfort zone. Others shared stories about camaraderie in RC4. In fact, all these stories were told through models so abstract that there was no way of guessing the story behind the model. It was insightful to see others explaining their choice of bricks in building their models. Even the choice of colour of the bricks, which may appear trivial to some, hold deep purpose and meaning to others. Some also preferred to build big stable foundations for their structures while others built simple structures. Regardless, every model has meaning for the builders that created it, and everyone has different style or approaches to the same problem.

All in all, I felt that I got to know my peers better. This particular lesson reminded me of the first lesson in this module where we had to explain a short life story about ourselves and to describe what we look for a ‘friend’ among many other things. While this module studies the food wastage and security in Singapore, the occasional get-to-know each other activities such as Lego series play, “stories in class” etc. had led me wondering that apart from food security or wastage issues in Singapore, perhaps there was a different takeaway that Jenson wanted us to have.

Second Lego Series Play lesson

Similar to before, questions were flashed on the screens and we had to build a model using Legos and explain to our peers how our model tied in to our answer. This time, however, questions were indeed related about food security and wastage in Singapore. There were also a centralized area where we could pick whatever Lego bricks we wanted. There were also more varieties of Legos bricks that many wouldn’t have seen before.

One of the question posed during lesson was to describe a food security issue that Singapore was facing. We were also given only a specific amount of time from framing out idea in mind and translating this to an actual Lego model. Since we had really very limited time, everyone had to think of an idea quickly and there was a fury of people trying to find Lego bricks that best fitted their model. After the time was up, everyone sat down in a circle and started explaining whatever Lego model they had built. During the model building itself, my mind went for the easiest and most prominent food security problem I thought Singapore was facing – I built a model on how climate changes from other countries can affect the amount of exports to Singapore. After the time was up, it came to my surprise that everyone had different models. Some built models about how the social class divide had led to the less well-off to be less food insecure while some built models on how Singapore with its highly urbanized landscape is forced to explore into high-tech agriculture to produce food on its own. These were refreshing idea that I myself would not have thought of or not have come to my mind immediately. Therefore it goes to show how given a single problem statement, different people have different interpretations or ideas they had about a problem statement.

Story-telling

This activity continued for two more different questions. In the end, each person had already came up with 3 different Lego models. Now  comes the interesting part – using all the different Lego models we have as a group (about 20 of them), we were supposed to arrange them in such a way that it tells a story to a person that has no knowledge about the food security or wastage problem in Singapore! Finally, the module has lived up to its name, “Hard to Secure Easy to Waste – Singapore’s Food Story“, except that this time, we were the one telling the stories, through 20 different Lego models. It was also important that we paid attention to everyone’s model during the model sharing session and think about how it could be linked to each other – none of it should be missed out during the storytelling session. After several discussions and arrangement, our group decided on explaining our food story from how Singapore imports food from overseas and those that are grown locally, to how it moves down the supply chain, how food is being wasted through retailers, households, consumers and restaurants, the social divide between the rich and less well-off, the problems that the food insecure face, and finally the measures in place to help ensure that food is being redistributed to the poor. I personally thought it was quite a good model as it almost encompasses all stakeholders in Singapore’s Food Story – and every aspect of food wastage or security that was touched upon. We later headed over to the other group to hear their version of Singapore’s Food Story. 

A very pretty model – from food import from the top to restribution of food by Foodbanks at the bottom

The next activity was to use strings that were provided to connect models that we felt were tightly linked to each other. The strings also hard varying degree of lengths and tautness. For links that we felt were weak, we could use a loose string, and for those that were very tightly linked, a very taught string could be used. Everyone worked individually to connect the models. It was a messy sight as strings crossed over each other and the whole model looked like it was encassed in some sort of web. At that point in time, we had no clue as to why we had to connect the strings to the different part of the Lego models – if anything, it only made the models messier and unsightly for audience to see.

Not a very pretty model with all the strings

Then, the facilitators told us to identify crucial parts of the model that we felt we should focus on our policy on to solve the food security/wastage problem in Singapore. And so we did. Then, he told us to shake it the model. For what, we thought. But we did anyway.

Shaking the model

And then it clicked! The different models were supposed to represent the different variables in a CLD diagram, and the strings were supposed to represent the links between them. If the links were tight, a change in one of the models would lead to a change in another variable. The stronger the link (through the tautness of the string), the greater the shaking of the other models! This gave us a visual way of identifying important variables of the models that we could focus our policy on and which aspect of the model our policy would affect the most. Depending on the tightness of the linkage, and how variables are being linked, we could see the relationships between the variables and the effectiveness of a particular policy on the variable.

Conclusion

The Lego series play was a really refreshing approach to systems thinking and very immersive as it was very hands-on. The open discussion with my peers made it important for me to communicate on why my model was built the way it was. It also taught me that all models have meaning in their own way no matter how abstract it is. However, as abstract it is, it is crucial for the builder to communicate why it was build this way. Lastly, a single problem statement can be interpreted in many different ways by people, but this does not mean that some interpretations are less insightful than the others. Working in a team, different perspective of the same problem can be insightful, but too much can be a downside too. Therefore, it is crucial for members in a team to learn how to communicate their points effectively.

The building bricks of modelling

When I was younger, I never really had the chance to play with Lego. In fact, I never owned a set of Lego except for the free one that was given to us to commemorate SG50. Due to my very little experience with Lego, I was very intrigued when I learnt that one entire class was going to be conducted based on Lego. I heard from seniors that the Lego Serious Play was the most fun part about this module and after the class, I understood why they said that. Not only was it fun, I learnt a lot as well.

Before the Lego Serious Play session, we had an introductory session to Lego. We were all given a box each which contained identical Lego pieces. Firstly, we were instructed to build a tower using our creativity. Even though we all had the same pieces of Lego with the same base and top, there was no identical model. We also had to explain our tower and why we built it that way. It was interesting to listen to my friends’ models as they described the different components of their model while they pointed to it. Through this activity, I realised that we could pick out certain characteristics and traits of each other. For example, my tower was structured, and my friends told me that from my model, they could tell that I am a very practical person. I was fascinated because they could tell how I am as a person, just from one Lego model. We also had the chance to build other models, such as building our experience in RC4 and replicating the Lego models that was given to us on a piece of paper. I felt that the most memorable part of this introductory session was building the tower because it was the first activity that we did, and it had already left a strong impact.

During the Lego Serious Play session, many different types of Lego pieces that came in different shapes and sizes were provided to us, many that I have never seen before. I was slightly intimidated by the amount and variety of Lego as I had only one tiny box to choose from the previous week. We were told to model food security and food waste with Lego using our creativity. We could create anything as long as we were able to explain it with regards to food security or food waste. I was so overwhelmed with the variety of Lego pieces I could pick from and I stared at the huge boxes of Lego, wondering what I could create. I believe I was not the only one who felt that way as many of us were standing there clueless at the beginning. After the activity, I learnt that there is no wrong answer in Lego as everyone had their own ways of interpreting and creating their models. I felt that this was very interesting because everyone had the same topic, but everyone’s model was vastly different.

After we build our models, we had to place them on a separate table. The next activity required us to tell a story with all our models combined. From there, we could see the links between our models and we could identify similar themes. We had to use a systems dynamic approach to draw the links between our models. I realised that this is very similar to when we draw our causal loop diagrams (CLD) as we lay out the variables and determine the relationship between the factors. When we were linking our models together, we could use either rigid or flexible pieces to show the strength of the relationship between the variables. I felt that this aspect of the activity could not be shown if we were to use the CLD alone.

I think I had underestimated the potential of Lego in education, because I realised that Lego not only allows us to expand our creativity, it is a hands-on activity which facilitates participation. In addition to thinking of how we want to build our model, we had to place a meaning behind the different parts of the structure, which encourages us to reflect and think deeper.

Learning Through Play with Lego

As someone who has had extensive experience with Lego as a child, it was very fun revisiting this old and nostalgic pastime of mine, albeit through a different lens. In class, we experienced a Lego Serious Play session, in the aspect of food security and waste. Having no prior knowledge of such a technique, I was very much intrigued and interested to find out how model building through Lego could be done.

Over the course of two weeks, we used Lego to help express our ideas, frameworks and mental models. In the first week, we had to build up a model of a tower. Already, it was very interesting to see the different ideas that manifested through everyone’s models. We had to pick and experiment with our own blocks to come up a model and then explain it to everyone. Through everyone’s design, we were able to grasp the different thought patterns and ideas that everyone possessed. Some of us focused on the task, choosing to stack as high as possible a tower, whilst others were meticulous in erecting a firm foundation. It was a fun and insightful activity, which also gave me more insight into how others thought, contrasting that to my own ideas.

After the introductory session, we proceeded to the modelling session, trying to frame the context of the module with Lego blocks. It included modelling several parts of various food waste and security issues here in Singapore. Through the session, I was able to see how various issues are framed differently by different people, with different contexts. The best part was always hearing about how others would explain their model. What seems like an abstract mess to you can suddenly turn into a coherent model as the modeler explains his/her choice for certain bricks.

 

My attempt at illustrating food security in Singapore

Some of the models that were designed were very elaborate, whilst others like mine were simple. However, every brick laid into a person’s model has a meaning and purpose. Seeing how various issues were being represented with Lego was very unique and meaningful, something that I did not expect. Take for example, my model on food security in Singapore. Although it’s a relatively simple model, I framed it in a way to show how food is not being distributed evenly, with a few simple Lego bricks. Some of my group mates even modeled the portion size and the recommended dietary intake with Lego blocks, which was very interesting to see. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing the different perspectives that many of my group mates had with their own Lego model designs. Through Lego bricks, we were better able to conceptualize and give our ideas a concrete meaning, by utilizing Lego as the building blocks for our models. On hindsight, I believed that this ability to ‘concretize’ an idea was integral to us understanding various issues in food waste and security in Singapore.

In the next part, we were told to establish linkages to create an overall flow and representation of these issues in Singapore. By combining all these models, it was used to illustrate the overall environment and setting of food waste and security in Singapore. During this activity, it made me realize that many issues were directly or indirectly related to one another. It was similar to the Vensim model, where a change in one variable can affect many others. Through this activity, it helped us to see which policies would be the most effective, or which variables and models needed to be targeted for maximum impact.

Linking our models

 

After the end of that activity, it resulted in a large number of linking blocks that connected various models. It looked very much like a mess, but after explanation we could see that there were underlying reasons as to why many of these links were established in the first place. By connecting these models, we shook links that were target and certain variables and models to see how they would affect the other models that were connected to it. Through this activity, we could visualize the problem and policies that could potentially affect our models, which gave me ideas as to what to introduce for our group projects. Through the linkages, we could see that certain solutions were more effective than others, which was a great way to understand the inter connectivity and relationships between different problem variables.

Too many links!

 

Overall, I found myself enjoying the lesson very much. To say that it was different from a traditional lesson would be an understatement. Going through the Lego Serious Play exercise has made me better able to conceptualize certain problem variables and their solutions, whilst having fun at the same time. I especially liked seeing other people’s models and how they were constructed with Lego, because they were always unique, more often than not. I must say that I’m impressed with the amount of learning value that was obtained through the simple Lego bricks. Thank you Professor Jenson for introducing such a unique aspect to the lesson!

“I bet this LEGO® play is useless” – and I was wrong.

Introduction

When I first heard that we would be using LEGO® in class to learn more about food waste and food security problems, I was actually very confused as to how can a LEGO® play help us understand food waste and food security problems better. I just couldn’t find the link between the two. I have to be honest, I was quite annoyed that Jenson was going to do something useless which was going to waste our time. I bet whoever that is reading this blog will also think the same. LEGO® play and food waste/security??? What is the link??? However, I was ABSOLUTELY WRONG. This LEGO® play was actually extremely useful in helping me understand more about food waste and security problems and I will explain why in this blog.

Introductory Session

LEGO® play was conducted over 2 weeks and the first week was an introductory session about LEGO® play. In this introductory session, we did nothing related to food waste and food security. The first thing that the instructor told us to do was to build a tower of our own. Obviously, most of my classmates and I were extremely perplexed as to what kind of towers we should build, and the time constraint made us very anxious and stressed. Nonetheless, everyone managed to create a tower of their own including me. The second activity that we did was to build a model that represents one characteristic that an ideal role model in RC4 should have. It was interesting to see that even though some of my groups had chosen the same characteristics to work on, their LEGO® models were totally different. The learning point from this exercise was that building LEGO® bricks helped us articulate our ideas better and it also allowed us to be more creative. LEGO® also helped me understand much better in knowing what the thought processes of my groupmates had when they were building the LEGO® models. It was definitely a fun activity to do as it was nothing related to books or readings, but I still didn’t get why did we have to do this to understand more about food security and food waste.

Modelling Session

The following week, we went on with the modelling process. The first two parts of this lesson was to build a model that represents aspects of food waste and food security problems in Singapore. As there were no specific areas of focus given for this question, our group members ended up with very different models representing many different ideas. This was when I realized that LEGO® play is actually useful in allowing me to understand more about food security and food wastage issues in Singapore. Through the LEGO® play, I was able to get a new insight and ideas from my groupmates which I have never thought about it originally.

For example, among the different parts of the food chain, I talked about the storage part. Although Singapore is ranked No.1 in food security, Singapore is ranked lower than Greece, which is ranked No.33 in food security in the world in terms of quality and safety aspect. I told my group that my model represents the issue in Singapore with food security regards to quality and safety being low. Singapore has a very hot and humid weather (represented by the red flags) which makes it very difficult for the food (represented by the plants) to stay fresh for very long (storage represented by the black bricks).

Meanwhile, my groupmate, Suqi, talked about the supply part of the food chain. She told us that Singapore does produce food locally (represented by the plants) but only about 10% of the food demand. She further added on that however, Singapore does not have a efficient technology yet (represented by half arch-shaped blue LEGO® brick where there is technology in Singapore to boost production of food but it is not enough and hence only an half arch) to overcome the limited land spaces in Singapore to increase the production of food to make Singapore less dependent on other countries for food.

Furthermore, instead of just writing down my ideas on a piece of paper, using LEGO® bricks greatly aided me in being more creative and think of more innovative ideas. Explaining to my groupmates about my LEGO® model also helped me to articulate my ideas better and solidify my understanding of food wastage and food security issues that are currently happening in Singapore.

Then, we had to combine all of our group member’s models about food security and wastage and try to link it to describe the overall problem of food security and food wastage happening in Singapore. I was actually very surprised to see that although we were not told to divide ourselves into different aspects of food security and food wastage, our group’s models were so diverse that there were enough models to give a very good overall picture about the two problems in Singapore.

The most interesting part came when we had to find strong links and weak links and link the models together. After that, we were told to pick one factor that might improve food security and food wastage problems in Singapore. We were told to shake one of the models that are affected as a result of that factor. From this, we could immediately see that some models were moving in tandem as we shook the model while some models moved sometimes. This really aided us in visualizing which factors in the system is directly linked to one factor and which factors are linked in some ways. This also meant that we were able to identify which factors we should target in order to disrupt the system the most to solve the problems in Singapore. This allowed me to get an idea of what factors my project groupmates should target when we are thinking of policies.

 Conclusion

Contrary to the first belief that LEGO® was an absolute waste of time, it was actually very helpful in helping me to understand in greater detail the problems of food wastage and food security in Singapore. Furthermore, I REALLY ENJOYED THE LESSON!!! I am definitely glad and in fact impressed that Jenson has even thought about LEGO® play to teach our class about these problems. To whoever, is taking this module in the future, you guys might also think that LEGO® play useful but trust me, it was really fun and in fact, I have to say that it is more useful than the traditional lessons.

 

Lego: Chicken Soup for the Soul & Other Lessons Learnt

Truth be told, I was looking forward to the Lego Serious Play session the most. Lego was always special to me for its creative potential. A person’s creation was a doorway to their thoughts and ideas, but only as a start towards something deeper and more meaningful about them. An exploration inwards more so than an exploration outwards.

Although I could not attend the main Lego session, the primer session was a fun yet thought-provoking experience. The previous lessons exposed our wrong assumptions that people would respond in same ways given a similar instruction. Our ‘mental model’ for our other models, if you will. Everyone has different perspectives and interpretations which is what makes us unique in our own ways. And such diversity should be treasured and considered by all groups for their upcoming presentations.

On its own, Lego is just bricks – random shapes of plastic. However, it is an individual who imbues them with meaning. And it is through individuals that its meaning can be shared, gaining purpose. In the starter session, Lego was our primary form of communication towards straight-forward questions, some more implied than others.

“What is a tower?” “What components or criteria makes a tower?” “How would I express the ideal RC4 student resident?”

However, I can see its potential in helping to visualize other greater questions. Namely, how we, as students and people interacting with Singapore, perceive a larger food security/ waste problem that stretches beyond these shores? What other underlying assumptions are we making when we claim to be mitigating or ‘solving’ such problems completely? Can our CLDs/SFDs replicate these outcomes?

All models are wrong. And all models are not meant to replicate quantitative outcomes. Our best “guess-timates” may not resolve world food problems. But as a start, it can point us in the right direction.

Lessons Learnt

Apart from technical competencies in handling Vensim, more skill-based and cognitive approaches towards problem-solving have been ingrained. The past few weeks have been arduously long in formulating the required models, especially rendering the stock-and-flow diagram (SFD) to exhibit authentic behavioral change. However, the time taken and effort spent was worth it. This was largely in part due to the useful workshop by our own RC4 seniors whose experiences of utilizing Vensim programming in real-world applications and shaping policy-direction has also enabled our project to take form.

Moreover, I am most grateful for the team I have partnered with. Each member of the group possesses their respective strengths and weaknesses (and oddly at times our own eccentricities thrown into the mix). Hence, while each of us capitalize and synergize our strengths, we also look out for and correct each other’s weaknesses in the process. However, I can confidently say that all of us have readily dedicated to the iterative process of the respective steps involved in the model formulation and above all, to the team.

If our project was a blockbuster movie, each of us would possess an influential roles. Our “creative producer” Bin Ren was the ideational force behind systematically highlighting the linkages and relationships present in our given question, identifying and then tackling the key spots of interest. Nila, our “line producer”, helped tackle the “logistics” of the project by materializing critical aspects of our envisioned project into code. Tae Kyung served as  “editor” for the project, being the most rigorous and thorough ‘checker’ for the team’s work. He would constructively deconstruct the assumptions, models or modes of thinking which later proved incongruous or faulty altogether for further improvement. I, on the other hand played the “scriptwriter”, working out the project’s intended narrative and directional flow.

This is not to say that each of us were merely segregated into fulfilling disparate, unrelated roles. On the contrary, although each stage of the problem-solving process was loosely headed by an individual at any given point in time, the other group members were still able to positively contribute at every step of the project development under the guidance of an unofficial leader.

You might also notice that I forgot to mention the role of a “director” in the project, the visual storyteller of the group. However, I would like to think that through each of our individual contributions, we have also shared in shaping the presentation of the final product, in terms of content and direction taken in addressing the chosen issue at hand.

Systems-Thinking

The identity of RC4 could not be further separated from the understanding of systems-thinking. The weeks of conceptualizing larger frameworks which take into account more peripheral but no less important variables, assumptions and behaviors has expanded my previously-entrenched mindset and ignorant preference of a “straightforward” problem matched with an equally simple “straightforward” solution. Uncomplicated but naively inadequate.

Uncovering any given contextualized problem at hand would lend to greater nuance and understanding of less-than-immediate forces at hand. In the real world, institutions, frameworks, rules and norms also shape the foundational underpinnings of many real-world systems. Yet, even the natural physical world is the by-product of multiple co-acting “laws” and empirical observations at work.

After given some time to think about what an idealised RC4 resident would embody (having miserable failed to answer the similar question during the first Lego session), I think I now have a more refined understanding. The need to appreciate the “bigger” picture, inclusiveness of perspectives and peoples, core ethical behavior and constant thirst for a deeper truth, are but a handful of many pre-requisites I feel are the quintessential hallmarks of the RC4 systems-thinker.

Are we Seriously going to be Playing with LEGO®?

When I first heard that we would be using LEGO® in class, I thought it was some kind of acronym, like “Learning Environment something something…” only to find that we were indeed, using interlocking plastic LEGO® bricks. After doing a little digging, I found that the name LEGO® comes from the two Danish words “leg godt”, meaning “play well”.

 

The first thing we were asked to build in the introductory session was a tower. It had to start with the black baseboard and end with the flower, with no other specifications. At first most of us were confused as to how to start, especially with the time constraints, but eventually we built different interpretations, our own interpretations of a tower. Some had functional accessories such as ladders, while others resembled a satellite or a stable fortress. That was when we learned that the bricks helped us to tap into our subconscious. Our next task would be to build two different models, before modifying them to tell a story about what we love about living and learning in RC4. Finally, our last task was to build our ideal role model in RC4. This further allowed us to tap into our subconscious and associate “meaning” with the bricks. This led me to think back on one of the first lessons when one of the first takeaways from #STORIESINSTCLASS was that although the instructions given to everyone may be identical, everyone could have different interpretations of the same instructions.

 

The following lesson, we jumped straight into the modelling process. First, we built individual models of aspects of a food waste and food security challenge. Although no specific instruction was given on which specific factor to build, we all ended up with different models describing different factors of the same problem. This exercise actually revealed what we subconsciously thought was the most important factor of the problem, or the one we could relate the most to. We then proceeded to link the individual models with a storyline.

This storytelling aspect also aided us in understanding the problem and the various steps involved in the system, as well as made it much easier to recall the lesson.

Following which, we linked the models with connections, both flexible and rigid. This mirrored how the different factors built were linked to one another and allowed us to better perceive the cause and effect relationships between the factors. This was a significant visual aid as a change in one model (physically moving the base board) would lead to immediate or delayed shifts in other models, depending on the type of connection used. I then realised that this actually reflected the connections in a CLD/SFD, with the flexible connections symbolising time delays between the variables.

Next up, we had a simulated shock event. In my group’s case, it was “Breakdown of Ties with All Countries”.

Breakdown of ties with all countries >:(

We were instructed to place flags on the models which we thought would be affected. But as it turned out, all of the models would have been affected due to the network of connections, it was just a matter of time.

 

The LEGO® models actually articulate a simplified version of CLD/SFD. The models, combined with our experience on the ground with FoodBank, made this problem a lot more relatable. This was in contrast with other modules I had done before whereby the problem seemed distant as we were only dealing with words, variables, equations and data, but with no actual experience or physical perception of the problem. I thoroughly enjoyed how these LEGO® bricks brought more meaning to the problem and made it more relatable, instead of just plainly doing up the model on Vensim and having no real “feel” of it. I would say that we definitely had the opportunity to “play well”, and that the usage of these bricks to impart learning objectives was indeed “well played”.

Give a man a fish?

In the previous blog post, I mentioned how visually looking at the sheer amount of food waste would be more effective in driving the point of food wastage. This has never more true after making a trip down to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Food Centre.

Pasir Panjang Wholesale Food Centre

Upon arrival to the food centre, we were greeted with huge display of giant food pallets, forklifts and delivery trucks. The sheer scale of the operation was impressive – distributors furiously punching their calculators and scribbling down on their log book, unceasing sound of forklifts racing down the aisle, and the incessant buzz and chatter of buyers in Hokkien dialect bargaining for the best price.

Our group quickly split up, one to look for fruits and the other for vegetables. Initially, I was unfamiliar with how the operation of collecting discarded food worked, and thus I observed and learned from how Jenson did. The start was quite disheartening as we faced quite a lot of rejection, contrary to what many other groups experienced. This was because we were (maybe) slower than other groups and they have already donated any unwanted food to the other groups. Some distributors also seemed too busy to entertain us. Whatever the reasons, for a good 30 minutes or so, we slogged our way through the aisles with little progress.

After observing from Jenson, it was my turn to start asking the distributors for any unwanted food items. Just like before, our group met with much difficulty, perhaps of unfamiliarity with the process and because we simply asked ‘Do you have any discarded food items that you would like to give?’. Jenson suggested that we introduce ourselves as coming from Foodbank so that we did not appear like strangers from the public, and to let them know that their generous act of donation could potentially help feed the poor. Eventually, we managed to get more discarded food items such as potatoes, leeks and cabbage. An observation is that throughout the process, (at least for my group) we had to take the initiative to ask the distributors for unwanted food, contrary to some other group’s experience where distributors actually approached the groups instead. This would mean that had the distributors not been approached, any unwanted food will simply be another discarded pile waiting to be transported to the incinerator. Additionally, from what I read online, distributors alone have no incentives to donate food because having do so themselves would incur certain transportation cost. This was somewhat true, as I observe that without being approached, they most likely would not have donated their food. (Not because they don’t want to, but due to reasons as stated above.) Besides, they were also too busy managing with their stores, and to carry out the backbreaking task of shifting huge boxes of discarded food waste and transporting it to a vehicle would be going out of their way. This emphasizes for a strong need for an organization like FoodBank who acts somewhat like a middleman to carry out the mundane task of gathering food waste from them, and then subsequently distributing to the food insecure.

The discarded food waste looked in edible condition albeit with slight blemish and slightly more stale. When asked why they were being discarded, most cite blemishes or having to clear space for newcoming stocks as the most common reason.

Some of the food collected were really in perfect condition

Although most of the sellers were initially disinterested, the last hour of the food collecting process was much more fruitful (no pun intended). One store owner, seeing us going down each aisle, asked us what we were doing. After explaining that we were from the Foodbank, she thanked us for volunteering and proceeded to give us bag of perfect looking potatoes wrapped in mash from her main stash that seemed to be meant for selling. Another store owner, also explained to us that he would have donated any unwanted food, but could not because the rejected vegetables in his stash were ridden with pesticides and it would be immoral to donate them.

It was a rewarding experience as we amass almost a vehicle full of perfectly edible food in a short 90 minutes with a team of 20.

Kitchener Road

We later proceeded to distribute the food at Kitchener Road, a stone’s throw away from the Central Business District. After unloading the food and laying in at a collection point near the playground, residents started streaming in and patiently queued for whatever food items they need.

The blemishes and stale conditions of some vegetables did not dissuade the residents from collecting them. In fact, they were extremely grateful and happy to have been able to collect food that would feed them for another few days.

Residents patiently queuing for the food items they need

Going From Door to Door

This seems contrary to what Mr David Tay shared with us, that the poor reject ugly food. I was later asked to head up to the resident’s block and go from unit to unit informing residents of the food collection event downstairs. Many unopened doors. Then, a single mother with a very young child. A pair of daughter and elderly mother. An elderly Indian man living alone. They appreciated the goodwill, but because of limited mobility and not being able to leave a child alone at home, they asked if we could collect some food and bring up to them. And we did.

An observation was that perhaps some residents were not keenly aware of how the food can be used. While I agree that FoodBank helps to salvage food to provide for the residents, should we also consider how these foods can be properly utilized once in the hands of the residents? When the basket of vegetables and fruits were presented on the resident’s doorsteps, they asked what kind of fruits or vegetables in the basket were. The elderly Indian man took only the fruits. The pair of daughter and elderly mother looked at me in confusion, perhaps unfamiliar with the kind of vegetables. I explained that some of the vegetable could be used to brew soup. It was a strange interaction, as it appeared that they didn’t know what to do with the vegetables but they took it anyway. I wondered if they know how to cook. But even if they didn’t, was it was in my capacity to deny them from taking the food? I later consoled myself that once the foods were in their hands, it was for them to decide how they were going to use it.

Some of the residents could not head down to collect food

Having the chance to redistribute the food from door to door opened my eyes to the marginalized population in the society that we normally do not see. Also, my interaction with the daughter mother pair reminded me of an article that I read quite a while back. It was about an elderly man who accumulated stashes of unused soya sauce and instant noodles given by donation groups as he did not know how to cook. Yes, the mother daughter pair took the vegetables, but I wondered if they had any recipes in mind that would use that vegetable? Are we giving what the recipients need? Or are we giving just to comfort ourselves that we have done a ‘good’ deed?

I am of the opinion that if we want to help the food insecure, we could do more than just merely donating food to them. One, if they are able and willing to cook, we could send someone down to teach them a few recipes and provide them with cooking appliances for them to cook. Otherwise, it would just be a repeat of the story of the elderly man who has heaps of unused food. To get out of the food insecure group, it may not be enough to just ‘provide food’ for them. It is equally important to teach them how to use the food, for “if you give a man a fish, he eats for a day; If you teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime’.

Conclusion

Regardless, the FoodBank is a step in the right direction to help alleviate the financial cost of the food insecure. However, this may only benefit certain target groups of the food insecure, such as those who can and are able to cook. Other groups of people in the food insecure group such as the elderly who have limited mobility or those who do not cook may not benefit much from having so much vegetables stockpiled in their fridge. This should be something that have to be investigated.

ONE MAN’S TRASH IS ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE

“The amount of food waste that can be collected at the wholesale centre is astounding; you have to see it for yourselves to understand,” – This was what Brof told us during one of our SS lessons. Indeed, the visit to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre had proven that seeing is believing. This post will include my thoughts on the volunteering experience, and my reflections on what can be done to alleviate the problem of food waste in Singapore.

Canvassing for food at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre

As soon as we arrived, the objective was evident – to collect as much unwanted food as possible amidst the busy lanes of scurrying forklifts and trolleys. My group and I were assigned to the vegetables section, where we went around asking the wholesalers if they had any unwanted vegetables to donate. When questioned why they were throwing away so much vegetables in batches, one wholesaler told us that “the vegetables were already turning yellow or were too ripe”. Moreover, I also noticed that a wholesaler gave us entire batches of vegetables without even opening the boxes to check if there are any vegetables that look decent enough to be salvaged and sold. He explained that “there are new batches of vegetables coming in constantly”, so the older stock would inevitably have to be cleared as customers would always prefer the fresher ones.

As we have learnt in class, the issue of cosmetic filtering of food stems right from the supply chain level before the food even reaches consumers. According to a local survey, 83% of Singaporeans would not buy imperfect-looking fruits and vegetables, which tend to look bruised, discoloured or misshapen (https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/reducing-food-waste-getting-singaporeans-to-embrace-ugly-food-7775360). It then makes sense for wholesalers to impose strict cosmetic standards on the fruits and vegetables, in order to give a good impression to their customers and thus increase sales.

Furthermore, the reason why wholesalers tend to discard entire batches of vegetables when only a few are of unacceptable standards is that it is simply too time-consuming to go through such huge volumes of stock to select some that can still be sold. There is also a need to free up inventory space for the new incoming batches of vegetables, which are fresher and more likely to be sold to customers. For them, ‘time is money’ – The priority placed on time and cost savings, in addition to meeting customers’ expectations, therefore propagates the problem of food wastage on the supply chain level.

“Hold on, there’s more!” – Donations from a very generous wholesaler

Nonetheless, it was heartening that some stall owners took the initiative to call us over to collect the vegetables before we even approached them. The fact that some are aware that they can donate the food instead of throwing them away shows that FoodBank has done a great job in their consistent food rescue efforts. However, it was regrettable that a lot of vegetables had already been thrown away earlier in the day. This led me to think that there could be some possible improvements made to the system of food rescuing.

Firstly, there could be a designated point in the wholesale centre for unwanted but edible fruits and vegetables to be collected. This would make it more efficient for the FoodBank volunteers to rescue the food at one go at a designated timing, instead of going to the wholesalers individually (some of whom may already have discarded the food). At the same time, the wholesalers themselves can exercise more responsibility in the way they discard the food – edible food should be separated from those that really need to be thrown away (due to reasons such as being grown in contaminated soil/too much pesticides/moldy/spoilt). If this filtering process takes place before the rescued food reaches the needy residents, it can help to leave space for more food to be transported in the truck, as well as ensure that the needy people receive food that is safe for consumption.

Undeniably, this system would mainly require the cooperation of wholesalers themselves, which is not easy to achieve. As we have observed, most of them were already very busy with various duties like unloading and stock-taking, so discarding unwanted food in a more responsible manner is simply not their priority. Nevertheless, it can be achievable in the long-term if we can obtain their understanding and change the attitudes of these wholesalers to do their part to reduce food waste.

Distributing the rescued food to needy residents at Kitchener Road

After canvassing for food at the wholesale centre, our next task was to distribute them to the low-income residents, where they can choose and take the fruits and vegetables they need. All the residents seemed very appreciative and grateful; and I had the chance to go around some units at one of the blocks to inform the residents to head downstairs and collect the food. Some elderly residents told us that they found it tiring or inconvenient to make their way downstairs due to health issues, so we had to bring the food to their doorstep. I managed to talk to an elderly lady living alone, who had a bad leg and could not go downstairs to collect the food. She told us that if we had not offered to bring the food up to her, she would usually be eating canned food with porridge, which is not very nutritious.

This made me recall that food security is not just about having sufficient food; the food must also meet the nutritional needs of people. The less fortunate sometimes also receive food from donation drives, most of which are non-perishables like canned food. In comparison to fruits and vegetables, these may not be as nutritious and may end up being thrown away when they expire (refer to my first blog post: http://blog.nus.edu.sg/utc2712/2019/09/23/mirror-mirror-on-the-wall-whos-wasting-the-most-food-of-them-all/). However for this distribution activity, I feel that fresh fruits and vegetables are healthier choices and are more likely to be utilised by the residents, especially since they get to choose what they want. Nonetheless, they also need to have proper knowledge on how to store and cook the food, so that they do not end up being ‘wasted again’ despite being rescued from the wholesale centre.

Ugly fruits and vegetables, but that doesn’t mean they are worthless

This volunteering session is definitely an eye-opening experience as it allowed me to think deeper about what I have learnt in class so far. It is an irony that while many of us are guilty of throwing away food just because they may not suit our tastes or expectations, there are many needy people out there who are food insecure and do not have the privilege to choose. I think that food waste and insecurity is fundamentally a systemic issue; many of the problems we observe today are the symptoms instead of causes. It is regrettable that what we did can only help the less fortunate cope with their food needs for a short period of time, but cannot eliminate the issue of food insecurity that stems from various factors such as poverty. However, every small effort counts and I am very grateful for this opportunity to examine the issue of food waste and insecurity on the ground.

A tiring but fulfilling volunteering session 🙂

Ugly Food Wastage Problem – Any Solutions?

Whatever we have been learning about food waste and food security issues in Singapore for the past 7 weeks were only through books and talks. Thus, it would have been truly wonderful if I were able to attend the FoodBank volunteering at Pasir Panjang to see for myself how bad food waste issues are like in Singapore currently. However, I was unable to attend it as I was busy on that day. Nonetheless, by reading my classmate’s blog and the researches I have done while preparing for the project, I have really gained a lot of knowledge about food waste.

I still remember when I volunteered for Soup’s Kitchen last year, I was told by the organisers that they were not able to provide food for all of the people who are needy because they didn’t have enough donations for food. However, looking at the pictures taken during the FoodBank volunteering, so much food is being wasted because they are ugly. The sheer amount of ‘ugly food’ that are being discarded could have been put to better use. If the ‘ugly food’ were to be distributed to the needy families in Singapore, the 1 in 10 Singaporeans who are food insecure would no longer exist. It is really devastating to see that food that is perfect is being thrown away because nobody wants them as they are not aesthetically pleasing.

Reflecting on this, I thought about what could be done to reduce ‘‘ugly food’’ wastage and also distribute the ‘ugly food’ to needy families. I came to the conclusion that the only way to actually solve the problem of ‘ugly food’ wastage is to change the mindsets of the people. Currently, 8 in 10 Singaporeans will avoid buying ‘ugly’ vegetables and fruits.  The main reason why these people are not willing to buy ‘‘ugly food’’ is that they feel that ‘ugly food’ is not as fresh, nutritious or tasty as other food. However, this is definitely not true. ‘ugly food’ is exactly the same as any other food that is ‘beautiful’ in every other way except the way it looks. Thus, it is crucial that Singaporeans are educated from young about the misconceptions of ‘ugly food’. After all, a survey done by Electrolux reveals that 75% of the survey respondents will buy ‘ugly food’ if it as tasty and nutritious as other food. By educating the public from young, ‘ugly food’ wastage will definitely be reduced.

One of the other reasons why ‘ugly food’ wastage remains very high in Singapore is because there is close to no avenue for people to even purchase ‘ugly food’. Even though there are people (like me) who do not really care whether the food is ugly or not, as ‘‘ugly food’’ are being thrown away before they reach the supermarkets, it is impossible for us to buy ‘ugly food’ in the first place. No avenue also means that distributors will have to throw away ‘ugly food’ as supermarkets will not accept them. By having online malls or physical stores that sell ‘ugly food’ will definitely reduce the ‘ugly food’ wastage. Furthermore, since the demand for ‘ugly food’ is much lower than other food, by selling them at a discount, needy families will also have better food security as food becomes more affordable for them.

One very good example would be South Korea (I keep bringing up my own country, but Korea is really a good example of reducing ‘‘ugly food’ wastage’). Since young, I was educated in school that in fact, food that looks perfect is dangerous to eat as they contain chemicals that make it look aesthetically pleasing. Especially for fruits, chemicals are being sprayed on top it to look shiny and more aesthetically pleasing. However, as this is a very widely known fact/belief, people are actually looking for food that is ugly. People in Korea actually want to see some blemishes on their fruits and vegetables as they know that there aren’t any chemicals that are being sprayed onto it. This actually caused an increased demand for ugly fruits and vegetables.

In fact, ugly fruit and vegetable are the new niche market. In 2014, the sales of ‘ugly food’ increased by 46%. Furthermore, an online shopping mall, Auction has a section exclusively for ugly fruits. In 2015, Grade B fruits had a 20% increase in sales. Thirty Mall, which sells products that are ugly, started out with just 90 users in May of 2014 but that number has skyrocketed to 300,000 as of 2018. My family also uses these online malls to buy groceries as they are priced much lower than ‘beautiful’ food albeit the same taste, freshness, and nutrition value.

Nonetheless, there are efforts made by some Singaporeans to reduce ‘ugly food’ wastage. For example, Pei Shan, a student from SUTD-SMU Double Degree Programme started a company known as UglyFood. UglyFood sells fresh fruit juices as well as ice creams that are made solely from ‘‘ugly food’’. Her aim of setting up this business was so that people will create conversations about cosmetic filtering of food and that their products will enable people to realise that ‘ugly food’ tastes just as great as normal food.

In conclusion, so far, this module has been really helpful in making me think about the food waste issues that are happening in Singapore and the world. After learning about food waste problems, I have definitely become more conscious about the amount of food I waste on a daily basis. For example, in the past, even though I was not feeling very hungry, I have never asked for less rice in dining hall. The mentality I had was: since I paid for it, I might as well get everything they give me.  Now, whenever I know that I wouldn’t be able to finish the food, I would always ask for less rice (or even no rice).

 

let’s FIGHT food waste

On 25th September, my class attended a volunteering session by Food Bank.

When we entered Pasir Panjang Wholesale centre, it was already bustling with activity. There were vendors working hard and forklifts passing by us. Many boxes and baskets of vegetables were seen lying around. We were then instructed to approach the vendors to ask them for vegetables that they do not want anymore.

While walking through the wholesale centre, one vendor stopped us and called us over. Seeing how he knew that we are here to collect unused vegetables, I immediately understood that the volunteers from FoodBank must have been rescuing vegetables for some time such that the vendors have come to recognise us. Soon, our trolley is filled with many boxes of his vegetables. I was very surprised at how he was willing to give away so many of these vegetables! When we asked him for the reason on why doesn’t he want these vegetables anymore, he simply said that he cannot sell them as they are not nice.

Since we still have some space left in our trolley, we went over to the next store. The owner gladly brought us to the cold room and took out many boxes of sweet potato. In fact, I think there were around 10 boxes! When we ask him for his reasons of throwing away these boxes of potatoes, he said that it takes too much money to separate and repackage the good ones from the bad ones and that it is also costly to trim them. He also said that the markets would not want the repackaged ones. It is upsetting to know that these many perfectly edible potatoes are left unwanted just because of a few bad ones.

Afterwards, we went to the truck to unload vegetables that we collected into a truck. We then continued on to collect more vegetables.

As we brought back the last boxes of vegetables that we collected, I was amazed seeing the total amount of vegetables that all of us have collected. There were all kind of vegetables like spring onions, cucumber, brinjal and many more. Many of these were still looking good and not spoiled.

In fact, the food that we collected are only vegetables and fruits. There are still many other types of food out there that are thrown away. The staff in charge of our session today told me they also conduct rescue missions for other types of food like bread, pastries and packaged food. Vegetables and fruit are actually only a portion of food that are being thrown away and that there is in fact still so much more food that are being wasted!

Afterwards is the distribution phase where we headed down to Kitchener Road where we placed out all the boxes of vegetables for the residents there to collect.

There were already people crowding around us and holding plastic bags, getting ready to bring back the vegetables that they need. We would then stand around and help to give out these vegetables to them.

 

Even though there were many people who came down to take the vegetables, there were still many vegetables left over. These vegetables left were then loaded into the truck where the drivers then delivered them to beneficiaries.

After this experience, I felt really tiring but very fulfilling. Despite the pouring rain, I was happy that I did something meaningful and that I get to experience something new. This experience even allows me look at some vegetables that I have never seen before!

While talking to the staff, she told me that every 3 times a month, she will bring big groups of 30 or 40 volunteers to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre to collect these unwanted vegetables. I also would constantly see images and read experiences of volunteers participating in this Veggie Rescue Mission on the SG Food Rescue group in Facebook. And through the pictures, I can see many people happily and working hard in collecting these vegetables. It was heartwarming to know that there are many people who volunteered to collect and distribute these unwanted fruits and vegetables on their own will. This also includes the people from NTUC who joined us in this volunteer session. At first, I thought they were sent over by their company but I had a conversation with one of them and he said that they volunteered because they want to! This really motivated me to sign up voluntarily in the future!

I knew that food waste consists of many stages and one of them includes the food that is thrown away by the wholesalers before it reaches the retailers or markets. And the food that we collected could have actually went to the bin instead of reaching to someone who will appreciate them! Often times, these vegetables and fruits that were thrown away are ugly, misshapen or mouldy. If I was in their shoes, it is actually understandable that I would throw away these vegetables too since they do not benefit me at all. However, there are still many good-looking ones among the vegetables that were thrown away! The misshapen ones like the capsicums were also mostly not in anyway too damaged so I actually didn’t see the need of them threw away. They are still perfectly safe and edible to eat! In fact, these blemished vegetables can still be salvaged by scraping away the affected bits. While looking around, I do see some uncles trimming the vegetables. As I pass by this store, I also saw that the uncle inside trimming the end of vegetable. Of course, selling ugly produce comes at a cost to the sellers as these are often sold at a cheaper price in order to attract customers.  Also, like what I mentioned earlier, it would take time and cost to do all the necessary trimming. In addition, like what Daniel Tay, the co-founder of SG Food Rescue says “Businesses will try to sell them if they can, but they also recognise that by selling imperfect food items, they earn less. They have to be okay with doing the right thing.”

I feel that even though there are many food recycling initiatives and organizations like food bank that volunteer to collect and distribute unwanted food, the problem still boils down to us, consumers. It is because we have the mindset that ugly food does not taste good or are not safe to eat and hence, we are always picking the better-looking food while leaving all the ugly looking ones behind. Due to our misconception, this led to retailers and hence wholesalers throwing out all these foods and then only displaying the good-looking ones so as to appeal to us consumers. Hence, I think it is really necessary for us to change our attitudes towards ugly looking food.

 

SG Food Rescue needs your help!

During the recess week, my classmates went to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Center to canvass the fruits and vegetables and proceeded to Kitchener Road to redistribute these fruits and vegetables to those who need them. I could not go with them due to some personal reasons, so I conducted some research about food waste in Singapore and found out what my classmates did in the learning experience.

Reducing food wastage, redistributing unsold or excess food, and recycling food waste are important components of Singapore waste management strategies to work towards a Zero Waste Nation. The Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre is well-known for its bustling morning activities, and it is Singapore’s main distribution point and an important node in the fruits and vegetables supply chain in Singapore. Therefore, I think Pasir Panjang Wholesale Center is an ideal place for the Food Bank and volunteers to collect unwanted food, more importantly, to figure out why the food is wasted in the distribution stage.

From the photos that Jensen sent in the group chat, I saw there were a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables that store owners no longer wanted. My friends said they did not even need to ask for donations from store owners, the store owners just brought them into their stores and gave them sweet potatoes, spring onions, cucumbers and other vegetables that were unused, all stored in large cardboard boxes.

As store owners, what they expect are higher profits, just discard the unused fruits and vegetables in boxes without even scrutinizing is not in their interests. There are a few reasons that I can think of why so much food is wasted in the distribution stage.

  • One of the most important reasons is the fresh batches of vegetables and fruits are coming in constantly and quickly, the items that fail their standards would just have to be discarded. (That’s why Food Bank could collect nearly 1.5 tons of vegetables and fruits every week!) Even if some of the items are still good enough to be sold, the owners have no time to scrutinize every single vegetable as they are busy loading and unloading their trucks and store their freshest batch of fruits and vegetables. Moreover, as a supplier, the wholesalers usually order much more than the retailers’ demand in case the retailers need more. Therefore, even before distributing the food to the retailers, the wholesalers wasted a lot of food already.
  • Secondly, the inventory space is limited, they do not want to use up space for the stale vegetables. Even they got enough space to store, these vegetables will also be discarded because they are too ugly to be sold. From Daniel Tay’s sharing, retailers prefer perfect fruits and vegetables as the consumers will not want blemished products. Therefore, from the store owners’ perspectives, there is no reason for them to store the “ugly” food. To reduce the food waste, the wholesalers could sell these bruised or ugly items at a much lower price to the hawker centers or restaurants that need a large number of fruits and vegetables to cook every day. The Food Bank organized an event called “ Feeding the 5000” in Asia, which seeks to increase awareness of food waste by cooking 5000 free meals made from “ugly food”. See, the ugly food is still perfectly edible, they just have a little blemish here and there.
  • Thirdly, all the fruits and vegetables have best-before date, the store owners have boxes of fruits and vegetables and they always have something to throw away. But it is not realistic that the volunteers and Food Bank go there every day, so the store owners could set up a platform or group chat with needy neighbors, once they have something to discard, they could ask them to come down and collect.

I believe that the store owners also do not want to waste the food, maybe they do not have time or any ideas to reduce food waste, so they are more willing to give the unsold items away to the volunteers and food charity. Win-win!

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Once the volunteers arrived at the Kitchener Road, my classmates said they were a great number of residents came down to collect the redistributed items. To their surprise, the residents were not as picky as the general populous as they were willing to accept those unsold food items.

This time, the volunteers just redistributed the food in the Kitchener Road, but I believe there are more needy people islandwide. Food Bank could work with different communities island-wide to increase residents’ awareness of the Food Bank programs through campaigns, meanwhile, residents could know more about the current food waste situation in Singapore and gain skills to differentiate between edible and inedible items. Therefore, people may not be reluctant to accept distributed food or purchase ugly food in the market as they fear that the food is unsafe for consumption.

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In conclusion, the Food Bank plays a vital role in reducing food waste in Singapore. Except for these charities, more actions or policies need to be taken by the government and other authorities to address this systematic problem holistically. They need to think of a way to reduce food waste at the distribution stage, moreover, educate the public that once the best-use date has passed, the fruits and vegetables may just lose its freshness, taste, aroma or nutrients. But it does not necessarily mean that the food is no longer safe to eat. This volunteer experience must be an eye-opening and unforgettable experience for the students, I wish I would join the program next time!

“Well, that was easy”

I did not really know what to expect during the FoodBank volunteering. Food donation drives are not new to me – I regularly go around to the houses near my church to give out rations to those who are in need. It is usually a lot of work, from sourcing out the food to packing the individual bags and finally going house to house and delivering them. I was expecting something similar to that, but knowing that we did not prepare anything beforehand confused me a little.

I thought asking around for fruits and vegetables is going to be difficult but surprisingly, it was pretty manageable. People were either politely told us that they do not have any or gave us a lot generously. So after that I thought perhaps distributing the food out has to be the hardest part but then again, even that was not a lot of work. We had to take out the food items we’ve collected from the truck and place them in an open area and that was all we had to do. People started collecting food almost immediately. I remember turning to my friend and telling him “wow, all we had to do was literally relocate these food items”. I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that it was essentially that easy. We did not spend a lot of time packing these foods or going house to house to distribute them. All we had to do was to bring the food over to them and they just took it.

I am really grateful for this opportunity because it did put things into perspective for me. This entire experience was easier than what I anticipated. I thought it would really exhaust me and take up a whole day but I only spent half a day, at most. It might be intimidating to go out on our own to do this but doing it with people I’m familiar with made this experience a lot more enjoyable. This experience was also a good reminder that the benefits we might get from going out of our comfort zone will usually outweigh the lack of comfort experienced while doing so.

Half-day experiential learning with Food Bank

Before we began making rounds around Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, Rachel, who volunteers 3 to 4 times a month with Food Bank shared with us things to be wary of for this particular session. As the beneficiary was a Senior Activity Centre (SAC), the consumables we are supposed to collect would be different. As senior citizens generally do not cook at home, it would be best if we were able to get more fruits. Furthermore, based on feedback from previous engagement with the SAC, there were too much of the same type of vegetables. Ideally this time we should be canvassing a wider variety as opposed to large quantities of vegetables. This goes back to my first blog entry which claimed that abundance does not necessarily imply food security. There is indeed a correlation between food waste on a wholesaler level and food security within the masses.

Not only that, she gave some tips on how to approach wholesalers. In a Chinese dialect, rather than requesting them for fruits or vegetables that they wanted to throw away, we should phrase it to food that they would want to donate instead. Wholesalers are aware that it is wasteful to throw away these consumables. Despite the awareness, the reason why food disposal still happens is beyond their control. It all lies in the hands of consumers – supply and demand. If suppliers are not able to fulfil the demand for aesthetically pleasing fruits and vegetables, they will not be able to sustain their business. These wholesalers constantly have to decide to either contribute to food waste or maximize revenue. As such, if we sugarcoat by mentioning donation instead of disposal, it would make them feel better about themselves. They can at least have a peace of mind knowing the consumables which would have been otherwise disposed of, could instead benefit those who are food insecure. 

Initially, I was apprehensive that we could fill up the van with sufficient amounts of fruits and vegetables. Having to request from loabans for donations, the responses were usually along the lines of not having anything to give away. But they were nice about it and suggested us to go deeper into the wholesale centre. True enough, as we walked further away from the entrance, some wholesalers came approaching us instead. Knowing that we were making rounds to collect consumables for beneficiaries, they were receptive towards the idea of donating. Before we knew it, within an hour, the van is filled to the brim. However, taking into account what Rachel mentioned previously, we were not able to take in too much of the same type of vegetables. There were instances which we had to politely reject the generosity of the wholesalers. Unfortunately, we contributed to food wastage during our attempt at redistribution. I believe this could have been prevented if we were to optimize the redistribution process. I am pretty sure a lot of other beneficiaries could have benefitted from the wholesalers’ willingness to donate the excess vegetables. Understandably, then, we did not have sufficient resources and capabilities to do so.

As soon as reached the SAC, we began to pack the fruits and vegetables into big red plastic bags. It was the responsibility of the volunteers to remove rotten consumables and ensure each pack contains the same quantity and variety. By doing so, the beneficiaries bypassed the cosmetic filtering stage – a widely discussed contributor to food waste. I developed a hypothesis that the more food insecure someone is, the less likely for the person to be concerned with the aesthetic of the food they consume. Afterwards, the senior citizens began to collect the pack that we have prepared for them. As we were distributing, I noticed a majority of them were not particularly concerned with the contents of the pack. They were appreciative and contented by the fact they received a decent supply of fruits and vegetables which could sustain them for the next few days. In comparison, there is a stark difference when I receive exam welfare packs every semester. Admittedly, the first thing I would is to check and decide whether or not to consume the contents – preference filtering.

I approached a makcik and she was kind enough to share with me her personal experiences and views on the redistribution session. She just moved to the area and it was her second time collecting food from the SAC. She mentioned that to receive the pack, senior citizens had to first register their names. The centre will then check their financial eligibility and update them accordingly on the next redistribution date. Before that, they are required to fulfil a certain number of activities conducted by the SAC. Only after then they would receive the fruits and vegetables as a form of incentive. I probed her on what she thought of the previous engagement when we had too much of the same type of vegetable. In contrast, her response was a positive one. She improvised on what she should cook based on the raw ingredients that were redistributed. The excess was then stored in the refrigerator. It was not easy for her to craft recipes which revolved around the same vegetable, but at the end of the day, none of the vegetables went to waste. Reflecting on what I previously mentioned about abundance, food waste is dependent on how we effectively manage excess. I feel that more resource is always better than little to no resource. When we have access to abundance, we at least have the decision power to waste or not to waste food. Whereas if our resource is scarce, the idea of wasting food would not even be a consideration. However, food security suffers as a consequence. Ultimately, seeking the right balance between food wastage and food security is something that we should be constantly striving for in Singapore.

“Have you eaten today?”

“Yes, some of us are probably starving ourselves out of choice but there are some people out there who have not eaten because they simply do not have enough to put food on the table.”

This was a quote that I saw on Food Bank’s website. After reading this quote, I have realised how privileged I am to be food secure. It has also made me realise how meaningful the volunteering experience with Foodbank was as it has allowed us to better visualise and understand the food situation in Singapore.

Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre

When we first arrived at the wholesale centre, I was surprised by how big it was. Before we even reached the meeting point at Kopitiam, we were already overwhelmed by the scale of the wholesale centre. Forklifts were cruising through the narrow lanes, beeping at us to give way so that they could unload the vast amounts of crates they were transporting. This was the first time I had seen such large amounts of food and I couldn’t imagine how much of these are wasted even before they have reached the wholesale centre.

My group of 4 was assigned to canvas in the vegetables section. At first when we were asking around, most of the sellers said that they didn’t have anything to give to Foodbank. When we went into the alleyways to ask around, we were redirected back to the main alley. What was interesting was that when we were approaching some of the sellers, they would shake their heads before we even asked them, signalling to us that they didn’t have anything for Foodbank. This was quite disheartening as I was expecting to collect large amounts of unsold or unwanted vegetables based on what Jenson and Daniel Tay told us. However, right as we reached the end of the main alley, a seller stopped us and enthusiastically directed us to his cold storage room. He took out his trolley, which was about twice as long as the one we got from RC4, and proceeded to load box after box of vegetables, even proceeding to check with his workers whether there were more to give to us. Right as we were about to leave, he stopped us and loaded 2 more boxes of vegetables. When the seller was asked why he was giving us so many vegetables, some of the reasons were that “the leaves are yellow already”, and that these vegetables “can still be eaten but can’t be sold”. However, the main reason was because there was new stock coming in, and they had to clear their cold room to accommodate for the inflow of vegetables.


Photograph by Su Qi

This made me question, is there really a need to overstock if it generates so much more food waste? I feel that even though this poses an issue of increased food wastage, it is a necessary procedure as sellers have to ensure that they cater to their consumers’ needs of high-quality vegetables. It is inevitable that there should always be a surplus of stock to ensure that there is enough high-quality vegetables that are available to feed the population. What we have to tackle is the mindset that only vegetables that look good will taste good.

Kitchener Road

After managing to fill up a truckload of fruits and vegetables, we then headed down to Kitchener Road to redistribute the food that we had saved to the residents. I was pleasantly surprised at the large crowd which came down to collect the food that we had just canvassed from Pasir Panjang. However, it was only after we had laid out the fruits and vegetables that we discovered several boxes of mouldy sweet potatoes out in the open for people to collect. We immediately checked all the boxes of sweet potatoes and had to discard more than half of them as they were all mouldy. This made me realise the importance of the strict regulations that the Singapore Food Authority imposes on food imports. Similarly, before we redistribute the food that we have collected, we should also check if the food canvassed is suitable for consumption and discard those that we are able to identify are not suitable for consumption. This way, we could decrease the risks of our beneficiaries getting sick from the food that we have canvassed.

Conclusion

Overall, I feel that this volunteering experience has been a very enriching one as I am now able to visualise the amount of food wastage that occurs on the wholesale level. I feel that if we are able to effectively model out and introduce policies to target the problem behaviour, we could perhaps alleviate the situation.

From Trash to Treasure

My Project Work on food waste was titled, “Project Trash to Treasure”. Before you laugh, yes, it is a little cringey, but my groupmates and I couldn’t think of anything better at that point. During my time at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and Kitchener Road, I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the journey that fruits and vegetables took, from being “trash” thrown out by the sellers to being a “treasure” to the residents.

We started out at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre in the morning, where we were divided into two groups to canvass for fruits and vegetables respectively. My friends and I were assigned to the “vegetables” group, which was then divided into 3 smaller groups that went took different paths in the vegetable section of the wholesale centre. To our surprise, before we even got to our lane, we were stopped by a seller who piled boxes and boxes of vegetables onto our trolley. They already knew what we were here for. Earlier on, Jenson had told us to ask the sellers why the food was deemed as “trash”, to explore reasons beyond cosmetic filtering. Seeing as the vegetables on our trolley appeared perfectly healthy and edible to us, we posed the question to the seller. “Oh”, he said (in Mandarin). “These are getting too old.”

Next, was another seller who brought us to a cold room and gave us about 6 boxes of sweet potatoes. His reason for throwing them away was that some of the sweet potatoes were ugly (essentially cosmetic filtering), and it was not feasible for him to filter them out because a) time and b) if the box was opened and sweet potatoes repackaged, retailers would be less willing to purchase it. I felt that the food wastage in this case was especially unnecessary (let’s be honest, is food wastage ever necessary?). Just because a few of the sweet potatoes were deemed to be less presentable, the whole box had to go to waste because it was more convenient for the seller to simply dispose of the entire box, than to filter out the “ugly” ones. Additionally, the fact that a repackaged box would be harder to sell was honestly just as disappointing, because this isn’t a quality issue, but rather simply because it has been opened.

Upon closer examination, some of the sweet potatoes already had mold growing on them, which led me to wonder, how long have they been kept in the cold room? Could they have gone to more people if they were given to us earlier, when they were still viable? I wonder how often volunteers like us went down to collect food that were going to be thrown away. If it is done often enough, how significant of an impact would we be able to make on reducing food wastage from wholesalers? It was rather unfortunate that the sellers were busy and could not entertain too many of our questions, for I would’ve loved to get their perspective on food wastage from wholesalers, and how important/severe they thought the issue was.

After canvassing, we headed to Kitchener Road, where our redistribution efforts took place. I was astonished to find a small crowd already gathering when we arrived. As I was fortunate to have led a relatively comfortable life, where my family could purchase any groceries they wanted from the supermarket, I did not imagine that such a sizable number of people would come down and eagerly await the fruits and vegetables that we brought with us.
When we were grouping the food based on type and laying them on the ground, the residents gathered around us and I could tell that they wanted to get started as soon as possible. When we were done, they formed a queue and went through the different types of fruits and vegetables and took what they needed, and some of us assisted them by passing them the fruits/vegetables that they asked for. It was certainly heartwarming to see that what we were doing made an impact on the residents. To them, the food was indeed something that they treasured. Despite that, it was comforting to see that there were no residents who “hoarded” the food. They only took what they needed, and made sure that there were enough left for the others.

At the end of the day, there is only so much that we can do. We can regularly have volunteers to canvass for food and redistribute them to rental blocks, but the sheer volume of food waste generated by wholesale centres would quickly overwhelm us. While food redistribution efforts are a step in the right direction, the most efficient way is in fact to reduce food wastage from the top – to reduce the amount of food waste even generated by the wholesalers. This will definitely be a massive change for wholesalers who are likely primarily concerned about efficiency and profit. However, if we can get their perspectives on food waste, if we can help them understand the gravity of the situation, perhaps we can make a change.

A Day in the Life of …

The class visit to the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and the HDB units at Kitchener Road subverted my expectations for the trip. Don’t get me wrong. It was still an eye-opening first-time experience. A glimpse into the tip of an iceberg of Singapore’s food imports, the implicit food wastage problem largely permitted by Singapore’s population as well as the gratefulness of the residents. Rather, what was subverted was my outlook on the trip. I went out looking for answers, but came back only with more (partially) unanswered questions.

Scene of the Auction Hall, taken after food canvassing

The Hidden Market

Reaching Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre slightly earlier than most, I took a walk around to relieve my boredom. The thing that struck me was the sheer scale of operations conducted. Most impressive of all was the auction hall where men with log books were engaging in sales while forklifts whisked palettes of fresh produce to-and-fro between the cold rooms and awaiting delivery trucks. I would only later learn from my interactions with several sellers that the true frenetic pace of the selling floor would be during the wee hours of the early morning, out of sight (and out of mind) of most Singaporeans on a daily basis.

While canvassing for food donations, I was initially skeptical about our prospects of success. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the willingness, and even initiative, taken by some of the vendors when they realized that we were canvassing on behalf of Food Bank. Unfortunately, not all of the food offered was edible. Given the scale of operations of some of these vendors, I guess it was to be expected for a portion of the produce to remain unsold. Even with high level of investment in state-of-the-art cold room storage facilities, it was disheartening to see some of the food rendered inedible having spent its shelf-life in storage, unwanted and unsold. Fortunately, what was still edible had minor blemishing or physical defects but otherwise perfectly consumable.

One vendor even brought my team to the cold room to give fresh melons and radishes. Intrigued by her generosity, I asked whether such a donation would be too much to ask for. She assured us that her business operated on a consignment basis, a ‘second-hand shop’ model which sells goods on behalf of another entity. This feeds into the earlier experiences of the auction hall as the vendors operate as one node amongst many in a long process of buying and selling, with produce exchanging hands multiple times from producer before finally reaching the consumer. Although the distributor was sheepishly evasive regarding the nature of her donations (consignees don’t always hold legal ownership over the sold goods), she was certain that the produce would be put to better use than simply rotting in her inventory.

Within the hour, the groups with help from the NTUC volunteers were able to finish gathering all the food donations. As we were about to leave for Kitchener Road, several questions lingered in my mind – Would it be more ideal for all the distributors to operate on a contractual basis rather than going through the consignments and bidding processes of the auction hall? Wouldn’t the food waste generated by vendors be reduced knowing that every box and palette of produce had a clear role in alleviating hunger instead of merely serving as a tradable commodity?

Perhaps this thought was spurred by a moment of idealism. Considering the everyday role that Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre serves as an important nexus of Singapore’s fresh produce supply chain, it is merely one of many when considering the grander perspective of the food production chain. The additional costs for consumers (or the profit  of intermediate sellers) incurred accumulates with every exchange and sale. This rings true with the level of waste produced every time a box of vegetables exchanges hands, as more food is discarded with each transaction owing to its deteriorating quality. However, in terms of Singapore’s food waste, the Wholesale Centre has come to represent to me the ubiquity of aesthetic selection processes and general apathy towards “our” food waste problem.

Despite what polls may indicate of Singaporeans’ “concern” for food waste and its corollary of associated problems, possessing an ambiguous sense of concern does not necessarily translate into concrete action, even if just conducted on the individual level. Never mind individual distributors who understandably intend to profit from their sales. Even if it comes at relatively minute losses on their part, it creates tangibly problematic food waste to us all.

Regardless of the precepts of “demand-and-supply” and “market efficiency” that economic schools-of-though would propagate, it was still discomforting to witness the general disconnect when the staff would casually dump otherwise perfectly good produce by the bulk-load.

Fancy a dip in a pool of Singapore’s discarded food waste?

Our Kitchener “Market”

The following moments at Kitchener Road went past almost in a blur. Once the Food Bank truck arrived, everyone on scene sprang into action to help set up shop at the nearby gazebo.

That was when the crowds poured in.

 And poured in they did

Residents and passerbys quickly congregated and descended upon the selection. It was organized chaos at best. Although some residents were more paiseh (embarrassed) than others, it soon became clear that all the food available was meant to go and quickly helped themselves to the food that would otherwise go to waste.

I busied myself assisting some of the more elderly residents with their selection and collection of food. Even though the “shoppers” picked the food of better quality amongst the batch, they picked their share in sensible quantities. They were conscious that the redistributed food was still a shared resource and did not want to deprive their neighbours of their “spoils of war”.

Even with the onset of afternoon showers, it was business as usual. Those on hand to help could feel the same degree of gratefulness and appreciativeness of the Kitchener residents. Although the selection provided could not begin to rival the Fairprice supermarket just around the corner, most of the produce gathered, from the exotic foreign strawberries varieties to even mundane vegetable varieties, were quickly picked up. The ugly food did not completely put off the residents who were thankful to bring home more for the dinner table.

Other Key Takeaways?

The efforts of the class and volunteers that day proved to be a fruitful session. We managed to do our part not only in mitigating the food waste problem, we also assisted the Kitchener residents in alleviating their nutritional and expenditure concerns. On a less optimistic note, therein lies the problem. It was a highly localized effort, conducted infrequently and on a small scale (relative to the extent of food imports that Singapore receives on a daily basis). While it does not diminish the contributions made that day, this model for action while sustainable, leaves much to be desired in terms of efficiency and places too much onus on civil society (i.e. Food Bank) in leading such redistribution efforts.

Our Food Bank handler mentioned in passing that such canvassing and redistribution efforts usually takes place with a skeleton crew of committed Food Bank volunteers and usually only benefits a targeted group of recipients. It remains highly doubtful if such redistribution efforts can be replicated elsewhere. Say for example, the Toa Payoh Wholesale Night Market, which solely comprises of the trucks and produce of the various vendors, but completely lacking in the necessary storage facilities required to house fresh produce prior to redistribution. Or for example, Victoria Wholesale Centre, which peaks with surpluses of Chinese New Year goodies seasonally following the festivities, whose sheer bulk of goods would quickly overwhelm the relatively small-scale operation.

A more comprehensive framework would be required should such redistribution efforts take on life more prominently in Singapore’s food waste scene. Additional actors in government and agency wings (statutory boards, specifically the National Environmental Agency) should not retreat from the primary burden of consolidating resources and coordinating redistribution efforts. Public perceptions of ugly foods continue to persist, raining doubts on Mr Tay’s previous narrative that it is the sheer bargaining power of retailers that drives food waste fueled by unrealistic expectations of visual appeal. Personally, I believe that such deeds by Singapore’s ‘food Samaritans’ work in the right direction in challenging public misconceptions and solving a food waste quagmire that should not exist in Singapore’s long-term prospects.

Free Food? Sign me up!

700,000 tonnes. That was the first number I heard that day. I remember someone once told me that a car weighs slightly over one ton. 700,000 tonnes of food wasted in 2018. Every single traffic jam you have ever been caught in, all the cars you cursed at for making Singapore’s roads so congested – more than 10 times that combined weight worth of food was wasted in 2018. But numbers are just that – numbers. We had no way of knowing and visualising exactly how much was going to waste.

 

Our first order of business was canvassing the unwanted food at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Center. This being my first trip to a wholesale center, I was shocked at the sheer scale of the place. I had been to wet markets before, but I had never imagined the actual size of a wholesale center. Aside from that, the equipment used was completely on a different league from what I was used to seeing in any vegetable market: forklifts, palettes, large trolleys and industrial-sized fridge rooms, just to name a few. There were aisles upon aisles of sellers with various types of vegetables, some of which I have never seen (the uncooked version of) before.

 

After being turned away by the first few sellers, I was beginning to be sceptical of whether the amount of food waste was accurately reported. Then we hit the “jackpot”.

All of this was from one stall. If vegetables didn’t spoil, I could probably live off these for months! When we asked one of the shopkeepers why they would want to throw away such a huge amount of food, he responded with “可以拿来煮,不可以拿来卖” (translation: can be used for cooking, but cannot be sold), before showing us that one of the cucumbers had a spot where it had turned slightly yellow (which, to be honest, it looked perfectly green to my eyes). The other vegetables we had collected also had minor blemishes. This often surface level cosmetic damage would mean rejection due to the strict quality control processes of retailers, resulting in perfectly edible (when properly prepared) food being thrown away at various stages of the production and distribution chain.

 

My scepticism immediately changed to disbelief. This was only from one stall, and already I was struggling to push the trolley (which they had to lend us, no less, because our tiny trolley was just not going to cut it). Little did I know that, after weaving and dodging our way past the forklifts and palettes, I was in for an even bigger shock.

Pictured: an even bigger shock.

We were only here for an hour and we managed to get this much food?! Imagine the amount we would have gotten if we stayed for half a day! Was presentability such an important factor, so much so that we would rather discard such an unbelievable amount of food? I understood that food safety is an extremely sensitive issue, since one wrong batch of food authorised could mean food poisoning for as many people that that batch of food would serve, which translates into huge social unrest and upheaval. That being said, wouldn’t a more lax (or stringent, depending on perspective) quality control policy that accepts food with mere cosmetic damage be more beneficial for both the economy and society? The consignments of food being imported that had been turned away due to surface level damage, how many mouths they could feed!

 

Next, we would have to distribute the food to the residents staying at the rental flats at Kitchener Road. Nearing the destination, I realised that this was near the Central Business District (CBD). This piled on to my already palpable disbelief. Even in places near the CBD, where one would least expect, there are people experiencing food insecurity? The food was organized near the playground, before the residents began to help themselves. I was given the opportunity to go door-to-door and call the residents down. To my great surprise, some of the residents refused the offer of free food. Upon asking for the reasons, one of them told us that it was quite inconvenient for her to go all the way downstairs to collect food, as her old age hindered her mobility. Other residents feel that they would not make good use of the raw food, as they don’t even cook their own meals.

We had not even cleared 2 floors of residents when we were called back down. When we returned, the remaining food had been shifted to the void deck due to the rain and all of the fruits had been cleared! Clearly, convenience was a large factor in deciding which food was “in demand”, since fruits only needed to be washed before consumption while vegetables still needed to be prepared and cooked (you could eat it raw, but who would?).

 

As the remaining food was cleared, I began to consider the implications of what I had just witnessed. I had thought that most of the food waste was caused by the demand side, with people being picky about what they ate, over-ordering and over-stocking on perishables and the like, but now I realise that the supply chain contributes more to this problem than I initially believed. Although the reason most of the food was about to be discarded was due to the poor presentability of the food, I realised that there was indeed some truth behind it. Even when re-distributing the food to the residents of the rental flats, the more “ugly” foods were left behind all the way to the end. As a profit-driven retailer, accepting these consignments of “ugly” foods would only reduce profits. People who can afford to buy these foods off the shelf would not choose the blemished or bruised foods.

 

All in all, this has truly been a very eye-opening experience for me, and has given me some valuable insights into this problem of food wastage in Singapore. Although I only managed to experience a small fraction of it, I am now better able to visualise the truly absurd scale this problem is on.

Food volunteering experience

As I reflect upon yesterday’s food volunteering session, I’m once again humbled by this different experience. Seeing all the food waste that was generated with reinforced the severity of this problem and shown that this systemic problem has not been addressed, even in Singapore.

Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre

Upon arriving at the centre, it was very clear that a lot of fresh product flows in and out daily. Pallets of various food items that contained fruits and vegetables were transported around quickly on forklifts. Multitudes of stores displayed the fresh fruits and vegetables. Being a wholesale centre, many distributors carried a lot of different stocks for selling. To be honest, being in such a new environment was a little overwhelming at first. Having heard the sharing from Daniel and Jenson, I had some expectations of the possible food waste that we might encounter and was interested to find out more about the rationale behind discarding all these food stocks. They shared that food waste was abundant here, therefore I was determined to find out for myself.

Five minutes in, and we already had a trolley full of unwanted goods.

Just by walking down the row, one of the sellers approached us as he knew that we were volunteers canvassing for discarded items. He spoke in Hokkien to one of his workers, whilst asking us to wait as he brought out the stocks. One box came, then two, then three, until our trolley was full. There were spring onions, kalian and other vegetables. We hadn’t even gone down into one of the many alleys that were in the wholesale centre. The first store owner gave us sweet potatoes, spring onions and other vegetables, all stored in large cardboard boxes.

Five minutes worth of collection

When asked about why these stocks were being discarded, the store owner simply said,

“These are too ugly to be sold.”

He also had fresh stock coming in that day, so he did not want to use up the space for vegetables that he would not want to sell. The aesthetic and freshness of the product was of utmost importance, so anything that fails these criteria will be discarded, without hesitation. They had no time and resources to sort out individual products one by one.

This was a common theme throughout the day. Many of the sellers we encountered gave similar reasons for why they could not sell those products. If the “leaves are a little crushed”, “a little yellow” and “not fresh looking”, many of these batches of products would just be marked to be discarded. The most important thing for a large majority of these sellers was to constantly have fresh product that was ready to be sold, so initial items that failed the check would just have to be discarded. Some of them said they knew that it was very wasteful, but they had no choice. In this business, stocks move constantly and quickly, so there was no time to scrutinize which items could still be kept.

I was initially skeptical that our food truck would be full. In less than an hour, our entire group of volunteers had collected enough to pack the truck. Safe to say, I was a little shocked at the quantity of wasted food product that was thrown away. And this was within a timespan that was lesser than 2 hours.

However, there were some positives from the experience at the wholesale centre. As mentioned before, many of these sellers already knew that volunteer groups such as FoodBank come around to canvas discarded food items, so it is evident that awareness of such groups exist. Extrapolating from this, if we could create a system where food waste was collected and then distributed, it would create a win-win situation. Food distribution centres would have more stock to choose from, whilst these distributors would be able to donate these items without feeling bad that many of their products would go to waste. Hence, creating a systemic process in which unwanted food items could be salvaged would be a great solution to tackle food waste.

 

Kitchener Road

After loading the products into the food truck, our group made our way to a small group of housing estates situated at Kitchener road. Unloading and distributing the food items brought many grateful residents down. It was heartening to see that our efforts did in fact, pay off.

The relatively large crowd that turned up for food redistribution

What blew me away was the fact that many of these residents were not as picky as the general populous, or at least this was from my experience. As I was situated near the front end of our makeshift vegetable queue, we had initially unloaded several boxes of sweet potatoes for residents to collect. However, upon closer inspection, we identified that there was a bit of mold that was growing on the sweet potatoes. I remember hearing some of the students saying that they looked “disgusting”, “inedible” and should have been “thrown away”. As I proceeded to shift these items away, a couple stopped me and asked what I was doing. Upon telling them that these were unsafe for eating, it did not hinder them from going through the boxes to find something they could take back. The lady even proceeded to clarify with me if some of the potatoes were edible, even though I knew that it was safer to just discard the entire box. Eventually, with some insistence on my part, I was able to convince them that the potatoes weren’t safe for consumption and it would be better to just forget about them.

After that encounter, it was hard not to notice the lack of pickiness and insistence that these people had. Compared to the average grocery shopper, many of them had higher tolerance of what was edible or not. The same lady whom approached me earlier carried the same attitude as she chose other fruits and vegetables. In fact, a large majority of the residents were not picky, taking big quantities of the vegetables whenever they could.

 

Conclusion

Overall, this experience has shown me that food insecurity and wastage is all around us – if only we know where to look. Having a first-hand experience of food volunteering for the needy, as well as seeing how much food waste is generated has only reinforced my belief that more action has to be taken to address this systemic problem, especially from the relevant authorities and governing bodies. For consistent results to be shown, this needs to be done on a larger scale, with more capital and resources.

Who, what, where, when, how?

To be very honest, going into this experience, I really did not know what to expect. Where was this place? Would anyone actually let us take their unwanted food? What if we end up collecting nothing, would this be a waste? Questions like these filled my mind and when the day came I was still unsure.

When my friends and I reached the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, we were truly taken aback by its sheer size. I remember driving past this place once, thinking it was just some big power plant that stretched along the roadside, never would I have thought that this was where truckloads of food were delivered and stored. 

After we dispersed to go around in our own groups, I started to feel a small wave of embarrassment. Would they think we are asking for too much? Is this a weird request? This led me to think back to David’s session with us where he shared about his own stories with wholesalers and trash bins in Little India. Did he ever feel this way? That would have been a great question to ask him. However, after some thinking, I remembered the  immense passion he showed that day for reducing food waste. It was then that I realised that his drive to make a change had most likely propelled him to overcome the challenges he faced, both mentally and physically, allowing him to keep doing more for the cause. So if he could do so, what was stopping me? With that, swallowed up that feeling and filled my mind with one goal – to collect as much as we could for the people we were distributing it to later on.

As we pushed our trolley towards the lane assigned to us, an uncle immediately stopped us and signalled us to head to another stall. Puzzled, we follow his instructions and headed over. Just minutes into standing at the stall, two cartoons full of vegetables were placed on our trolley. We stood there in shock, as another cartoon was loaded on. As we asked the shopkeeper why he was giving these vegetables away, he just gave us a brief answer “They cannot be sold”. Upon taking a closer look at the vegetables they had given us, we realised that they seemed of good quality, there were no bruises and the colours of the vegetables were still vibrant. This made me want to probe further and thankfully, we did. We realised that to the shopkeeper, these vegetables were too old, deterring people from purchasing them. Hence instead of trying to sell them, he felt that it would be best to throw them away. As we walked to the next stall, trolley almost full, I began to wonder how many cartons of vegetables, just like this one, that were being thrown away daily. Why were shopkeepers throwing away food of seemingly good condition? Was it because of the consumers pickiness? Was it because supermarkets did not want to sell them? Or was it for the reputation of their own stall? This was truly something I could not get off my mind.

At the next stall, the same thing happened again as they shopkeeper gave us about ten packets of Japanese Sweet Potatoes. As someone who loves sweet potatoes, I knew that these were very expensive and hence the fact that they wanted to throw these away was puzzling. Furthermore, on inspecting the packets, other than the fact that a few potatoes in each packet were bruised, the rest looked completely fine. Again, we asked the shopkeeper why he was giving them away. Apparently, it was because each of these packets had a few potatoes that were bad shape. He said that though it is possible to take them out and cut off the bruised areas, it was unlikely that customers would like to buy them knowing that it was repackaged or tampered with. It was only restaurants who might be open to taking them in. Additionally, he told us that each packet costs around $8 and hence to recover the costs of throwing those that were deemed as “bad”, they had to sell it for around $9 to supermarkets, explaining the higher prices. From this I realised how consumers preferences greatly influenced the actions of these wholesalers and started to see that changing the mindsets of consumers was a top priority.  Perhaps in this case, the quote “One bad apple spoils the barrel” can be taken pretty literally. 

As everyone gathered to load the fruits and vegetables onto the truck, I realised how much we collected. There were only about 20 plus of us and yet we managed to bring in so much food. At that moment, I felt a little conflicted. Was I happy that we managed to save so much food such that we could provide to those who needed it? Or was I sad that these foods would have been thrown away on a normal basis because we could not be there to take them? As much as I wanted to feel completely satisfied from what we got, a part of me just felt a little helpless, knowing that there were so much more food being thrown into the huge bins at the loading bay. If we had to put it numerically, I truly wonder what percentage of the edible food that day which was thrown away, did we save?

Next we headed over to Kitchener Road. When my group and I reached, we saw a larger group of people waiting at the void deck. Initially, I thought they were just standing around with their families until a lady came up to ask “Where is the food?”. I was shocked to see so many people gathering around as we started to unload the food from the truck. As we placed the food we collected on the floor of the pavilion, more and more people started to come. I was actually worried that it would get messy, with people trying to take what they wanted as fast as possible. Thankfully, I was proved wrong by the actions of these people. 

As we started the little “market” we had, everyone nicely took what they wanted and there was no pushing or snatching. Some were too shy to take more, some even rejected to take more after knowing they had enough and some nicely shared what they had found. I realised, that in the supermarkets we go to, there are an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Unknowingly, this tempts us search into the depths of the piles for the best looking ones and we rush to buy more at any chance of a discount because “Why not?”. However, in this case, both the variety and quantity are limited. Though some are still inclined to choose the better looking ones, most of them do not even question and just take what they need. Most importantly, they know what is “enough”. I still remember when Brof Jenson tried to ask a lady to take more sweet potatoes however she stopped him and said that since she was living alone, she only needed the few she already had in her hand. And that is something I feel that we as consumers need to be more aware of, so as to not be reeled in by the marketing strategies of “Buy 3 get 1 free” or “Buy 5 at the price of 4”. We are always proud to be the ones to get the better discount, the better price, but if we stop to think, are we actually better after we realise that we actually do not need it? 

To wrap this up, this volunteering experience was one that helped me open my eyes. I got to see and understand the perspectives of the wholesalers and by interacting with the people at Kitchener Road, I got to reflect about my own consumption habits and realise how a change needed to be made.

Giving food a second chance

Today, we went to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and canvassed for fruits and vegetables that stall owners no longer wanted. Then, we proceeded to Kitchener Road to distribute these fruits and vegetables for the residents of Block 1 and 2. It was definitely an eye-opening experience seeing all the food that was about to be thrown away given a second chance, and at the same time, providing food to lower income families.

Firstly, at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, we were split into groups and were assigned a lane to canvas for food items. As we were instructed, each group took a trolley and started going down the lane to ask for donations from store owners. Our group struck jackpot even before we went down our allocated lane. A store owner had gotten our attention and told us to approach him. We were very puzzled and wondering if he was talking to us, but we went ahead anyway. Then, he instructed his staff to bring out a few boxes of food items. We then asked this Uncle, “Why did you give us these vegetables?”, and he replied that they were over-ripe and could not be sold. To my surprise, it was very common for food owners to donate fruits and vegetables to non-governmental organisations like Foodbank. This is because when we approached some store owners, they would have known what we came for before we even asked. It was also apparent when store owners informed us that they do not have anything to donate as we were walking towards them.

At Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, I also noticed that there were two huge trucks containing rubbish such as cardboard boxes, Styrofoam boxes and it was also filled to the brim with vegetables. As we were walking along the place, I noticed more of such trucks that were filled with vegetables. These vegetables that were wasted were not intact or in one piece. This waste was the result of trimming the vegetables such as getting rid of the top layer of cabbages. Store owners carry out these quality checks to ensure their goods are in a suitable condition to be sold. Hence, although store owners donate vegetables that they are unable to sell, they still waste a lot of vegetables. Furthermore, these vegetable trimmings cannot be donated because they are not in wholes. It would be good if there were separate bins for trash such as cardboard or Styrofoam boxes, and another bin for food waste. Food waste can then be recycled or converted into biofuels, and more importantly, trash from the trucks cannot be incinerated because burning Styrofoam would release toxic chemicals which harms both people and the environment. Incineration is the worst way to dispose Styrofoam and so they should be separated from other trash, in addition to recycling food waste.

Next, we went to Kitchener Road to distribute food to the residents in the area. We arrived before the food truck but I could already spot some residents waiting around for the donations. After a short chat with Audrey, I learnt that Food Bank collaborates with the Kampong Kapor Community Service Centre regularly to distribute food to the residents staying in the area. Volunteers of the service centre had gone to knock at residents’ doors to inform them of food distribution dates and timings. Subsequently, we unloaded the food items and sorted them out by categorising the same vegetables and fruits together. Residents then helped themselves to the fruits and vegetables while we provided assistance when required. Although some fruits and vegetables were spoilt or rotten and had to be thrown away eventually, I am glad that some of these food items could help the lower income families.

It was a very eventful day, from canvassing at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre to distributing food to those who need it. I am grateful to be given this opportunity to do my part in reducing food waste, even if it was just a one-time off event. At least through this event, I can be assured that there are constant efforts to reduce food waste and help those in need.

The Journey from Pasir Panjang to Lavender

Our first volunteering experience with the Food Bank is amazing. As I have talked about in my first blog that visualization is one of the key issues towards food waste, this experience helped me visualize how much food waste a wholesale centre can generate. It also helped me in gaining a deeper understanding of why food waste is so tremendous even before they reach the consumers’ market in Singapore.

Starting from Pasir Panjang
When we arrived at Pasir Panjang Whole Sale Centre, the people there were already busy loading and unloading their trucks. Trolleys and forklifts were racing against each other even in the narrowest lane. People worked in an orderly manner even though the environment was rather chaotic. At first, when we asked around, all the sellers said that they had no vegetables to throw away. We were quite surprised as we were expecting a lot of waste due to the experiences shared with us by Jenson and Mr Daniel Tay. We were also relieved at the same time as generating less waste is something worth celebrating. However, we soon realized we were completely wrong. When we reached the end of the lane, one of the sellers stopped us and brought us into his store. We were expecting maybe one or two boxes and spring onions or cucumbers, but when he brought out his huge trolley (which I am sure was about 1.5*1 m in dimensions) and said we could use that first, we sensed that something was going to surprise us. When we went to his storage unit, he started to move boxes and boxes of different vegetables onto the trolley without even trying to pick out the nicer ones from the boxes. The trolley was full within 5 minutes, and the number of vegetables on it was jaw-dropping. I was really surprised why they just casually discard them in boxes without even scrutinizing and try to maximize their profit by carefully choosing. When I asked the shop owner for the reason, he said that those vegetables were perfectly edible but they can’t sell them. The reasons include “the cucumbers are a bit yellow already”, “the leaves were a bit crushed”, and “the quality is not good anymore” (though they look fine to me, I think only the experts can tell the difference in quality). He also mentioned that the most important reason was that the new batches of vegetables were coming in, so they had to sell the fresher ones before they are not fresh anymore. When we walked out of the lanes to load the truck from the Food Bank, many sellers stopped us to give us vegetables they do not want. It was then we realize the reason why we did not get anything earlier on was that they were busy loading their products and did not have the time to sort out what they did not want. When we left Pasir Panjang, the truck was half full.

Our short one hour at Pasir Panjang was mind-blowing. The total amount we collected may not be as impressive as some of us might picture, but bearing in mind that there were only 5-6 groups of us there for one hour (not to mention that a lot of food was actually thrown into the bin even before we reach there), it was a huge amount. From my understanding, because time is of paramount importance for the sellers, they cannot afford to slowly arrange everything nicely to ensure nothing gets crushed. At the same time, when it comes to discarding the unwanted vegetables, they also do not have the time carefully scrutinize everything and pick out those that are still fine, as it is way more cost-efficient for them to throw away the whole box. The most important factor is that they cannot afford to make the fresh batches of vegetables that just come in to wait. The value of perishables like fruits and vegetables is the highest when they are the freshest. Hence, it does not make sense for the sellers to put the freshest ones aside just to clear the slightly less fresh stock (which is regarded as lower quality).

Some of our friends think this is a problem of the sellers overstocking the vegetables, but I do not agree. As wholesalers, it is always important for them to ensure that the supply is more than demand, not to mention that it is impossible to estimate the exact demand as it is influenced by so many factors and fluctuates so much daily. It is also not cost-efficient for them to change their purchase from daily. Since it is hard to tackle the generation of waste, it might be more practical to deal with the re-distribution. Even though there are organizations like the Food Bank and SG Food Secure to canvas the wholesale centres every week, frequency and efficiency are not high enough. To tackle this, a collection point may be set up in every wholesale centre for the sellers to dump their unwanted food. The organizations can then send trucks to collect from these points once or twice a day instead of canvassing the whole centre, which costs a lot of manpower. If this method works, it may increase the frequency and efficiency of these organizations. Also, to tackle with the manpower issue, NGOs and organizations targeting the same issue may work together to create a common pool of volunteers to mobilize instead of hiring their volunteers.

Another significant source of waste in the wholesale centres is in the food they throw away directly into the bins. They are the rejected individuals from each box or the most external layer of some vegetables that makes them ugly. Because they are not throw in boxes but directly to the rubbish bin, they are mixed with other wastes like plastics and styrofoam boxes. This portion of food waste in wholesale centres is hard to tackle as they are not edible anymore possibly due to improper storage or transport. Hence, if the rubbish bin for general waste and food waste can be separated, these food waste can be better handled rather than being thrown into our landfill together with the other waste.

All the way to Lavender
When we transported the food to the rental flats, the response from the residents was surprisingly good. A lot of them were really happy to collect the food from us, and when we went from door-to-door to inform them of the collection, they were enthusiastic. However, there is no way for us to know how they handle the food after getting them back. If they cannot finish and throw them away again, our effort is not counted anymore. Also, when we are distributing, we realize some vegetables (especially the sweet potatoes) were not edible anymore as there was mould everywhere. Hence, it is also important for us to check through everything first before we re-distribute them as this kind of situation may cause harm to our beneficiaries.

As a result, I think it is very important to educate the recipients too about how to differentiate the edible food from the not edible ones, and also to just take as how much they need to minimize waste.

Conclusion
In conclusion, our Food Bank experience was really meaningful, and it helped us gain more insights about the food situation in Singapore. With all these insights and knowledge, I believe we can build better models and come up with more practical solutions in trying to solve the issue.

My experience volunteering with Foodbank

Our class had our volunteering session with Foodbank today 

The objective was to collect rejected/ unsaleable fruits and vegetables from Pasir Panjang wholesale centre and redistribute them to lower income households at Kitchener Road. 

Our group of 4 was tasked to canvas for fruits. Most of the stallowners knew what we were there for before we finished asking them if they had anything they wanted to give away, which is a testament to how frequently members of the public/ Foodbank reaches out to collect wanted food items.This shows that wholesalers are open to the idea of giving away food items. Although collection would be accelerated if wholesalers could bring the food items to a common collection location, they lack the resources and incentive to do so. Also, the items must be collected quickly before they turn bad. Around half the stalls we approached in our assigned section did not have anything to give. The primary reason we were given is that they were still selling their goods to customers. This is heartening because wholesalers were leaving it to customers to choose the fruits, instead of themselves performing cosmetic filtering first. This may reduce waste as customers may accept fruits which the wholesalers could have wanted to throw. Still, we could have collected more items if we had gone slightly later. 

We received some food items which were mouldy such as celery roots and Japanese sweet potatoes. This suggests that these items have been sitting around in storage for a long time. This is an example of food wastage due to poor inventory management. This also suggests that people may not always take care to ensure that food that they choose to give away is safe for consumption. This does not bode well for the practice of food redistribution, as people may be reluctant to accept redistributed food in fear that food given away is unsafe for consumption. In order to improve public acceptance of redistributed food, those that are giving food away should take the effort to screen items before giving them away. The public should also be equipped with the skills to differentiate between edible and inedible items (e.g. doing basic appearance/ taste tests). I noticed many waste collection bins at the loading bays when our group was going around collecting food. This shows that food is thrown at a much larger scale, as compared to the lorry of food that we had managed to save. These food items could have been discarded earlier during the day, in the form of leftovers from the bulk orders picked up by larger retailers like supermarkets. This brings to mind how wholesalers usually order much more than what retailers further down the supply chain would demand. This could be a result of measures taken by Singapore Food Agency to ensure that there will never be a shortage of food, and that food prices will not rise even when demand rises. This is in turn to ensure that the goals of food availability and affordability of all Singaporeans is achieved. It appears to me that food wastage at retailer level (wholesale and supermarkets) will remain a persistent problem as goal of ensuring food security (via affordability and availability) will always be perceived as being more important than that of reducing food waste. Hence, the goals of ensuring food security and reducing food wastage may be mutually exclusive (at least at the retailer level) 

 

At the redistribution point at Kitchener Road, it was heartening to see so many residents coming forward to take redistributed food items. This shows that Foodbank’s outreach is working well: a lot of people have been notified and have been convinced to accept these food items. Most of the food items that we had collected were taken. Fruits and items commonly used in cooking like leafy vegetables were popular. Items that are usually used in small amounts like spring onion and ginger were taken more sparingly. 

 

Conclusions and suggestions for improvement 

  • More food items could be collected if volunteers reach out to wholesalers just before they discard food items 
  • The push for food security will necessarily result in food wastage. Food wastage will remain a problem unless SG is willing to accept the cost of having lower food security for lower food wastage.
  • Retailers are willing to give unsaleable food items away. Households are willing to accept such food items, but are unsure of what items are on offer, and have no means to transport these items. Supply and demand both exist, but it is difficult to connect supply to demand. Perhaps there could be an online platform through which households can connect with wholesalers for the purchase and transport of leftover food items (that would otherwise be discarded), sold at heavily discounted prices

“ALL MODELS ARE WRONG, BUT SOME ARE USEFUL” – SAY WHAT?

This was my first reaction to a quote from one of the readings about model testing. It may have sounded ridiculous at first glance, but I have come to realise how accurate this is as I listen to each group share their own unique model every lesson. In this reflection post, I will discuss the important modelling techniques I have learnt so far; the challenges I have faced and what I plan to do to overcome them.

So far, I learnt about John Sterman’s five steps of systems modelling, the iceberg model, as well as the goal tree analysis, which is a new technique that was not touched on even in my previous SS and JS. I found the goal tree analysis quite useful, as it became easier and more efficient to come up with the CLD when the critical variables that link directly to the problem behaviour are first identified. I find this a more structured and logical way of constructing the CLD, as compared to randomly connecting variables without understanding their relative importance to the problem behaviour.

John Sterman’s five steps of systems modelling

In week 3, my group was assigned to explain about the second step on Dynamic Hypothesis. When I first read the assigned reading, I was surprised to find out that there was much more to this step than just coming up with a hypothesis on how a factor causes the problem behaviour. In fact, it also involves focusing on the endogenous variables that will define the model boundary before any CLDs and SFDs are constructed.

Initially, we struggled with explaining the differences between endogenous, exogenous and excluded variables. After listening to Brof’s explanation, we then realised that we first needed to identify the problem behaviour – other variables involved in the feedback loops that generate the problem behaviour would then be considered endogenous variables. The exogenous variables would be those that influence the endogenous variables from outside the system, and it would be a good idea to minimise the number of exogenous variables if they do not have that much of an impact on the feedback loops.

In week 6’s modelling activity, I learnt to always start from the reference mode and follow the process to generate variables for the CLD. Only then we can identify how different variables influence each other, thus creating the feedback structures that affect the problem behaviour. This way, it ensures that the reinforcing and balancing loops can explain the trends and changes in the problem behaviour. For instance, an exponential increase in the problem behaviour in a certain period can be attributed to a certain reinforcing loop that happened to dominate at that time. Interestingly, my group happened to have a variable that contributed to two feedback loops, which means it can potentially be used a strong leverage point for solutions to the problem behaviour. One thing my group could have improved on would be to focus on completing one specific loop at a time to avoid confusion.

To sum up, there are two important points which I will always keep in mind in future modelling activities: structure dictates behaviour; and that we should always model the problem, not the system. Whenever we come up with CLDs and SFDs, it is our mental model that is supporting the feedback structures, which explains why a constructed model can never be proven to be completely valid. However like Brof said, the end goal of modelling is to use the model to change the problem behaviour and to come up with effective policies that will solve or alleviate the problem. Indeed, the modelling process is an iterative and reflective one which requires a lot of effort and patience; but each time I repeat the process I find that I gain new insights on the underlying assumptions behind the model and what drives it to give a certain result.

 

MIRROR MIRROR ON THE WALL, WHO’S WASTING THE MOST FOOD OF THEM ALL?

This post will be my first reflection on my personal experiences with food waste, what I have learnt about food waste so far, as well as my thoughts regarding Daniel Tay’s sharing session.

I came across this photo of leftover milk tea after the Arts Carnival event which happened a few weeks ago. It was posted in the NUS Buffet Response telegram group, which allows students who are interested in clearing leftover food to claim them. Being a popular drink among local students, I found it puzzling why so many bottles milk tea were leftover, especially during a campus-wide event with lots of students participating. It was only later that I found out that students are only allowed to redeem the milk tea if they wear the Arts Carnival shirt. In this case, the organising committee may have overestimated the turnout, resulting in so many bottles of leftover milk tea. This led me to realise that food waste seems to be more evident in celebratory events and festivals; and this is only one aspect of the many sources of food waste in Singapore. It struck me that if this much food was being wasted just from an event alone, what about from all the restaurants and supermarkets in Singapore?

Bottles of milk tea left after the Arts Carnival event in UTown

Despite my initial belief that retailers and restaurants waste the most food, I learnt that the biggest source of food waste actually comes from consumers. It is true that a significant amount of food is also being wasted along the food supply chain; for example: retailers will not sell fruits and vegetables that do not meet a certain standard of size, appearance etc. However, I think the underlying force that drives this is undeniably the consumers who have high expectations about the quality of their food. This is understandable as living in a rather wealthy and developed country where most people can afford buying food gives us the right to choose food of higher quality. Nevertheless, it does not mean that we should blatantly waste food. What is more disappointing is the fact that although 88% of Singaporeans claim to care about food wastage, only 27% of people will leave a clean plate behind. In my opinion, because we do not see the immediate consequences of wasting food and there are no direct implications on our lives, it is often not a priority for individuals and profit-driven retailers to think about reducing food waste. It is precisely this ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality that explains why we continue to waste food despite campaigns and initiatives.

Fortunately, there are individuals and organisations who are still willing to step up to redistribute food that is still edible in order to minimise food waste. There was one point brought up by our guest speaker, Daniel Tay, that left an impression – the fact that the poor and less fortunate may not necessarily need or accept some of the food donated to them. I recall reading an article (https://mothership.sg/2019/08/donations-wasted-keeping-hope-alive/) about how some donated food (e.g. instant noodles, soy sauce) still end up being wasted as they are not healthy and nutritious options for the elderly beneficiaries. Moreover, some of them do not cook. As a result, they do not know what to do with the food and end up throwing them away when they expire. This sparked me to think: Are there better ways of distributing food to the needy such that they will fully utilise what is given to them? Just like how Daniel Tay intends to reach out and communicate with more charities to match what they want with what his team rescued, maybe there can be more effective communication with the less fortunate to find out what are the more common food items they need and will actually utilise. Though this may require more effort and manpower, the problem of food being unnecessarily wasted can be prevented.

Are these food items necessarily useful for the needy, especially the health-conscious?

Perhaps the first step for consumers, retailers and the government is to realise and acknowledge the fact that food waste is an issue to be tackled. Although food waste cannot be completely prevented, I feel heartened that there are increasingly more ground-up initiatives to raise awareness about this issue. Daniel Tay, who founded SG Food Rescue, is a wonderful example. For the rest of my time in this SS, I look forward to exploring effective solutions to minimise food wastage, and what we can do as a society to recycle food waste instead of sending it to landfills. At the same time, it is important to start on an individual level. Even though I personally feel a sense of responsibility to not waste the food given to me, there are times when I am guilty of doing so; thus I will be more conscious about how much food I waste as a consumer. Apart from “you are what you eat”, I also believe that “you are what you waste”!

Mistaken.

I thought it was just another Vensim class that I could conquer. Afterall, having done Vensim for the past two semesters would mean that I shouldn’t have much problem with this class. Fast forward six weeks and have I realised how terribly mistaken I was.

I think the biggest problem I faced in this class was trying to adapt to how systems thinking was being taught in this class. I admit that my mind faced a lot resistance when Jenson kept talking things like ‘defining the problem statement’, ‘endogenous variables’, “goal trees”….. I mean why bother with all of this and why not straight to just doing the stock and flow model for the problem? In previous Vensim classes I took, the professors barely even touched on things like this and I still managed to come out unscathed. Was all this really necessary? Thus, for two to three weeks, I left the class confused, failing to see the merits of approaching the problem using such a framework.

I supposed failing to see the value in what was being taught caused much impediment to my learning as classes progressed. There was once where I remembered the class had to watch a video about food waste and come out with a problem statement as well as a dilemma relating to the video. Again, Jenson emphasized on the need to define the problem statement, to model the problem and not the system, and to use a goal tree to quantify a tangible variable that can be used to ascertain the success of our measure that tackles the problem.

In the beginning, my group started randomly branching off the variables like a tree branch and somehow turning it like a SFD. This was probably because we did not fully comprehend the purpose of CLD framework. After much discussion, our groups came out with a CLD diagram which looked good on paper. It was later pointed out by the professor that the CLD was not meaningful because there were too many ‘branching out’ from the problem statement with no ‘in’. This resulted in no reinforcing nor balancing loops linking to the main problem statement. In this case, this very main problem statement that we have identified is not convincing enough to be a problem because we could not identify its behavior. (without loops we wouldn’t know if it’s oscillating, an exponential growth etc. and thus wouldn’t even be a problem in the first place). Jenson also pointed out that there was a cascading of other variables extending outwards from the problem statement (but not linking back to the problem statement) and it appeared that we were modelling the system, not the problem. Indeed, I realized that our group’s CLD model was not constructed well to make meaning of it.

The professor subsequently pointed out to another group’s CLD diagram and briefly went through what was done well about the diagram. Another group’s CLD had two loops that involves the problem statement itself. This analysis gave robust to the problem statement itself because it did show that say, with a reinforcing loop, the problem statement would increase exponentially and worsen. That would give meaning to why it is even a problem in the first place. Also, through the CLD diagram, the professor identified a variable that appeared twice in two different loops. This means that this variable would be of value to be tapped on, because its effect would be magnified having appeared in two loops.

It was this class that I truly comprehended the value of CLD and started to dismantle resistance against this framework. Through CLD, we can see the structures and identify what the problem is. It provides at least clues that we can tap on. It provides a meaningful discussion if this even is a problem to be investigated in the first place. There is no point jumping straight to a SFD diagram, having make complicated models that no one uses because it’s not modelling a meaningful problem in the first place.

Our group made sure in subsequent CLD diagrams that we should try to investigate system behavior through a series of feedback loops. We also made sure to not have too many variables extending outwards as it serves little relevance to the main problem statement, unless it was one that somehow looped back to it. Having kept this in mind, our team reworked our CLD and was able to eventually get meaningful insights from the CLD.

“I’m doing it because it saves food cost”

My parents have always reminded me not to waste food because I’m also wasting their money. Thus, I was raised to not waste food. While this has been in the case for my household, I was aware that this may not apply to every household. I’ve always held the belief that as long I’m not wasting the food on my plate, I’m already doing my part. But that was pretty much what I knew about food waste issue – confined to the household.

Six weeks into the module and it has been an eye opener to know how much food is wasted in Singapore. Perhaps I was naïve as it did not occur to me that food waste was occurring on many different levels of the supply chain – from the retailers to the distributors and then to consumers. This misconception arises maybe because food waste by retailers and distributors frequently occur behind the scenes hidden from the view of an average consumer like us. Thus, I feel an important point must be raised – it should be crucial for an average consumer to visually see how much food is being wasted before the gravity of food wastage sets in.

This leads to another point. While government agency can provide hard statistics on how much food is being wasted in terms of tons, these are after all, just numerical values that an average consumer cannot properly grapple. 800 000 tonnes of food waste per year? Enough to fill up to 1500 Olympic sized pool? Okay, that sounds serious. But that’s it. It stops there. While numerical values provide insights on the scale of the issue, it is not engaging for consumers, for it does not give them the ‘shock factor’. To reinforce this point, I would like to mention that while I did recall Jenson regurgitating some shocking statistics about food waste, it became just another number that eventually slipped off my mind. In fact, I confess that I had to Google statistics about food waste in Singapore for this blog entry. This may drive the point that the sheer scale of food wastage cannot be conveyed through mere statistics, it has to be seen, for seeing is believing. Hence, I think it is a good initiative to be able to embark on a food waste adventure to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre to see for myself how much food is being wasted.

I also thoroughly enjoyed the talk given by Mr Daniel Tay about SG Food Rescue. While he admits that his rescue efforts to reduce wastage effort is barely significant (maybe only 0.1% of food is being salvage), he remains upbeat nevertheless. Additionally, he also spoke about how he is doing this not for the noble cause of saving all the food in Singapore, but he is really, just a normal Singaporean trying to reduce his food cost. While Mr Daniel Tay spoke about the different ways to salvage food eg. ‘best before dates’, my biggest takeaway is however, the power of the human mind and what one can achieve if we work together. Whether at the end of the day he was doing this to reduce his food cost and happens so that he was also helping to reduce food wastage, his actions drive a powerful point home – the power of a human mind and how it can spur the rest to do something about it. From his early beginnings of simply collecting unused food from his neighbours, undeterred from the social stigma of freeganism, to eventually inspiring a group of people and the creation of SG Food Rescue, it truly shows what it means to be grounded in your beliefs, and how through a domino effect, an individual effort can eventually become a collective one.

Before I end the post, I’d like to share a story I had relating to food waste. There was one day when I had ended my classes terribly late and had only 15 minutes for dinner before UTC2712 lessons started. As usual, I asked for extra portion because I tend to get hungry easily. Okay, 10 minutes left, might not make it in time. Never mind, eat first and worry later. 2 minutes before lessons started, my friends were already leaving and preparing to head for classes, and I was still rushing my plate of food. And then I thought – I should just throw the food anyway and just head to class right? Doesn’t matter, it’s convenient, everyone’s doing it and Jenson is probably going to have a bad impression if I arrive to class late right? Then I realised – what an irony that I am dumping my unconsumed food to attend a class to learn about food waste and security. Would Jenson be be pleased if he found out that I dumped my food just to make it in class on time? And so, I sat at the dining hall for about a few more minutes to finish the food. Eventually I was about 5 minutes late for class. While of course this is no excuse to be late for class, I am reminded that the efforts to reduce food waste truly start from no one but yourself. Never mind the noble ambitions of wanting to salvage all the food in the world – it’s still ultimately an ambition dreamed by a single individual. All we need is the minds and hearts of the people to individually start reducing food wastage. And I think this is mindset shift we speak of, and why it is so powerful. Similar to the story of Mr Daniel Tay, if you as an individual can start reducing food wastage, then maybe someday we could get the whole Singapore to start changing our mindset towards food wastage in Singapore. Surely, then, we would be one step closer to solving food wastage in Singapore.

Systems-Level Approach vs Systems Modelling

On August 30th, Senior Minister of State Dr Amy Khor introduced a new bill as part of the Zero Waste Masterplan. The Resource Sustainability Bill puts in place a systems-level approach that mandates key responsibilities to enable re-use and recycling nationwide. It targets three priority waste streams, one of which is food waste. The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources will make it mandatory for owners and occupiers of commercial and industries premises which generate large amounts of food waste to segregate waste for treatment. What particularly stood out was the mention of the term “systems-level approach”. Do policymakers develop new laws using systems modelling similar to what we are doing at present?

Since most of us came from different JS classes, our understanding of the system modelling varies. Having reintroduced to the five steps of the modelling process helped to calibrate me back to systems thinking. After the mindmap sharing session concluded, it struck me that I had more understanding gaps to be filled as compared to what I perceived at the start.

Our first task was to come up with a problem statement. It seemed fine until we had to conduct the goal tree analysis. We went through many iterations before deciding on a finalised one. Our desirable goal shifted from a general ‘Reduce food wastage in buffet restaurants’ to a more focused ‘Cook sufficiently in buffet restaurants’ which deals with excess food. Naturally, we developed the reference mode as well as determined the time horizon. However, the problem comes in when we were developing the CLD. Given that we already have the reference mode from earlier on, presumably, I thought we can immediately start to form feedback loops. But I was proven wrong. It can never be possible to progress without a well-thought dynamic hypothesis.

As someone who is used to structure and exactness, the iterative nature of modelling may be off-putting at times. The repetitive process to churn out minimal progress gets to me all the time. Slowly but surely, with grit and patience, I am determined to overcome this setback. Moving forward, I hope that I can extend the “systems-level approach” mindset beyond just the final project on food waste/security in Singapore.

“Eh cheap sia, let’s buy”

Over the course of these 6 weeks, I have learnt a lot about food security and food waste. We have carried out many class activities surrounding these two topics, such as mind maps, goal tree analysis and causal loop diagrams. Previously, in Junior Seminar, whenever we used Vensim or Vensim-related techniques, information was already given to us. Unlike in JS, we had to come up with our own reference modes, loops et cetera. This allowed more room for creativity and stimulated critical thinking as we had to conduct our own research and figure out the links between the factors.  Through these activities, I was able to explore more on these topics and expand my knowledge in these areas. For example, I now know that food security does not only mean access to food, but access to sufficiently nutritious food. Personally, I feel that although managing both food security and food waste are equally important, tackling food waste is easier on a personal level. To improve the food security of a country, efforts by NGOs and government agencies play a larger role as compared to reducing food waste, which could be mitigated by individuals.

Before this course, I knew that these issues are pertinent, but I had never thought too deeply about them. I felt that my actions which contributed to food waste was not significant and changing my own habits was not substantial enough to make an impact. However, after the talk by David Tay, I realised that every individual’s contributions to food waste, whether in households or restaurants, could amount to a lot. Although my efforts to reduce wastage may not have as great an impact in the food waste scene like Mr David Tay, who started small and eventually founded SG Food Rescue, I believe that every individual’s effort matters.

In my opinion, the root of the problem is that people have the wrong mentality towards food wastage, and especially Singaporeans because of our “Kiasu” mentality. We rather opt for more than less, purchase more due to discounts and want to receive more for the same price. This is because we are all rational consumers who want to maximise our satisfaction and utility. Such actions do not only apply to eating out, but in other contexts like grocery shopping in supermarkets as well. For example, when eating out, we tend to not ask for less food and in supermarkets, many of us tend to fall victim to discounts on food items such as buy one get one free.  We believe that we are paying the same amount of money either way, so we should receive as much as we can. Furthermore, due to our busy lifestyles, we tend to forget certain food items that we have stashed in a corner at home which cause them to eventually get thrown away after they expire. Most importantly, there is also a common misconception between Best Before Date and Use By, which I did not know before this course. I always thought that they meant the same thing and never dared to consume food that is past the Best Before date in fear of food poisoning. It might seem like these actions are insignificant in contributing to food waste because it may be just one box of biscuits, but if everyone has this poor mentality, every small contribution would accumulate to a massive amount.

I believe that the first step to improving the food waste situation in Singapore would be to change this mentality. It is much easier for an individual to change their mentality and habits as compared to a government implementing new strategies. Planning, execution and promoting government efforts to curb food waste would require a lot of time and money, as compared to an individual asking for less rice if they know they cannot finish too much. Hence, we need to be more conscious of our actions and even the tiniest of efforts could make a difference.

A New Modelling Experience

I still remember when I was preparing for my interview to get into RC4, the question that I was scared of the most was “What do you think system thinking is?”, because I had absolutely no idea. When I finish my junior seminar last semester, I thought I finally understood what system thinking was, as we did so much modelling, so much vensim. As a result, I had this idea that system thinking meant building a model that mimics the system behaviour, and can predict future behaviours. However, after half of this semester, I realize I was completely wrong and system thinking is so much more.

Modelling the problem instead of the system
I still remember when we were doing our JS, we always happily put in as many variables as we could and make causal loop diagrams as complicated as a spider web. Back then, we thought if we can put in as many variables and make logical sense out the arrows, we must have a fantastic model. This is completely wrong, and we should always model the problem instead of the system. However, it is easier said than done. In JS, the model was simple, and all variables were given to us implicitly inside the description box. Hence, while we thought that we were so good at Vensim and we could model the system so well, the “system” given to us is already predefined and focused on the problem we were supposed to solve. And now, things are different as we are exposed to the entire system. The tricky part now is whether we could identify a problem worth solving and build our model that is highly focused on the problem. Because we are so used to model a simple system in which every variable in the system is also the variable in the problem, it is very easy for us (or me at least) to deviate from our problem when we are building our model. Often, before we noticed, we threw in all the variables that seem common sense to the main topic but were unrelated to our problem.

One of the ways suggested by Jenson to resolve this issue is to have a reference mode first before starting anything. We encountered some issue in doing that as a reliable reference mode needs a statistical basis, and we struggled a lot in finding the statistics. Some other ways that I think will help me are having a not so ambitious problem and always consciously reminding myself of my problem behaviour. This is because as we have an ambitiously broad problem that covers many aspects, we tend to model the system instead as the problem is not focused enough. Hopefully, with these strategies, I can build my models with fewer struggles in the future.

Goal tree
The idea of goal tree is new to me as well. It was not easy at first (unfortunately still not easy now), but throughout the process, I discovered the importance of having a goal tree and how it can help stay focused on modelling my problem instead of the system. For me, because the goal tree looks like a mindmap, I always mix them up when I am formulating the goal tree. Hence, instead of defining the variable, I tend to just write down anything related to it. In my opinion, my inability to do a goal tree means that my thoughts are sometimes not very logical, and I am not able to always think systematically yet. One way that I think might help me overcome this issue is really to always ask myself “what does it mean?” so that my thoughts are more focused and less likely to drift away. Another way is to always check my goal tree in a reverse manner: “Is solve the lower layers sufficient to lead to the success of the layer on top of them?” Making use of the goal tree to generate potential variables that may be part of the causal loop diagram is also something I wish to do better in instead of merely using my common sense to generate variables as again, it may lead to the problem of modelling the system instead of the problem.

The iceberg model
The iceberg model is also a new concept to me. So far, what we did usually stop at the 3rd level: identifying the underlying structure. The 4th level, identifying the mental model, is something we all know that exists but often overlook. I find it extremely useful for our topic of study as the whole situation regarding food waste all boils down to the root cause of awareness. If we can identify what mental model is making people behaving in this way, alleviating the food wastage issue in Singapore will be a lot easier. However, I am afraid it is easier said than done. When we talk about the mental model, we always tend to conclude with “people’s lack of awareness and willingness is the root cause of the problem” (which I just did as well, unfortunately). Building an accurate mental model requires more research into the specific topic and some basic understanding of the psychology of people in that particular social and cultural context. However, I do not think it is easy for us, some university students with our majors unrelated to psychology or sociology. I actually can’t think of a good way to solve this but what I can try doing is putting myself into the situation, asking myself what I would do, and why. Through this self-reflection, the results may be extrapolated to the entire society.

In conclusion, these short 5 weeks of lessons reshape my understanding of modelling and system thinking. With what I learned and what I am going to learn, I hope I can do a better job in this module in the second half of the semester and be able to apply what I learn to real life.

“I am not doing this to save the world”

Even though I found this course interesting at first, I quickly ran into a dilemma of resolving my beliefs with what I am learning in class. I grew up in a “healthy” household and it was always okay to waste food instead of over-eating or eating expired food – the problems that may arise due to eating more carbohydrates can lead to complications for my family because we were at high-risk for diabetes due to our genetics. In fact, I remember being encouraged to not finish the rice that has been given to me and I never felt a pinch wasting food. It was always acceptable to waste food because the value of my health should be regarding so much more than the bowl of rice I waste, right?

It was quite hard to resolve this dilemma that I faced as the class progressed. I know that wasting food is “wrong” because there are some people who do not even have the means to meet their daily nutrition. However, it was not easy for me to easily accept that answer because I have way too many relatives who suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure and they have this mentality of “never wasting food”. I always attributed their eating habits to their illnesses. It quickly turned from genuinely not being able to finish eating the food I have purchased to just “not feeling like finishing it”. People around me did it, and I guess that was enough justification for me to also continue my ways. I also found it quite inconvenient to ask for a smaller portion because, well, what if I felt hungry later on?

As the class progressed, I realised how ignorant I have been all this while. The more I was exposed to the statistics on how much we actually waste as a nation, and how there are people in the same country I live in who are food insecure, it made me re-evaluate my beliefs. People always site developing countries as food insecure, but it truly is to wrap my mind around how people around me might be food insecure too.

It was during this time of dilemma that Daniel Tay came during one of our lessons and shared about this journey he embarked on. I quickly realised that he was very casual about his entire experience, and comically practical about everything too. It was never his intention to “convert” us, he just shared what he felt about the situation. I remember he ended off his entire sharing by saying this: “I am not doing this to save the world, I am doing this because it is practical for me and I don’t spend as much on food”. That was when I realised what I was doing wrong. I was trying to resolve my dilemma using morality, but that wouldn’t be fruitful as it is hard for me to think of it from either a farmer or a food-insecure person’s perspective – I couldn’t relate to them. I could relate to Daniel’s way of thinking though, imagine how much I would save (as a broke college student) if I just paid attention to the amount of food I consume and invest some time in figuring out buying exact quantities? Just knowing that he has consumed so much of expired food and is still fine prompts me to think twice before throwing away food that has just passed its expiry date.

I have been asking myself a lot more questions, and I think this is definitely a step in the right direction for me. I will always be grateful to this module for giving me a chance to think and form my opinion on things, and giving me the resources I need to make an informed one.

“Model the problem, not the system”

I guess I took it really lightly when I learnt that this is the first step of modelling. After our first attempt at modelling, I quickly realised that formulating a problem statement and following a Causal Loop Diagram (CLD) for that is a form of art – you should not have too little or too many variables present. There is also no point in trying to force a reinforcing/balancing loop and I feel like sometimes I fall into this trap of forcing a loop just because we need one. There is no fixed number of variables that needs to be present and is really determined by each person’s discretion too. It also takes some time to get everyone in the group to agree that the variables chosen are relevant and useful to our problem statement, and ultimately our model.

I another problem we face is justifying the gravity of the problem. Though we know food waste and security is a problem, there are only a few statistics available that is specific to Singapore. Sometimes it made me question if the problem we want to tackle is even a significant problem. It just goes to show that this is a problem that truly needs more attention. Like what one of the Ministry of Funny TV videos titled “WASTING FOOD IS AWESOME” highlights, people generally know we should not waste food but don’t really know how big of a deal it is since we don’t see or know much about it. It is hard to try to find solutions to a problem that hasn’t been extensively talked about, but it is also thrilling at the same time. It is exciting that we are dwelling in a problem that not many people actively talk about around us.

I wouldn’t say the next point is a problem, but more of a learning point. My group has met up a few times outside of class to discuss our project and it is safe to say that every time we talk about a variable, it feels like doing an entire presentation to justify its presence. It’s a lot like the presentation we had to do about the modelling steps without preparing for it extensively. I have learnt the importance of properly articulating your points so that people will understand and add on to ideas, and I hope to improve on this in the coming weeks.

Modelling = Vensim?

Unfortunately, modelling has always been a challenge for me. I still remember the times in JS where I scrambled through all my notes trying to figure out how anyone could understand this tedious and complicated process. Reflecting on the times in Year 1 where I struggled with JS, I realised that I had a mindset of “Modelling = Vensim”, and Vensim, to me, was essentially a horror story that I wanted to escape from. Thus, with this fear I had, I tried to escape from it as much as I could but alas we meet again. 

I have never truly stopped to pin-point a certain aspect of modelling which I felt challenging because to me, modelling felt like a bundle deal – everything was just difficult. It was not until the second lesson of the module where I read through the John Sterman paper on modelling did I start to actually understand that modelling was more than just vensim, but instead a step-by-step process. That was when I could finally break away from my previous mindset and break things down to find clarity in terms of what was difficult for me and what I could do to improve myself.

The Problem with my Problem Statement

Crafting a problem statement was never really an easy process for me. Back then, with my mindset of “Modelling = Vensim”, I felt that having a general problem statement would allow my vensim diagram to be more exhaustive with variables and loops that could cover as much as possible. And of course, that was a huge problem. It was not until the second lesson where each team had to develop a mindmap on the different stages of modelling did I finally get a clearer understanding on what a problem statement should be – clear and specific. It’s about asking many “What” questions to finally unravel the clear purpose of creating the model. This purpose eventually acts as the ‘logical knife’ we whip out to ensure that only the essential features of the model are left. I saw that what I kept trying to do was to model the system, instead of modelling the problem. Hence, this made things more complicated and irrelevant, affecting the steps which followed after.

Linking instead of Looping

As a beat-around-the-bush kind of person, I usually loose track of the main message I am trying to convey, leaving my friends to hear a long story which could have been shorteneed into a sentence. Relating this back to modelling, I realised that I was drawing links from variable to variable. Sometimes I added multiple new variables and even worse, drew arrows without polarities (I know, the horror). Initially, I thought that this was the right way to do things. I came up with so many variables and so many links that I would actually feel pretty satisfied with myself. That was until I finally stopped to take a look at the model as a whole. I was left with a model with so many arrows but no feedback loops. Completely forgetting about the problem variable, the main star of the show, I got carried away by finding only links between other variables I had created. Thankfully, with the constant reminders and practices in lessons, I have been able to get a better understanding on how I should control myself. I have learnt to generate relevant variables based on the reference mode and am trying to train myself to think about how variables, which I have already written down, affect each other first before adding in more variables. As a result, this  has helped me to stay within the boundaries and allowed me to see feedback structures which affect the problem behaviour.

After writing down these challenges I have faced, I realised that practice is the only way to overcome them. I feel that with constant group work in class, these activities will act as a platform to implement these learning points and internalise them for future use. Furthermore, I also hope to learn from my group mates, who are better in modelling, to ask them for tips and better understand their thought process. Though modelling is a tedious and (still) a stressful process, I hope that with constant practice and active learning, there will be an improvement.

Accepting the Reality of How Little I Knew

Thinking back to the month of August, head-spinning from dealing with the problematic system of ModReg, I realised that when I entered UTC2712 into my module choices, I never actually gave much thought to it. All I knew was one, it fit into my timetable and two, it was about food waste, a topic which I have heard of and thought was something I could grasp. And of course, as quoted by Mark Twain, 

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”,

by the end of these first six weeks, I could not have been proven more wrong. 

Through these six weeks there has been much discussed and many activities that we have done. However, for this reflection piece, I would like to highlight two instances which I remember clearly.

It was the first lesson we had in week 2 and we were tasked to develop a mindmap on Food Security. And of course, with only the little amount of knowledge I had, I thought Food Security was only related to the availability of food. It was not until we had to research more about it did I realise that there was a whole other part which I missed out on – “nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle”. I always had the perception that any food which was easily transportable and had a long shelf-life was the best option for food donation. While this perception is not one that is entirely wrong, I realised that I had completely left out the important factor of nutrition. That led me to wonder whether people who were donating their food items had thought about it too. “I donated food to the needy today.” seems like such an easy thing to say. However, it makes me wonder how much thought process goes behind what we choose to give away. Is it made by just scouring the shelves of our homes and fridges, finding any kind of canned food, chips or sweets we have left behind? Or is it made by informed choices of looking for nutritious foods which can actually make a difference to someone’s life? It was scary to realise that if people were just mindlessly giving, without the right information or with their own assumptions, 1 in 10 people in Singapore will still be left food insecure. And the fact that 10% of people in Singapore are food insecure is truly a shocking reality given how well developed Singapore is. Hence, this lesson was one that allowed me to see how I had only scratched the surface of this topic and how there was so much more to uncover. At the same time, I also saw its relevance to society. Not only its direct effect on people in Singapore but also how the information I was learning could be used to educate those who wanted to help the cause.

The next instance was in Week 5, where Daniel Tay, the founder of SG Food Rescue, came down for his sharing. When he entered the room, with his pink trolley bag and multiple bottles of almond milk, I truly did not know what to expect. However, as he started sharing his experiences one after another, I realised that he had so many interesting stories to share.These stories allowed me to understand so much more about how long and hard he has been working on making a difference to a cause he is so passionate about. I could tell how his experiences started off small, from collecting leftover food from his neighbour to looking through a single bin in Little India, to much larger things such as gathering people together at wholesale places and even doing a truck-full delivery of vegetables to soup kitchens. If there were two things I learnt from his sharing it would be one, the first step is all it takes and two, the journey to reducing food wastage requires everyone’s effort. Though Mr Tay has been fighting this issue for awhile now and though there has been some news coverage on it, food wastage is not a topic that tops the charts. Sadly, it seems that it has become a habit for us, be it over-ordering due to in the moment choices or not asking for less because you feel like you will not get your money’s worth. I feel the reason behind why not much has been done is because we are unable to see or feel the immediate impact of our actions, and that is a problem. As Brof Jenson said in class, “out of sight, out of mind”.  It is when we finally decide to take a step back, reflect, and truly picture the amount of waste that each and everyone of us are contributing can we then understand the consequences of our actions, and hence I think that us volunteering at the Food Bank next week will truly help us put things into context.

To end off, I believe it really is time that I, or even all of us, start taking decisive action for a cause that we are aware of and make a change to lessen our personal food wastage, because, as cringeworthy as it sounds, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”.

Reopening the door to Vensim

Before taking this SS, I was very worried about using vensim as a modelling tool as the only time I had touched vensim was during JS, which I had not touched in the past 4 months.

In the past few weeks, my greatest takeaway was learning more about the details in the process of modelling. I felt that this was very important to kickstart my journey into understanding food waste and food security in Singapore as there are many underlying problems that may not necessarily be evident on the surface level but become more obvious as we draw the links between various factors involved in the problem behaviour.

I have also learnt to keep in mind to model a problem and not the system. When I first heard this, I did not understand it at all. Wouldn’t modelling the system allow you to recognise the problem? Well, it doesn’t because modelling a system introduces many other factors which draws the focus away from the problem behaviour. Before starting to model, we should always refer to our reference mode to identify the problem behaviour. Which brings me to my next question, how do we define our reference mode? This could be done by constructing a goal tree in which the final tier consists of measurable variables which could then be used to construct a behaviour-over-time graph which serves as our reference mode. We should check the reference mode against the problem identified and go through the 5 steps of modelling again whenever we encounter a roadblock in the process of modelling. This has made me realise that modelling is truly a reflective and iterative process.

Through the course of modelling, I have encountered the most problems in finding the relevant data to model out the reference mode. The lack of data on food wastage in Singapore not only poses as an obstacle in our modelling journey, but also shows the lack on information available to the public regarding this issue. This might also be one of the reasons contributing to the low level of awareness on food wastage in Singapore. The only way to construct a behaviour-over-time graph for now, is to estimate our values using existing data which can only be achieved through deeper research into food waste and food security in Singapore.

I hope that through more practices in modelling, I would be able to get better at this reflective and iterative process to create better, more concise causal loop diagrams and stock and flow diagrams.

Looping Back to Modelling

Feedback structures dictate the problem behaviour. This was one of the first lessons I learnt, and was consistently reinforced in this class. But in order to find these feedback structures, we first had to articulate the problem clearly. This served as a constant warning for us to model the problem, never the system. In fact, when doing my final project for my senior seminar (SS), this was exactly the challenge I faced with my group. (I’m taking this module as a Singapore Seminar (SSU)).

Previously when doing my SS, we had to model a problem about an infectious disease. Instead, we ended up modelling every variable we could think of in the system of how the disease spread, quickly being overwhelmed and ending up with several excluded variables which did not affect our problem behaviour at all. With this experience in mind, my current group (in this mod) was extremely cautious when it came to modelling our problem behaviour. Yet, with this additional caution, another problem surfaced: we seemed to have too few variables connected to our problem behaviour.

To circumvent this problem, we were exposed to the goal-tree analysis, which listed a solution to the problem variable as the end goal, before branching out into smaller sub-goals which were needed in order to solve the main problem behaviour. This process gave us our much-needed variables linked to the problem behaviour. Another critical aspect of modelling was the reference mode (which my group totally forgot about before drawing our causal loop diagram (CLD)). The reference mode, with actual data, would produce a graph that would enable us to analyse the feedback loop dominance at different points in time. The reference mode, along with the usage of dimensional consistency (the units of the problem variable), assisted us a great deal when figuring out what variables to include in our model.

The use of CLD also allowed us to figure out the underlying structures influencing the problem behaviour, using the Iceberg Model. From these underlying structures, we would be able to deduce the mental models which cause these feedback loops and loop dominance. This taught us that our policies should target the beliefs and values that keep the existing loop dominance in play, instead of merely targeting the “variables” in the model itself. For me, this was a huge step up from my previous usage of CLD, which was more of a touch-and-go before proceeding on to stock-and-flow diagram (SFD).

Perhaps it was because I was so out of practice using CLD that I found it really difficult to identify the variables or I was unfamiliar with the problem behaviour itself and what variables would be linked to it. Since modelling is an iterative process, I believe my group and I just need more practice, and to trust in the steps and the process in order to improve on our modelling skills. Although some of us might think “Oh no, Vensim and modelling again” I believe that it trains our logical and systematic thinking in order to identify the root cause of problems, which we may hate to do now, but is no doubt an indispensable life skill to have.

Food waste: its closer than you think

When I first got this module I was worried because food waste and security was not a topic that I was particularly interested in. In my normal daily life, I finish the food on my plate most of the time. If there is a particular side dish that I do not like, I either give it to someone else or tell the hawker or the workers at the dining hall not to add it to my plate. Since I’m already doing my part to reduce food wastage on an individual level, what would I get from taking this module?

When I attended my first class in week 3, I realised that food wastage in Singapore is on a whole new level, stemming from all parts of the industry. As someone who rarely reads the news, the only time I am exposed to food wastage is when I see people not finishing their food at the hawker centres or at the dining hall. After doing some research, I was astonished to find that food waste is one of the five largest waste streams generated in Singapore and the total food waste generated in 2017 was 80980 tonnes with an increase of over 24000 tonnes from 20151. Translating that to my observation at hawker centres, this goes to show that every single person’s waste, no matter how small, accumulates to become very significant.

Food waste stems from a few different players in the industry, namely the consumers, retailers and the producers (inclusive of wholesalers and farmers). As consumers, we generate lots of food waste mainly due to our high expectations on the quality of food. We do not hesitate to throw out food that tastes bad and even food that has gone past the best before date by a few days. As a consumer myself, I can understand why we would do this due to the health concerns that surround the consumption of food that has gone past its expiry or best before date. Even though there is a lack of knowledge on the significance of the different terms, our obsession with high quality has led us to contribute significantly to the amount of food wastage as consumers. When the taste of the food served is not up to our standards, we waste it because we feel a sense of entitlement as we have already paid for the food. These small actions of selfishness of every single person accumulates to create the large piles of wasted food that could have been used to feed those who are less food secure.

This leads me to question, “how much can we do as students to help reduce the amount of food wastage in Singapore?” I remember Daniel Tay sharing with us that with his initiative of SG Food Rescue, they are only rescuing about 0.1% of the total food being wasted in Singapore and he stated that even though his food redistribution initiative is not going to make a lot of difference, he will still continue doing it as it helps to increase the awareness of the scale of food wastage in Singapore. I was inspired by his positivity which has led me to realise that every small effort to reduce food wastage is still helping the situation and through these efforts, we could hopefully change the mindset of people to be more conscious of the amount of food they waste. You don’t have to have a big goal while tackling food waste in Singapore, every single person who takes the initiative to do something about the situation is helping to alleviate the severity of the situation in Singapore, albeit by a small amount.

Thinking back to when I first got this module, I have realised that there is so much more to discover and explore on the topic of food waste and food security. I look forward to the rest of my journey in this module.

 

 

References

1https://www.businessinsider.sg/85-of-singapore-residents-eat-out-every-week-and-rice-and-noodles-are-the-most-commonly-wasted-food-items-while-doing-so-nea-says/

 

Modelling is so difficult but I like it!

When I came into this class, one thing I worry about was modelling. And when I saw the phrase ‘revisiting modelling process’, my fear came true. But I know I had to face it. And in fact, what I learned was so unfamiliar. It was totally different from what I learned during my JS class.

While learning about modelling, I was stuck at many areas but the two most prominent one is

  • Modelling Process

The modelling process comes in 5 steps which include problem articulation, formulation of dynamic hypothesis, formulation of a stimulation model, testing and policy design. We were required to split into 5 groups and do a mindmap pertaining to each of the steps. For my group, we had to do step 5 (policy design and evalutation). While forming a mindmap, we were met with many obstacles such as not understanding the word ‘sensitivity’ and having difficulties coming up with an example that can relate to policy design. But after getting help from Jenson, we work together, making revisions over and over again and came up with a mindmap.

  • Goal tree

In the 4th week of lesson, we had to come up with a goal tree. The first few components, undesirable, desirable situation, the gap, the dilemma and the actors were manageable. However, when it comes to forming the goal tree, I was stuck. Since it was the first time that I was exposed to this, I was lost. I looked through the notes and was able to understand the goal tree on the notes but when I had to apply this knowledge and made a goal tree, I did not know how to do it. It was a difficult task to identify and find out what are the quantifiable variables.  But thanks to my groupmates, we came up with a goal tree! Also, after some clarification with Jenson, I got a better clue of how to form a goal tree.

 

During the process of forming the goal tree, I realized that I did not internalize enough.  Even though I understand, I did not internalize and hence I was not able to form the goal tree. This is the same as when a student is able to cram what they have studied into their brain but is unable to answer complicated questions in exams.  But thankfully, this class has given me the opportunities to put what I have learned into practice and let the knowledge to seep into me. The mindmaps that we done in class and the group discussions gives me a platform where I can internalize what I have learned. In addition, the short presentations on the mindmaps made me discover the area I am more familiar with as well as gaps in my understanding.

After the many times that I have been stuck, I strongly agree that modelling is indeed complicated, consisting of functionally interrelated elements forming a complex whole. Like what Johnson Sterman says: “Modeling is not a one-shot activity that yields The Answer, but an ongoing process of continual cycling between the virtual world of the model and the real world of action.”

But even though modelling is really difficult and confusing, it made me think more deeply and critically. Especially after the 2nd week of lesson, I have to reread the notes all over again to get a better understanding of modelling process. At the meantime, I would ask myself questions like ‘what am I overlooking’ and question my own assumptions. With critical thinking, it allows me to assess what are my learning styles when it comes to modelling and enhance my problem-solving skills. In fact, like what John Sterman said, there is no cookbook recipe for successful modeling as individual modelers have different styles and approaches.  Although there are the steps in modelling process, modeling is inherently creative and there no procedure you can follow to guarantee a useful model. Hence, critical thinking skills teaches me to take ownership of my education and to be a more self-disciplined and self- directed learner.

 

Food waste :'(

In the 3rd week of lesson, I was introduced to the topic of food waste and we also got to develop a mindmap regarding food waste in the class. I have studied Food waste in Singapore during my project work days in JC and got to know more about food waste. This made me more intrigued to the issue of food waste and hence placed this module as one of my choices as I want to further expand my knowledge regarding food waste. As during my JC days, it was my first-time studying food waste, I didn’t realise how serious the problem food waste is. However, after taking up this module, I acknowledged that we all have to do something about it as even after 2 years since I last touch on the issue of food waste, food waste is still an incredibly prominent issue.

Food waste is always here

And because of us,

This problem is getting worse

And

Worser!!

So why is food wasted?

Too much food is prepared. Food are forgotten at the back of the fridge. Leftovers are thrown away. Too fussy about the food. Having too high standards for appearance of food and hence more selective on choice of food. Ultimately food waste per household comes down to a lack of planning, over buying, or simple negligence.

I have to shamelessly admit that I am one of the culprits of food waste. Throwing away food that I cannot finish. Throwing away food that I left out there for so long until it expired. Throwing away food everywhere, at home, outside and at RC4.

And yes! Mentioning about RC4 makes me remembered all the pile of food thrown away in the dining hall. That pile is only a day of food wastage. Imagine if it is the whole year or even worse, the whole of Singapore. In fact, 763 million kg of food waste was generated in 2018! That is the weight of more than 54,000 double decker buses!!

At first, I can totally understand why we throw food away. Why should we care? Why should we cook and eat the food that are expired?

However, knowing more about this issue through this class has make me feel more and more guilty. We should know that food waste can cause waste of resources, including land, water and energy. And that’s not the end! It can also cause carbon footprint and disposal of this food waste in landfills also contribute to climate change! These amount of food that is wasted could be used to feel one billions or even more malnourished people in the world!

The sad truth is that we don’t appreciate the true cost of food especially since we living in the comforts of our home and away from where food is grown. We might not know that food waste is already killing the world slowly and by the time we know it, it will be too late. We have to act early!

But can we really make a change?

Yes! All of us can! We can all play an important part in reducing food waste.

But how?

Lets go through what are the ways we can do to reduce food waste.

Like what food bank said, do not bin while you still can eat it! Cannot finish? Bring it back and leave it for your lunch and dinner.

We should buy only what we can eat, choose the right food portions and cook just enough food. By buying and ordering just enough, we can kill two birds with one stone as we are not only avoiding food waste but also saving money at the same time! What we can do is that before going shopping for food, we can plan what to buy using a shopping list. This would help you avoid buying more food that usually do! Another thing we should learn is to store and handle your food properly at home to help you keep your food longer without spoilage.

All these simple actions could make a big change in the long run.

And actually, we can still eat food that are expired! Shocking? This is also new thing that I have learned in class. For me, I have never eaten food after its expiration date has past, thinking that eating these food would get me sick. I believe most of you might think the same way too. In fact, these food is still safe to eat for quite some time, as long as it was stored at the correct proper temperature! This expired food should not be found in the trash but on our dining table.

Also, not to miss out Daniel Tay’s sharing about his experiences in reducing food waste. I was especially intrigued when he talked about his dumpster diving experience! I have heard of the phrase dumpster diving before and at that time I was thinking that I would be really weirded out if I just happen to pass by to see someone scavenging through these bins.  But after listening to him, it makes me want to take part as well.  He mentioned about how everyday there will be so many edible and fresh vegetables found that even his big group of people cannot finish collecting! And also, his talks about how he always gets food from his neighbors so that he would not have spent a single cent and at the same time, reduce food waste was really inspiring.

 

I was relieved to hear that there are many organizations and people who promote the awareness of food waste and strive to create a zero-waste community. One of these few amazing organizations is FoodBank where companies or people can come to donate their unused or unwanted foods which will then be collected and allocated to the needy. Another mentionable one is Save Food Cut Waste which educates the public about the environmental and social impacts of food waste, and encourages everyone to take action in reducing food waste.

So what are you waiting for? Lets all reduce food waste together!

 

Huh? Vensim again …

That was my first reaction when I realised that it was time for me to take SS after one vensim-free semester. Needless to say, vensim and modelling is not my strong suit, and my experience with modelling in the past few weeks was rife with challenges. That might sound like an exaggeration, but trust me when I say that I was confused at least half the time, and frustrated the other half.

The first thing that my group mates and I had to do was to come up with our problem statement. Food waste is a complex problem, which can be subdivided different ways – for example, into different types of food waste, different contributors to food waste, etc. As we were disturbed by the massive amounts of food wasted in buffet restaurants, we decided to choose that as our focus. At that point, I might have also been mildly bitter about the time my friends and I were turned away when we offered to help a buffet caterer consume the excess food (that were going to be thrown away) because it was “only for people who paid”, but that’s not the main point.

As someone who likes to have a “set” answer, it was challenging for me to be accustomed to the iterative nature of modelling. I found myself having to constantly refine my dynamic hypothesis and my model upon discovering new variables and new considerations. While it was initially disconcerting, I found that these constant revisions were necessary to make my model reflect the real world situation more accurate.

“Model the problem, not the system.” That was something Jenson reminded us of, constantly. In the past 5 lessons, I learned to adopt a more macro, rather than micro view, so as not to miss out variables that could largely affect the accuracy and reliability of our model.

Additionally, I realised that things would have been a lot easier for me if I started out with the dynamic hypothesis instead of diving headfirst into the CLD without any direction. With the dynamic hypothesis, I would then be able to use different loops of the CLD and determine the dominating loop at different points to explain the dynamic hypothesis.

The biggest challenge that I faced, by far, had to be coming up with the causal loop diagram (CLD). While I could come up with the different variables that were related to one another, I had problems creating loops with the variables. To overcome this, it would be helpful to read up more on the current trends in food waste, to get a better understanding of how different variables will have different effects.

Although modelling continues to be a challenge to me, I do see myself gradually getting the hang of it, as long as I continue to put in effort and clarify my doubts. This module will probably be the last time I will have to touch vensim ever, and I truly hope that at the end of it all, my response would not be “thank god it’s over”.

Systems Dynamics – A Quantitative Approach

If I had to highlight the benefits of creating a systems dynamic model, I believe that its greatest strength lies in the ability to quantity and connect variables, no matter how qualitative they are. In John Sterman’s words, it calculates and accounts for all “… the messiness, ambiguity, time pressure, politics, and interpersonal conflict.”

In a complex problem, such as dealing with food waste and insecurity in Singapore, having this ability to continually reformulate hypothesis and reevaluate problem solutions in a calculated manner, helps greatly in developing an ideal problem solution. It is near-impossible to develop a problem solution without any simulation. Just like flying – trainees first learn in a simulator, to develop and hone their reflexes and skills. Car manufacturers run tests to create the perfect design, before they go into production. Modelling allows us to create and test our solutions, before focusing on the most efficient one.

Of course, over the course of JS and SS, I’ve picked up a few things along the way. Revisiting them again in this module has also helped me understand it better.

 

The Art of Iteration

In computing, one of the very first methods of problem-solving algorithms that you first encounter is iteration. Iteration is basically a repetitive process that is designed to steer you towards a solution. One of the first and incorrect assumptions I had about the modelling process was to fix a hypothesis. In Sterman’s paper, both the problem statement and hypothesis formulation are dynamic in nature. Often, I would find myself fixing either one or the other, which resulted in many further issues down the modelling process. Being inflexible only served to hinder progress and restricted creativity.

This time, I was determined to approach modelling with an open mind. I recall meeting my group mates to come up with a goal tree analysis approach to frame our problem. We encountered a lot of initial difficulty in arriving with a problem that we wanted to fix. Just like before, because we had an idea in mind, we became too fixated on crafting goals that could only fix that particular problem.

So, what did we do? Well, we had to go through the process again. The art of iteration continues.

Eventually, after several tries, we arrived at a goal that was supported by sub-goals. My biggest takeaway from this entire process is that formulating a hypothesis and problem statement indeed, is an iterative process. This process is necessary to help us arrive at a problem statement that encompasses what we want to solve.

 

Constant Change

Systems dynamics, by its very nature, is a constantly evolving process. Often, beyond class, we come up with solutions with derived insights. However, who’s to say that the variables remain the same?

Similarly, when developing a model, reformulation and redesign is inescapable. Like a mound of clay that is sculpted and re-sculpted into something of purpose, the modelling process is often a long and ever evolving process. Personally, as someone who possesses an impatient streak, it has been challenging for me to stick to the systems dynamics process. There were times where I questioned the system’s robustness and feasibility. However, I realized that without the constant tweaking and revision of the model’s dynamics, the eventual problem that we formulate would not be able to sufficiently solve the problem statement.

I’ve learnt that the model is only going to be as robust as we shape it to be and hence, constant revision is something to keep in mind going forward.

 

Although we have not spent enough time focused on modelling, moving forward, I believe that exploring CLD modelling and coming up with a system dynamics paper for a real problem such as food waste and insecurity in Singapore will definitely be an enjoyable and fruitful experience.

BOMB! Overcome modeling challenges successfully!

In week 3, our group was asked to construct a problem statement based on a video called “Food Fight”. A lot of ideas came into our minds, such as, how feasible is it for Singapore to explore other options other than landfill and incineration? Or how Singaporeans’ lifestyle contributes most significantly to local food wastage at the consumer level? After discussing the feasibility of these topics, we decided to focus on increasing the food waste recycling rate on the consumer level.

The first challenge our group met was how to phrase our problem statement? Initially, our problem statement was too broad and vague, so we could not do our goal tree analysis. We went back to the beginning and thought about how to make this statement more specific and show this problem is worthwhile to solve. Ask for prof’s advice, our final statement was: “The low recycling rate of food waste in Singapore is mainly due to the lack of means to properly segregate food waste, especially on the consumer level.” I soon realized that if you phrase the statement in a more properly and systematically way, it makes your modeling life easier and you can generate a list of variables from the statement quickly and accurately. Finally, we concluded three critical factors for our goal which is increasing food waste recycling rate on the consumer level.

At this stage, we met our second challenge, how to develop a reference model of our identified problem based on our goal tree analysis? From our goal tree analysis, we identified nine factors that could maximize the amount of food waste that can be recycled at the consumer level, but our reference model failed to clarify the problem statement. We stagnated. With the prof’s help, we realized that we need to make sure the last level is a matrix; it should be quantifiable so that we could translate it to something we can measure. To keep this advice in mind, we found out all the data we need and cut down all the unnecessary factors. In the end, we had 7 graphs for each of the sub-factors. Moreover, we concluded that sub-goal completions must meet the aim of the top goal. In this case, we need to make sure that all the factors we identified can either positively or negatively affect the recycling rate.

In the CLD part, the casual links crossed each other, so it was very difficult for us to uncover the feedback loops and explain our reference mode clearly. Moreover, when we traced the loop, we got lost a few times so that we missed two reinforcing loops. To solve this problem, we decided to start with the reference mode which was the problem behavior first, and then use the variables it generated to draw the casual loop diagram again. But this time, we kept asking ourselves: what affects the problem variables? And the problem variables affect what? How the variables affect each other? Keep this in mind, we had a nice casual loop diagram and generated the behavior based on the feedback structure we had covered.

Through building this model, I knew structure detects behaviors. Therefore, I need to know my goal first, and then look at the behaviors of the loops and think can I generate this behavior based on the feedback structure I had covered or not. In the future, I believe that I will not be afraid to build a model or perform a goal tree analysis anymore, because I know how to build a model in a vigorous way: List down the challenging and Give the critical factors more scopes and perspectives to analyze!

FOOD WASTE SURROUNDS SINGAPORE

Food waste has been a popular problem and caused widespread concerns in recent years. Everyone starts to realize that food waste brings about a serious of problems to affect humans as well as the society and the environment, but I believe that people never aware of how severe this problem is until they figure it out by themselves, at least for me.

Last semester, I noticed that RC4 canteen posted a paper on the wall to tell the students how much food we wasted everyday. I could not believe my eyes, how could we waste nearly 200 kg food every day? It is impossible! The numbers must be faked! But after studying this module, I knew I was wrong. In Singapore, according to the statistics published online, the total food waste generated in 2017 was 809800 tones, equivalent to everybody in Singapore throwing away 2 bowls of rice every single day. And the situation is getting worse as food waste has increased nearly 50% in the recent 10 years in Singapore. I think the statistics show that food wastage is growing at a rapid way, but the correspondent ways to reduce food waste are limited —- only 13% of food waste is recycled.

I am glad that prof invited the founder of SG Food Rescue, Mr.Daniel Tay to share more about the current situation of food waste in Singapore. Indeed, I was inspired by Daniel’s talk that he used his own experiences and projects as examples to let us aware of how severe the problem is and how to reduce the food waste from ourselves as consumers are the biggest source of food wastage. From previous lectures and group discussions, I am aware that food waste occurs at the stage of producing, distributing, retailing and consuming. Although consumers are the largest food wasters, they cannot take all the blames because the food wastage are also across every level from the top to the bottom in the food supply chain. Daniel told us a true story that the wholesalers dumped everything that is not wanted by the retailers into the dustbin. When I heard the reasons why the retailers did not want the food, I thought all these reasons were ridiculous. How can people dump the bananas just because they are not yellow and curved enough, the cucumbers just because they are not green enough! On the other hand, in retrospect, putting myself in the retailers’ shoes, retailers do not want it anymore because it is easier for them to throw away the food rather than sell to another retailer. Consumers prefer good-looking food over ugly-looking food. It is understandable that nobody wants to buy this kind of food, but the truth is the food is still edible. Before reaching customers, these reasons force the wholesalers to waste food in the first stage, approximately 340 tons of food throw away every year.

Then, Daniel asked us a simple question:” Do you guys know the differences between the best use date and expire date?” I knew the differences between them, but what I had never noticed was that once the food has passed the best use date, they will never be seen again in the supermarket anymore. The question is, where do they end up? In the dustbin. Not only the food that has passed the best use date, but the food with blemishes have the same destiny. I have a totally new definition for dustbin at that moment. Dustbin does not only have trash but food. Not everything in the dustbin is trash. And this situation happens not only in the retailers’ levels but in households’ level as well. Therefore, I think food waste in Singapore could be attributed to too much food as people always have extra food. But the truth is 1/10 Singaporeans do not have enough money to buy food. It conflicts each other but the situation exists.

Moreover, his sharing reminded me of my volunteering experiences in Willing Hearts. The company operated a soup kitchen to prepare, cook and distribute meals to the needy people in Singapore. As I knew, the soup kitchen distributed 3 meals daily for their beneficiaries, but what I did not realize was that these people may not finish all the food every day. I think this is one of the reasons why Daniel can get free food from his neighbors every day. People always have an extra portion of food, food from the charity, or snacks from their guests, they cannot finish it, rather than throwing away, they are more willing to give it to you for free.

People care about food waste, the statistics show the same conclusion that 9 out of 10 Singaporeans are concerned about food waste. People may not know what they can do to reduce food waste and what they are doing intensifies the food waste. Therefore, I think conducting food waste workshops could both increase awareness of this issue and provide corresponding solutions to people are good ways to reduce food waste. More importantly, take initiative and courage to do something about food waste by ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

Challenges in Modelling, and the Way Forward

An Ongoing Process

My understanding of modelling (causal loops, stock-and-flows) since entering RC4 was being reshaped as early as the application interview itself.

I can still recall the interview questions.

“Why do you think some applicants would not be interested in a systems-thinking RC4?” The first part of the answer came to me, “Some may find your pedagogy too narrow, too suffocating.” Ouch, I admit, I may have overstepped.

Even in my first session of Junior Seminar (JS), I remarked that Vensim, upon first glance, appeared to be more of a quantitative ‘hindsight’ tool rather than a predictive one. Owing to my lack of imagination, it seemed unable to draw insight from a ‘black hole’ data event, one where no precedent previously existed or any credible data was available. Since then, however, my understanding on dynamic systems-thinking has undergone multiple revisions. The course thus far has increased my understanding on the explanatory power behind systems-thinking, along with the analytical concepts and tools which support it.

 

Dynamic, not static, Hypothesis Formulation

One implicit assumption I previously made but was confronted to challenge during the course was the dynamic nature of hypothesis formulation. The iterative and reflective process demanded much questioning and due diligence, requiring countless revisions to simulate a theory that increasingly resembled a universal ‘truth’. This process of truth-searching was not so much one’s own imposition of a particular mental model on the physical world, but instead the uncovering of truths (and more precise mental models) already present but requiring further investigation and elaboration upon. Like most literature taken out of context, once it enters the public domain, it becomes difficult to retract or reshape a narrative, especially one that is ongoing and is itself constantly undergoing changes.

One danger I made was to make a sweeping assumption of the problem (like my first impression of Vensim), a broad ‘catch-all’ which provides overly-simplistic accounts but contribute even less to understanding. For example, my initial dogged fixation on the mental model that consumer preferences for aesthetically-pleasing food as the primary causal factor for influencing retailers’ purchasing policies and in turn, the discriminatory policies of wholesalers in food selection. This gradual funneling severely restricted possibility for imaginative avenues of exploring the problem more holistically.

It was with the determination of my team that the original model was able to undergo multiple revisions, with each instance of revision showing better appreciation for the nuances in the relationships present between variables. To further improve on this, it would be beneficial to be readily able to ‘teach’ the other group members for Steps 2 through 4 of the Modelling Steps. This would assist in ensuring that everyone was still on the same page and demonstrated equal understanding for the problems at hand. More importantly it would assist in uncovering weak reasoning or defective mental models. The logic behind this is similar under Anne Murphy Paul’s “protégé effect”, where the teaching agents would benefit from greater understanding than merely practicing applying the modelling steps alone.

 

All We Need is Just a Little Patience

However, my other experiences in modelling has not been without its challenges. Understanding all of John Sterman’s System Dynamics Modelling Steps in theory is one thing, but internalizing and practicing it was worlds apart. I admit that patience has never been my strongest suit. The iterative nature of Steps 2 (Dynamic Hypothesis), 3 (Formation) and 4 (Testing) was mentally taxing at times, especially long nights with my group mates discussing the implications of a few factors on the larger design (and the opposite being the fixation on a few points without consideration for the bigger picture altogether). The constant fine-tuning of the model’s relevance and sensitivity was arduously slow at best. If anything, it also serves as an exercise in patience for myself to be able to see through the entire process of systems thinking instead of giving up entirely. Additionally, I hope to be able to positively support my other group members when facing challenges to allow the group to overcome the odds together.

 

Form a Graph Tree, Not a Timeline

Another challenge was translating a problem statement into a graph tree. It appeared simple enough – explicate your main problem, highlight a potential dilemma from achieving the idealized state and reduce your criteria for efficacy to several key quantifiable variables. However, as mentioned in Making the Problem Explicit reading, it usually took the form of a modeler-client interaction, vis-à-vis or through a representative proxy. Having to constantly anticipate every consideration from individuals to interest groups felt inorganic and stunted. Without realising it, insufficient consideration of a suitable reference mode and no definitive scope and breadth of the problem under investigation resulted in multiple time-consuming ‘false starts’. Rather than a CLD modelling the causal loop relationships between variables, we ended with a linear flow of processes with little possibility for efficacious intervention. Our pioneer models paralleled the food processing chain with too much fidelity, modelling more of the food processing system than the problem topic itself.

This can be rectified moving forward through going through pre-existing literature and research on the context of the problem. With greater understanding backed by more concrete evidences, it would be significantly easier in uncovering previously ignored variables and relationships between endogenous variables of the problem.

Another possible approach would be to utilize the iceberg model. Going beyond the superficial visible effects of ‘what’ is happening. Initial attempts at modelling was able to identify key patterns of behavior and certain particular structures. However, what was omitted and should be attempted in future would be to consider the mental models present. The mental models as well as their effects would help me to better understand my own thinking processes and in turn, the formation of the CLD and Graph Tree. By identifying certain values, beliefs and underlying assumptions previously taken for granted, greater leverage can be placed on these ideas in reshaping my understanding and the modelling in creating more useful visualizations of the problem (e.g. problems made more explicit, variables targeted as part of the solution more easily highlighted).

Food Waste – Something that I Didn’t Really Care About

Lee Tae Kyung

 

I grew up in an environment that never really had food wastage. My parents always told me that it is a privilege to eat whatever we want and also eat as much as we want. Thus, they told me that I should be thankful and always emphasized that food wastage should never ever happen. This was because Korea used to be one of the poorest countries in the world after the Korean War. After the war, majority of the Koreans had food security problems throughout their youth. My parents used to tell me stories that countries forced students to eat barley rice instead of normal rice as Korea could not afford enough rice for everyone in the country.

My parents were always very strict about food wastage. My mother never ever cooked new food until I finished eating what I was given. Hence, if I did not manage to finish my lunch, I had to eat that for dinner. Furthermore, if the ingredients at home were about to expire, we had to finish all of them at all cost. As a result, food wastage was something that never occurred to me. In fact, this was the case for many of my friends as well. Even in school, the teachers emphasized that food should not be wasted. Thus, food wastage was irrelevant to me which is why I paid no attention to the growing food wastage problems that are happening in the world right now, including Singapore.

As a result, the first 6 weeks of this module have made me reflect a lot about the growing food wastage problem around the world. In particular, Daniel Tay’s talk was an eye-opener and I have learnt a lot of new things through his talk. However, there are two points Daniel brought up which I feel I have learnt the most. Hence, I would like to talk about them.

 

Different Types of Dates

I have first learnt that in Singapore, there’s no difference between any of the following:

  • Expiry date
  • Consume by date
  • Use by date
  • Sell-by date
  • Best before date

and that they all mean the same thing: Beyond this date, the food item is not allowed to be sold. Thus, even if the dates have passed, it is definitely possible to consume the food as long as it passes the 3 tests: look, smell and taste. After he told us this, he gave out free almond coffee milk to everyone which was 4 days past the best before date. I was surprised to see myself being hesitant about drinking it because I was afraid that I would fall sick. This really made me realise that social stigma and misconception are difficult to change given the fact that I always thought I had to throw food once it was past the best-before date and other dates labelled on the packaging.

Thus, in order for food wastage to be reduced, people have to be educated from young about this issue as it is very difficult to change how people perceive things if they are old. If people are aware that they can still consume food that has passed the expiry date (or other variants of expiry date), food wastage will definitely be reduced as most of the food thrown away by the consumers is due to expired food.

What was more appalling was when David told us that even the people of lower-income family are not willing to consume food that has passed the expiry date even though they do not have enough food to meet the calorie/nutrients requirements. This means that they rather starve than eat food that has passed the expiry date when it is actually perfectly fine to consume them. This again stresses the importance of educating the public that there is no problem of consuming food that has past the expiry date or other variants as long as the three tests are passed: look, smell and taste in order for food waste to be reduced.

 

Ugly Food

Secondly, although the food wastage generated from the consumers is a big issue, there is a bigger factor that contributes to the huge amount of food being wasted in Singapore: ugly food. About  46% of the food is thrown away before it even reaches the consumers because they are ugly. Although there is absolutely no difference between optimal food and suboptimal food (ugly food) other than the appearance, people associate suboptimal food as being less fresh, less nutritious and less tasty. As consumers do not want to purchase suboptimal food, many sellers, distributors and farmers themselves discard away suboptimal food rather than trying to sell them. What was particularly perturbing was when Daniel told us that thousands of boxes of fresh vegetables that are in perfect condition are being thrown away in Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre when they could have been put to better use such as giving them to the needy families. Thus, in order for these issues to be alleviated, it is very important to educate the citizens of Singapore since young that there is absolutely nothing wrong with ugly food.

 

Conclusion

A lot of countries in the world are making efforts to reduce food wastage. Countries like Korea for example, have to pay a sum of money in order for them to discard food waste, which is essentially a fine for producing food waste. This actually deters people from generating too much food waste and it has proven to be effective in reducing food wastage. However, in Singapore, I feel like nobody is really interested or pay too much detail to food waste. Daniel told us that NEA does not even have a proper record of how much food gets thrown away by restaurants or hawker centres. Furthermore, I am having difficulties trying to find statistics related to food wastage in Singapore which shows how indifferent Singaporeans are to this issue. Thus, I hope Singaporeans can pay more attention to the growing problem of food wastage.

Learning to memorise or memorising to learn?

This reflection blog does not describe a modelling challenge that I am facing, or how I intend to overcome them. Instead, among the many valuable lessons learnt beyond academics, I would like to write about one that had left a particularly strong impression on me.

In Week 3, we were instructed to read John Sterman’s Business Dynamics and, in a group, summarise one section of the paper into a mind map. We were then told to rotate around the class and listen to our friends’ presentations on their mind maps as well as present ours. Before doing this, we watched a video that taught us how to not only remember things but internalise them. Internalising information is important because it provides significant value and has a longer lasting effect compared to memorisation. Information that is internalised is less likely to be forgotten and can be integrated into our learning process as well as applied in the future.

The video explained the importance of simplifying ideas and concepts into layman terms and in a way that can be easily understood and (hopefully) remembered by others. Thereafter, we should summarise what we understood to someone else. If we are able to fully explain and convey the idea, we have successfully internalised what we have learnt. This method is not unheard of, but I have never personally tried it, so I never knew how effective it was. Initially, I had thought of it as one of many techniques touted by people online that wouldn’t really work out. My initial impression of it was like one of those advertisements always claiming to help improve your memory in a short period of time. It sounds great but you doubt if it actually works. However, after watching the video, I was more convinced that it might be feasible, but I was not fully persuaded just yet. Only after trying it out for myself, did I realise, “Oh, it really works”. Hence, I felt that it was an extremely good idea to let us try out what we just learnt. Furthermore, there were many learning points that I have picked up from this small activity that I believe I would apply in the future.

The video was especially relevant to the small activity we did. Firstly, by making a mind map, ideas in the paper can be easily summarised and is more visually friendly. This makes things simpler to remember and internalise. A mind map is also more straightforward when explained during a presentation, compared to a paragraph of words. My classmates would also be able to follow my explanation more easily. Secondly, by presenting to my friends what I understood from the paper, I am able to internalise the information better. This is because it is required for me to fully grasp the concepts in order to explain it to my friends. Through the presentation, I can come to terms with and be aware of the areas that I am lacking in. Not only was I able to remember the concepts that I read, I am also able to understand my friends’ presentations better. Their presentations were comprehensible because they presented from their point of view as a student and how they understood the paper. Furthermore, the facts were presented in lay man terms which was more germane to me.

In my home faculty, Business, I have plenty of opportunities for presentation. However, these presentations made in my course are well thought through and drafted, based on hours upon hours of preparation. Usually we would write a script and plan the flow of the presentation which is rather unspontaneous. Coming up with a presentation on the spot is something that I am not familiar with and this activity allowed me to train my improvisation skills.

Although this activity was only a small part of the module, the magnitude of its impact is substantial, and the methods can be applied beyond curriculum. I believe that is one of the strengths of this module, I can learn much more beyond food waste and food security in Singapore.

Difficulties Faced During the Initial Attempt at Our Project

Lee Tae Kyung

My group is currently working on a project that is related to ‘Ugly Food’. After doing intensive research for our project, we have found out that 46% of the food is thrown away before it even reaches the consumers because it is ugly. Thus, ugly food is one of the biggest contributors that cause food wastage in Singapore to be so high. As a result, our group feels like the problem of ugly food has to be addressed in order for the food wastage to be effectively reduced. However, there are a few challenges we are currently facing as we embarked on our project.

 

Lack of Data

There are just too little statistics that are available in Singapore that is related to ugly food as food wastage was never really investigated properly in Singapore. Thus, our group has faced many difficulties in trying to find out the values to many of the factors that we have included in our causal loop diagram and stock-flow diagrams. The lack of statistics just shows that in general,  Singaporeans do not really care about food wastage in Singapore. Nonetheless, while our group will try our best to find out statistics that are available in Singapore, if that is really not possible, our group intends to overcome them by finding the values and statistics from other countries around the world that have similar economic background and social characteristics as Singapore and applying them to our model. We are also considering an option to interview people who are actually involved in the food distribution network and ask them in greater detail about ugly food problem. We are also planning to get more insight into the ugly food problem when we visit the Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre.

 

Difficulty in Narrowing Down our Scope

Secondly, although ugly food is a specific problem of food wastage that our group is targeting, it is still very broad as there are just too many factors that contribute to ugly food being thrown away. In order for food wastage to be effectively reduced, all of these factors have to be addressed. However, due to limited time and resources, our group will definitely not be able to model a system to include every single factor that contributes to ugly food. After consulting with Jenson, we have found out that there is no need for us to look at all possible factors that contribute to the ugly food wastage problem.

While we were researching on all possible factors that affect food wastage via ugly food, we have found that there are 4 steps with regards to the food distribution network. They are: farm, packing, retailer and consumer. Our group has thus decided to narrow down our focus of the ugly food wastage problem by tackling two of the food distribution channel. They are: retailers and consumers. One of the most important reasons why there is a problem of ugly food wastage is due to the publics’ perception of ugly food. Most of the consumers feel that ugly food is not as fresh, tasty and nutritious as optimal food (normal food that is not ‘ugly’). This means that there will be no demand for ugly food and as a result, resellers and distributors have to throw away the ugly food. Thus, we aim to look at this issue in greater detail. In addition, most of the ugly food gets thrown away by the retails and thus, it is imperative that our group addresses this sector as well. Our group decided not to look into farming and packing as it is not really that applicable in Singapore (90% of the food in Singapore are imported from overseas and packing does not contribute to a high percentage of ugly food wastage).

Singapore’s Face on Food

Foreign, yet uncomfortably familiar

Even before Mr Daniel Tay’s talk, I first saw him on a Channel News Asia Insider short “Your Trash, His Treasure: Dumpster Diving” back in 2017. The concept of ‘dumpster diving’ was not unknown to me at the time – a more accurate description would probably have been foreign.

Foreign to see a fellow Singaporean scavenging through bins and back alleyways at night. Foreign to see that freeganism was not merely an individual exception, but something closer to a growing norm with a community of freegans within Singapore. Foreign to even see a freeganist and dumpster diving culture in Singapore in the first place. I formerly thought that dumpster diving was commonplace elsewhere around the world, but not practiced here in Singapore. Given the social stigma involved with living off “handouts”, obsession with public personas and the Asian preoccupation with ‘face 面子’, the barriers to practicing freeganism in Singapore were intrusively high, even if largely socially-constructed.

But in some senses, what I saw was familiar as well. Yet, uncomfortably so. Tucked away in trash bags and bins were perfectly edible food tossed aside by households and businesses alike. Most of us were probably raised to be consciously aware of our food wastes. Even the thought of leftover food would usually be accompanied by guilt or shaking it off with an excuse or another. While one would boast of Singapore’s performance in ensuring food security domestically is currently unparalleled elsewhere, its underlying food waste problem would also easily put one to shame.

Waste Not, Want Not

Food waste accounts for 10% of total waste, but only 17% is ever recycled. In 2018 alone, 763,100 tons of food waste was transported to waste-for-energy (WTE) plants located in Tuas (South), Keppel, Admiralty and the oft-mentioned Semakau landfill. This was coupled with the imagery of entire large green bins at night along Little India with excess produce merely dumped rather than redistributed (granted the high overhead costs of storage and difficulty in sourcing for flexible secondary buyers on the retailers’ end).

Take one of Mr Tay’s food salvage hauls he mentioned during the talk. One truck-load worth of capsicums: 5 pallets with 50 styrofoam cartons each. Each carton stocked approximately 50 capsicums each. A total of 12,500 capsicums in a single haul, no small feat to even unload, mind you. However discomforting it may feel to be faced with such egregious waste of food, one easily finds refuge in the disconnection of a number (for a number is but a statistic).

Fee Fi Fo Fum

Fortunately, even if there currently are no nation-wide coordinated efforts to assist in the redistribution efforts of food, small constructive efforts have been mustered across all facets of society, backed by commitment of people from all walks of life. Community Fridges in Yishun, Tampines and Stirling Road to support the needy in the heartland districts. Cooked Food Rescue partnered in conjunction between SG Food Rescue and Krishna’s Kitchen (soup kitchen affiliated with Hare Krishna temple off Lor 29 Geylang). Smaller-scale but no less well-intentioned efforts can provide steps in the right direction in assisting the needs of Singapore’s food insecure 10%.

Even at the state level, government efforts aim at constantly diversifying Singapore’s food sources. Announcements have been made for the launch of an 18-hectare Agri-Food Innovation Park sometime in the second quarter of 2021. Various food projects embarked on include new state-of-the-art farming processes, R&D and even large-scale attempts at insect farming for entomophagy (subsisting on insect diets, queasy yet?). This is in addition to funding secured S$11.3bn in 2018 for agri-tech research and start-ups as part of a wider integrated strategy of achieving food security with greater regional involvement in scientific research towards food production. With Singapore’s heavy reliance on overseas exports (90%), alternative avenues of food must be sourced to reduce our susceptibility to the vagaries of external market conditions and inescapable effects of climate change. Improving domestic food production capabilities and spearheading research in the region are just some means of achieving food security.

Backed with further explanations in his talk, Mr Tay transformed my understanding of freegan culture in Singapore and its impact (though individual in nature, but collectively shows future potential) in mitigating our local waste situation. Having been brought up sheltered and never having to worry about my next meal, I personally have taken my state of food security for granted.

Dampening to hear was that even redistribution efforts in Singapore were met with problems. Volunteer burn-out particularly struck a chord with the class. The disjunct between theory and practice was to be expected given the diverse volunteer experiences present, coupled by the far-reaching aspirations for change backed by youthful gumption. It was nonetheless disheartening to hear of the limited scale of which freegan culture was still being conducted in Singapore, much less the self-regarding motives behind it. However, I personally believe that the future success for any movement (not just freeganism, but aiming to reduce food waste in general), would require the individual appropriation of the cause for personal reasons. The convergence of diverse motivations would not only appeal to broad, widespread support, but also allow the individual to find the most pertinent and relevant causes to sustain a long-term movement towards imbibing a ‘waste-free’ culture in Singapore’s food scene. However, compulsions are insufficient and disciplined, prudent action must be taken from individuals, retailers/ distributors and state actors (and perhaps with possibilities for cooperation in between) for concrete change to break the threshold of becoming an irreversible part of Singapore’s food identity.

Modelling — Key takeaways from our initial attempts

Our group faced 2 main modelling challenges: 1) Interpretation of the goal tree 2) Generation of CLD 

Interpretation of goal tree 

Our group initially faced difficulty generating our goal tree because we were unsure what a goal tree represented. At first, we thought that a goal tree was simply a breakdown of a problem into its constituent factors. As a result, we could not identify any quantifiable items that a goal tree is supposed to produce. For example, we broke down the problem of “food waste at the household level” as follows: “food waste at the household level → misinterpretation of food validity labels, such as expiry date” → lack of initiative to research on what labels actually mean/ lack of campaigns to educate the public”. We could not quantify “lack of initiative to initiative to research on what labels actually mean” and thus were stuck. 

After discussing amongst ourselves and doing research, we arrived at the conclusion that a goal tree is supposed to be a breakdown of the various measures that could be used to tackle a problem, and end with quantities that could be investigated to measure the effectiveness of those measures. With reference to the above example on the “misinterpretation of food validity labels”, we ended up with “number of people able to interpret labels accurately”. This is a variable that can be quantified and investigated. 

From this, we learnt that we should avoid doing a task without a common understanding what the end result should look like and having a plan to achieve it. Although, doing so would require more research and discussion, we will avoid wasting time on rectifying mistakes made during the course of the task. 

Generation of CLD 

Our team also faced difficulty coming up with a CLD. 

Our first CLD was based on “food waste at the household level”. We could not scale this problem into a CLD, mainly because we could not identify sufficient variables that could be linked with each other to form feedback loops. As a result, we were unable to come up with theories on system behaviour. 

We then expanded our problem to: “wastage of fruits and vegetables in Singapore”. This allowed us to involve food suppliers, which allowed us to include more feedback loops, such as a reinforcing loop involving profit, and a balancing loop involving measures to reduce food wastage”. My takeaway is that the CLD is a tool used to investigate entire systems which have many variables and sub-behaviours. It would be more meaningful to apply it to the investigation of more complex problems. 

As we progressed, we found that our CLD started to get too complicated, and distanced from the central problem of “wastage of fruits and vegetables in SG”. We started with “food supplied by producers”, and identified variables that affected and were affected by this. The end result was a CLD with long chains of variables that had little to do with our central problem. We could not identify many meaningful feedback loops that we could use to develop a behaviour over time graph (BOTG). 

Our team could have developed a better CLD if we had began with the end goal of investigating system behaviour through identifying feedback loops in mind. We found that we should have started with research on trends of wastage of fruits and vegetables in SG to understand what a realistic BOTG with look like, then craft feedback loops that would generate the observed behaviour. 

In summary, we should always keep the goal of modelling system behaviour front and centre when crafting CLDs and goal trees, and refrain from randomly listing variables. We should also ensure that our CLD is grounded in the real world, in the sense that the variables included are not just theoretical variables, but actual variables that manifest in the real world. Finally, our CLDs must have quantifiable variables so that we can generate meaningful numerical insights from it. 

Food waste — Digging beneath the surface

I have 2 key takeaways from the first 6 weeks of taking this module. First, I have become aware of the scale of food waste in Singapore. Second, I have some insight into the reasons behind food waste in Singapore. 

Awareness of scale of food waste in SG

During the seminar sessions, we were shown material communicating information about the problem of food wastage in Singapore. In 2018 alone, around 800 million kg of food waste was generated – exceeding 54,000 double decker buses in weight. This problem is expected to worsen as incomes rise. I was taken aback by the scale of food wastage in Singapore.

Although I do see instances of food being wasted on a day to day basis – mainly in the form of leftovers at serving counters in the dining hall in RC4, I did not expect the overall figure for food wastage to be so big. I attribute this to the fact that I never considered, or made aware of, other sources of food waste, especially those further up the food chain. 

As students in Singapore, our main interaction with food is with regards to its consumption. The processes of production, transportation, distribution and food preparation are largely taken care of by others and hence are opaque to us. Thus, most of us are oblivious to the wastage that occurs at each stage of food processing. 

Investigating reasons behind food waste

We then went to investigate reasons behind food wastage, by looking at each segment of the supply chain (production, retail, household) in detail. This was done during a mind mapping session which required us to map out what we thought “food waste” consisted of. Sharing our mind maps was a good way for us to exchange ideas and expand what we knew of the topic. 

Some of the more prominent reasons identified were: improper handling, cosmetic filtering, mismatch of supply and demand, and the ineffectiveness of policies/ programmes aimed at reducing and recycling food waste. 

After the mind mapping session, I thought that most of the reasons behind the wastage of food can be attributed to 1 underlying reason: the ability of people to choose what they want to eat from a wide range of foods. Due to this, retailers such as supermarkets and restaurants are unable to exactly anticipate what kinds of foods will be demanded and in what quantity, resulting in the overstocking of a wide range of foods. This inflated demand is then passed on to producers, who have to produce even more food to account for food lost due to spoilage during transport and poor storage. Additionally, at each stage of production (producer to retailer and retailer to consumer), a large amount of food is wasted due to the process of cosmetic filtering, in which people avoid certain food items because of their poor appearance. This can be linked to the choice that people get to exercise over their food.

I feel that the amount of food wastage can be drastically reduced if people are less picky about what they eat, and if processes are put in place to enable retailers and producers to better anticipate consumer demand. 

Talk by Daniel Tay

The talk by Daniel Tay was inspiring and educational. It was inspiring as he exemplified how one could really make a difference it they believed in their cause strongly enough. It was educational as it highlighted the driving factors and barriers to food redistribution in Singapore. 

Daniel Tay is someone who believed in his cause strongly enough to sacrifice the comfort and security of a full time job. He ended up being able to make a tangible difference to community.  He started rescuing food through a series of mini-projects given to him by his mentor, eventually taking the initiative to scale up and rope others in to join his cause. 

He also highlighted how goal management is important for the sustainability of self-initiated projects. He mentioned that he would have burnt out if he had endeavoured to “reduce food waste in Singapore”, which is a goal that is much harder to achieve than “putting leftovers to better use”. This is a reminder that we may end up achieving little if our goals are too ambitious and idealistic. 

His success at redistributing food was heartening as it shows that there are many would rather consume leftovers then have them go to waste. However, I am unsure if this positive behaviour will persist as people become increasingly selective about their food. 

Finally, I learnt that the main problem behind food redistribution today is the transportation and storage of food: bringing food over long distances is inconvenient and not all charities have facilities to store them. This problem may be tackled through adapting existing ad-hoc transportation services for picking up and delivering leftovers. This would require sufficient demand, and the availability of resources – such as people who feel strongly enough about the issue to want to act -, however. 

Food Waste – Out of Sight but Not Out of Mind

Food waste. I never really thought about the problem before taking this module. I guess it’s just one of those “out of sight, out of mind” problems, that you are aware exists, but you don’t really feel the urgency or impact of compared to other problems (like your CAP or grades). I always believed in clearing my plate and finishing what I order, but admittedly this has not been the case in recent years. The first time I was really exposed to the idea of food waste was while serving NS. While throwing away the inedible remains (such as bones), I could not help but notice the sheer amount of food fellow NSFs were throwing away.

On hindsight, a large proportion of the food waste problem can be attributed to picky eaters. Many of my peers would complain about the taste of the food during NS, supposedly feeling better if they threw away food that, according to them, already tasted like trash. That being said, I do not believe that MINDEF would serve food that would not meet the nutritional needs of an average person. Does the food taste bad? Maybe. Will it kill you? Probably not.

We face a similar problem in RC4. Many of my peers complain about dining hall food, choosing the “tastiest” option for that meal, and sometimes even that is not good enough and large amounts of leftovers are thrown away, alongside all the extra food from the other cuisines.

Another factor contributing to this would be the tendency to over-order or over-indent food. In any organization, it would almost always be preferable to have an excess of food rather than a shortage. From my experience in NS, even if the taste of the food is not as desirable as we would like sometimes, large portions would still be indented in order to keep us well fed. However, if we had the option of going to purchase (better tasting) food from the canteen or from vendors outside of military camps instead, we would almost certainly do it, resulting in the indented food being wasted.

With all this wastage, it was indeed difficult to imagine that food security was an issue faced by 1 in 10 Singaporeans. Aside from the problem of over-ordering, I believe that our affluence and our desire for “face” also plays a part. Affluence indirectly breeds over-indulgence. We waste more food and are pickier about what we eat because we can afford it.

This point was driven home by Mr Daniel Tay. I was awestruck by how someone could spend only $8 on food in an entire year, and even that amount of money could have been saved (he bought something because he was afraid of being “paiseh”)! His story of how he began asking his neighbours for food and dumpster-diving before starting up SG Food Rescue was really eye-opening for me as it gave me an insight into how many people could live without spending a single cent on food (as long as they weren’t picky about what they ate or weren’t worried about their “face”). His description of bins upon bins and palettes upon palettes of supposedly “unsellable” food being wasted truly came as a shock. Having worked part-time in a warehouse environment before, I am aware of the size of a palette. With such an obscene amount of food wastage, the logistics and manpower required to even make a noticeable dent in this amount would be immense, which, unfortunately but unsurprisingly, companies and organizations are mostly unwilling to fork out. The easiest solution for them would be to just bin it, rather than focus their resources on redistribution or proper processing.

Yet, most of us are unable to visualise the sheer scale of the wastage, which brings me back to my aforementioned point about this being an “out of sight, out of mind” problem. With this, I am definitely looking forward to visiting Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and the Food Bank volunteering activities.

“Dear Yingjia, I will be pre-allocating UTC2712 – Hard to Secure Easy to Waste for you next week.”

If you ask around, there’s a high chance that my name will come up when the topic of “food waste” is involved – and not for a good reason. I have a rather small stomach (and get hungry really fast, but I digress), and more often than not, I end up being unable to finish the food served at dining hall or at restaurants. As such, I consider it pretty ironic that I was allocated this module on food waste. Perhaps finally, I will be motivated to take action.

It’s not that I don’t know how severe the food waste problem in Singapore is. Having done my Project Work report on food waste (it was a really popular topic at that time – perhaps now as well), I am fully aware of the scale of the food waste problem. In fact, around 809,800 tonnes of food were wasted in Singapore in 2017. That is roughly equivalent to the weight of 150,000 elephants! Yet, like many other Singaporeans, I fail to take action and do my part in tackling the problem, despite feeling guilty.

At the same time, I am also aware of the various strategies that have been put in place to combat the problem of food wastage, for instance the posters reminding us only order what we can finish, charging extra for food wastage, or efforts by Food Bank and ZeroWasteSG. This prompts us to wonder, why is it such that despite the increased efforts in the recent years, the amount of food waste is still increasing? I would think that it is partly because of the lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation, the lack of enforcement, lack of sustainability or most likely because the general public simply cannot be bothered.

In the past few weeks, Jenson had been introducing to us the topic of food waste through didactic teaching, and also inviting Mr Daniel Tay for a sharing that proved to be particularly informative – but more on that later. One thing that surprised me was that the majority of food waste actually came from residential areas, rather than restaurants as I previously believed. I have to admit that I, too, am guilty of forgetting about the food I left in the fridge, and subsequently throwing them away once it got to the “best before” date (I’m just a little paranoid here). What stood out to me the most was the “look, smell and taste” test demonstrated during the sharing session, where Jenson and my groupmate consumed chicken essence from years ago without suffering from serious consequences. While years might be a bit extreme, think about how much food I have wasted by throwing them away just because it was a few days past the “best before” date!

Perhaps the most important takeaway from Daniel’s talk was about taking initiative. Don’t wait for the government or some organisation to take the lead. I would not consider freeganism to be easy, especially with the surrounding stigma, but what started as a way to save money became a movement, an organisation that collects food that would usually be thrown away to be redistributed. An individual’s actions developed into a string of projects and initiatives (such as fridge restock) that take small, but meaningful steps towards reducing food waste. And perhaps that is exactly what we need.

Is money the only motivation for Singaporeans not to waste food?

Between 2003 and 2012, the only year in which there was a significant dip in food waste per capita was in 2008 (CNA, 2014). The period when the global financial crisis hit our shores. Four years later, the amount of food wastage stabilised and returned to what it was before the economic downturn. Generally, during a recession, people would be more frugal and likely to be wary of their expenses. As the majority had limited to no access to disposable income, households tend not to buy more than what they eventually consume. Eating out or indulging in buffets would be less frequent as well. These may be contributing factors which led to the decrease in food waste per capita in 2008. According to a 2015 survey by the Straits Times, 90% of respondents feel that it was a waste of money to waste food. Driven by the motivation to not waste money, people would think twice before throwing away food. Similarly, when I am unable to finish food from the dining hall, I would be reminded of how much we paid for the meal plan. This forces me to finish up the portion I took, reducing food wastage on an individual level.

While I am considering whether to dispose of affordable and nutritious food, in contrast, 1 in 10 Singaporeans are food insecure. And supposedly we are the world’s best country for food security. The fact that there are many organizations which distribute purchased food suggests that it may lead to an oversupply. However, abundance does not necessarily imply that we are food secure. As shared in class, distributed food may end up not being consumed by beneficiaries. Either due to health considerations or simply because the supply is too excessive to the point that it is unable to be consumed before the expiry date. As such, I believe we should consider shifting our focus from distribution to redistribution instead. Redistribution is sustainable in the sense that we make do with existing resources, rather than generating new resources which may or may not be effectively utilised.

Despite ongoing efforts over the years, food waste/security remains rampant in Singapore. I find Mr Daniel Tay’s fresh perspective on this matter to be interesting. As the founder of SG Food Rescue, naturally, the end goal is to reduce substantial amounts of food waste. However, that was not the case for him. Rather than being caught up on achieving the outcome of alleviating food waste entirely, his focus is more on what can be done during the process. He hopes through what he is doing at present will be able to transform mindsets for more people to take initiative for change. As his motivation to keep going is the ease of access to free food and having fun while at it, he does not foresee himself to burn out anytime soon. Too many times we heard stories of people unable to sustain their goals/dreams due to the inability to achieve what they set upon themselves. As such, if we were to approach our aspirations the way Mr Tay approaches the food waste problem in Singapore, both process and outcome will hopefully be effective and sustainable in the long run.

Thoughts on food waste and insecurity in Singapore

Before our very first class, I formed a lot of preconceived notions about what this module was going to be about. My initial skepticism stemmed from food security and wastage being something that I had rarely heard about here in Singapore. However, within the first few weeks of class, I can say with certainty that a lot of my naïve and uninformed perceptions of the global food situation in Singapore and the world has indeed changed.
For topics like this, statistics are always an impactful way of portraying information. After some research on the Internet, an alarming number that I found was that our tiny island of Singapore, with a relatively small population of 5.8 million people, is already capable of generating over 810,000 tons of food waste in 2017. What’s more alarming is that this number is only poised to increase as the Singaporean populous grows.
810,000 tons is an overwhelming number. To put it in context, one ton of waste is enough to fill up a double-decker bus completely. This number has increased dramatically over the past 2 years. It was also found that Singaporeans in general waste carbohydrate items the most, with items such as rice and noodles being the most commonly discarded food items. This makes sense, as people generally tend to finish the other ingredients and side dishes since they tend to cost more and usually taste better.
However, in class, a statistic that piqued my interest was the amount of Singaporeans that were food insecure. According to the Global Food Security Index, which measures affordability, availability, quality and safety of food supply, Singapore is the world’s fourth most food secure nation. Yet, 1 in 10 Singaporeans still remain food insecure. According to a report from SMU’s Lien Centre for Social Innovation, rising food costs are squeezing household budgets. For families and individuals whom are already struggling, this will only further worsen their financial burden.
Alarmingly, the study found that over 76.9% of food insecure individuals were aged below 50, while the remaining 23.1% were respondents that were older. Statistics like this are alarming, but have also steered me towards some self-reflection. How does my own food waste contribute to this burgeoning problem in Singapore? And if I, as a single individual is already capable of wasting so much food, what about other larger stakeholders in the food supply chain?
To answer that question, our class was very fortunate to have been able to meet one of Singapore’s pioneers in this area. Some may call him a subject matter expert, others may even think that what he has done is taboo, but no one can contest with his research.
I first learnt about Mr Daniel Tay and what he has been doing through CNA. It was a short documentary on what he does as a freegan in Singapore, along with the discoveries that he finds by dumpster diving. The documentary shows how he conducts and leads this expeditions, where he brings people from all walks of life to dumpster dive. As a freegan, what initially drew him in was his curiosity on how he could reduce his expenses and thus, he started from food, by taking leftovers from his neighbors who to his surprise, were more than willing to give it to him.
Today, he has started several food rescues, such as Cooked Food Rescue and Veggie Rescue. These movements have a few hundred members whom have participated in these activities that are led by him. He shared about his many experiences, including how he overcame the initial stigma when he first started doing this. When I asked him about this, he responded,
“The biggest stigma that I faced has always come from myself. In fact, there is usually a big difference between what people thought of me and what I thought of myself.”
Indeed, that statement is very telling about his approach to being a freegan in Singapore. More importantly, it highlights the mindset of staying true to what he enjoys and believes in. Mr Tay took the first step to ask his neighbors for their leftovers and over time, it has translated into a local movement that seeks to reduce food wastage in Singapore.
Through his efforts, he has been documented by CNA and has even been approached by NEA to share about his research findings. His insight on the entire food supply chain in Singapore has been very eye-opening and has really challenged the mindset that I initially held about food waste in Singapore. To meet someone from a different walk of life was insightful and interesting at the same time. Personally, I really respect what Mr Tay is doing, because I knew if I were ever in his shoes, it would be challenging to convince myself to go against the grain of what society normally expects out of us.
Upon further reflection, I realize that I’m very fortunate to have more than enough food on my plate, but statistics show that food insecurity is still very real here. Business owners, wholesalers, retailers, supermarkets and individuals all have a part to play if we want to tackle this issue of food waste and insecurity.Thus, I’m looking forward to the coming experiences that I will participate in over the semester. I believe that the food volunteering session will be a practical and eye-opening experience for myself. As we progress through the semester, I’m eager to learn more about what has been done and what we can do to further improve this situation in Singapore.

Thoughts About Food Waste

When this module first started in week 2, I was filled with doubts because food security is not exactly a topic I am very knowledgeable in. However, as the lessons proceed, I am more and more comfortable with the content as I realize this topic is very closely related to our everyday life.
Food security and food wastage is not a foreign topic to us as we probably hear about it every day from TV, newspapers, and the Internet, but yet most of us are not fully aware of the consequence and severity of this issue (or we are aware but we do not know/care what to do about it). One of the reasons that I learned about throughout these weeks is that the statistics involved are hard for people to visualize. After all, who knows how much one ton of food waste is as we can’t see it in our lives. I recall that in the last semester, there was an initiative in the RC4 dining hall when the total weight of food waste per day is pasted on the walls. Initially, I thought it was a brilliant idea. However, the initiative did not have much impact judging by the statistics, and I believe one of the reasons it failed was that it did not help people visualize how much food that 40kg was. Hence, when we try to come up with strategies to bring about the desired model behavior, awareness is an important aspect that we cannot overlook.
When I started to pay more attention to the food waste situation in Singapore and talk about it with my friends, I realized that some forms of incentive/punishment might help. Since I have been staying in boarding schools since I came to Singapore 6 years ago, I have seen many strategies attempted by different hostels in an attempt to reduce food waste. For example, in ASC Boarding School, during the weekends (which is when many people tend to eat out or skip meals), there is a system for the residents to book their meals in advance. If they did not turn up for the meals they booked for or vice versa, a fairly small amount of fines is imposed. This system was complained by many residents as it was easy for them to forget, or there might be unforeseen circumstances. At the same period, the National Junior College Boarding School also implemented a similar system but without the fines. Guess which system worked out in the end? Though the effect is limited, the ACS Boarding School’s system worked to some extent while the NJC’s one failed. This shows that some incentive might work well in changing the behavior of a very hectic society (which makes it hard for them to devote much energy and effort into these kinds of initiatives).
I was astonished by Mr. Daniel Tay’s talk about his work in reducing Singapore’s food waste and journey to creating SG Food Rescue. One of his claims caught my attention. When someone asked him whether he would burn out due to the massive amount of work he has every day, Mr. Tay answered that he would not because he was doing this as a hobby, rather than being determined to a significant impact on Singapore’s food waste situation. I found it a little ironic because there are many people on the Internet claiming how much they care about the food wastage but did not take any action, and yet there are some, like Mr. Daniel Tay, who is actually doing something in alleviating the issue but always remain modest. I find this mindset especially useful for someone volunteering for social causes or even starting his/her voluntary organization. Being overly determined to make changes may not always yield the best in social work. We have to admit that it is almost impossible for an individual to make a huge impact on any social causes. Being determined to make a change is excellent as it drives us to take action. However, the more ambitious we are, probably the more disappointed we will get after realizing how insignificant our effort is in attempting to solve the problem. Hence, if we can treat reducing food waste as our hobby, and develop strategies that are both effective and interesting, our effort may sustain longer.
In general, I look forward to knowing more about food security and food waste in Singapore and how we may tackle them. I find there are many strategies in some western countries that work. However, even though Singapore is as developed as those countries, these strategies are not implemented here (or they failed here). Hence, I hope to know more about why certain strategies may not work here, so we can tackle the root cause and find solutions that can apply better here.

Welcome to the Class Blog of UTC2712

Dear Learners of UTC2712,

Welcome to your course blog web site.

Being an active system thinker requires us to develop strong reflective and self-regulated learning ability in order to understand the dynamism inherent in complex social problem and this blog is where we take time to hone our reflective ability. As one of the leadership gurus, John C. Maxwell once said …

It is my hope and wish that this blog will provide you with this opportunity to turn your learning experiences in this module into invaluable insights that will change your life forever.

For the purpose of nurturing this reflective and self-regulated learning ability in you, you are expected to blog five times throughout the semester and comments on at least two blog entries of your peersThe blog requirements are lighter before the term breaks but heavier as we dive deeper into the complexity of food security/food waste challenge in Singapore.

If reflection and blogging have not been something you normally would do comfortably, here is a simple way to help you to kick start it. See the Gibb’s reflective cycle as shown in the diagram below and the set of probing questions to guide your reflection process as cited in Dye (2011, p. 230).

One important thing that you need to be mindful of when blogging is I am not looking for a descriptive blog, i.e. you basically narrative every event that happens. If you do that, you will get very little marks for your blog (maybe even zero mark). To do well, you need to ask yourself how the experiences contribute to your learning and what insights do you discover in the process. It is this deep self-reflection that I want you to inculcate in you that I believe will make a significant difference to your life.

I have also deliberately left some of the blog entries of the previous batch of students here to help you see why it is so important for you to reflect, how you can do well in this module and what you can expect to learn out of this course (beyond just the grade). You can read all of them by selecting the category ‘Letter to Juniors’. If after reading through the blogs, you realize that this is not the kind of things that you want to put yourself through (since it will require you to invest a consistent amount of time every week), then maybe you should consider dropping the module.

Your blog participation will constitute 25% of your overall marks and so it is critical that you spend sufficient time to write a good reflection blog entry. If you face any challenges while doing so, please let me know in advance so that I can do something to help you. You will be assessed for your blog based on first by the number of blog entries/comments posted followed by the quality (based on a 100 mark scale) and they are listed below:

  1. 10 marks – Read and commenting on at least two blog entries written by others (Comments need to be insightful, constructive and thoughtful. One-liner comments like ‘I like your post’ will not count).
  2. 10 marks – for completing all 5 reflection blog within the specified deadline diligently (you will get zero mark for this portion if you fail to complete the required number of blogs in this section. You will be given one chance of not meeting the deadline, after which the penalty applies. Note this is an all or none allocation. i.e. if you complete all 5 blogs, you will get 10 marks. If not, you will get zero mark for this section.
  3. 5 marks – for blogging more than the required 5 blogs and comment on more than two posts
  4. 15 marks each – the quality of all your blog entries – This is defined by how insightful, constructive and thoughtful your blog entries are. The criteria to assess the quality of your blog entries are provided below. You will be provided with feedback on your blog entries on week 8 as an overall comment by me to the class and you are expected to enhance your reflection ability based on the feedback provided if it applies to you. Otherwise, it just means that you are doing fine.
Rubrics on Quality of Posting (As a Percentile of Allocated Marks)
Exemplary (90%-100%) Proficient (80%-90%) Developing (70%-80%) Unacceptable (<70%)
Comments/post always insightful & constructive; uses appropriate terminology. Comments/post balance between general impressions, opinions & specific, thoughtful criticisms or contributions. Writing from the heart and have strong evidence of deep learning. Comments/post mostly insightful & constructive; mostly uses appropriate terminology. Occasionally comments/post are too general or not relevant to the discussion. Writing from the heart and have good evidence of deep learning. Comments/post are sometimes constructive, with occasional signs of insight. Student does not use appropriate terminology; comments/post not always relevant to the discussion. Writing like it is reporting but with some evidence of deep learning. Post are uninformative, lacking in appropriate terminology. Heavy reliance on opinion & personal taste, e.g., “I love it”, “I hate it”, “It’s bad” etc. Writing like it is reporting without any evidence of deep learning.

The corresponding deadlines for each of the ‘milestone’ blog are shown below:

  1. 2 blogs – Due end of week 6
    • A reflection blog on any food waste/food security relating to what you have learned from the first six weeks of the module. It can be on your reflection on the food waste activist talk.
    • A reflection blog on any modeling challenge that you may be facing, what you have learned and how you intend to do to overcome them
  2. 1 blog – Due end of week 7
    • A reflection blog on your learning experiences with FoodBank volunteering. If you didn’t manage to go for this work, you can find out from your classmates who did and do desktop research on food waste and blog about it.
  3. 1 blog – Due end of week 12
    • A reflection blog on the LEGO(R) SERIOUS PLAY(R) experience, what you have learned from it and how the method has helped you become a better systems thinker
  4. 1 blog – Due end of week 13
    • A letter to your junior reflection blog – a letter to the next cohort of students advising them on
      • How to succeed in this module and why they should bother
      • Summarize what are the most valuable learning experiences to you and what they can expect to learn if they fully committed themselves to it, what advice on how to learn in the best way drawing from your personal experiences.
      • What are the most relevant skills that you have acquired and how you believe the skills can benefit your life and advise to them on how they can too develop these skills too.

You are expected to take around 1-2 hours to write each blog and there is no minimum or maximum limit on word counts. And please make sure you categorize your blog accordingly (create new category where necessary). Every post you made will be read by me and in some of them, I will provide my views and comments as well.

As your instructor, I will also lead by example by subjecting myself to the process of blogging as well. I may not clock as many blogs as required by you, but I will blog as often as I could.

It is essential that you participated actively in this blog and made this learning experiences not only meaningful for you but also take this opportunity to learn from each other and to develop strong self-regulated learning behaviors which will benefit you for life.

I am sure that this will be fun as well.

Your Brof,
Jenson

Tips and Trick on Brof’s Class!

Dear upcoming junior,

If you are reading my post right now, I assume you have been officially enrolled in this course. CONGRATULATIONS! You have made the best decision ever for your UTCP journey (no, I am not kidding, I will tell you why on the latter part of this blog, keep reading! :D). In this blog, I will tell you some tips and tricks on how to do well in this course (although at the end of the course, I can assure you that you will believe that grades won’t define but oh well, I know we are always looking for that A anyway), my unforgettable experience(s!!), and insights that I have gained through this module!

To start off, I can assure you that you will expect to gain knowledge on what you have read from the title of this course, “Hard to Secure Easy to Secure – Singapore’s Food Story”. You will uncover the ugly truth about food waste and food insecurity in Singapore. You will learn the difference between food waste and food loss (which I think is important if you want to recycle the right thing). You get to see how much is being wasted in Singapore and Brof will make you realize that food waste is truly a concerning problem in Singapore. On the other hand, you will also find out that few Singaporeans are still struggling to meet their recommended daily intake of food! Through this course, you will be revealed by so many facts on food security in Singapore and you will find out the ‘imbalance’ part between how much food that has been wasted and the number of food insecure people in Singapore. It is through this course I can truly see the real worth of food. And trust me, you will too!

If you also happen to check the assessment scheme required from this module and what you’ll do in this module, I can safely say that this module has a very unique grading scheme and this is where you’ll uncover so many great experiences from this module! To be frank, the workload required is not easy. It is a lot but no worries! I will lead you through

From Me to You – A Letter to the Juniors

Dear Juniors,

I assume that you would have finished your first lesson by the time you are reading this blog post. Right now, you are probably wondering “What did I just get myself into?”. Fret not, for I have been in the exact same situation as you 6 months ago. However, rest assured that your impression of this module would change over the course of these 13 weeks. Don’t believe it? Read on and find out what happened!

This is one of those modules that spells out “You work hard, you gain much” kind of mentality. Therefore, to succeed in this module, it is important to ensure that you put in sufficient amount of effort for this module. Consistent effort is crucial, and I find it particularly useful to go through what was covered on the day itself after the lesson, just so that you know what is going on. Also, it is important to clarify your concepts whenever you are unsure. This is especially in the case of Vensim. As we would all be aware of from our JS, learning Vensim is a cumulative process. If you do not understand the initial concepts in Vensim, it will be very difficult for you to catch up later on. Hence, feel free to stop Prof Jenson to clarify on the Vensim concepts.  Admittedly, I would say that this module has a rather large amount of work that needs to be done. However, before you close your tab and request to change your course, allow me the opportunity to show you why you should still bother and do it.

  • The Comprehensive Package

I believe that you would have saw the assignment components by now. Daunting isn’t it? While it might appear so, they are all designed to give you a complete package – a taste of everything, ranging from Vensim to reflections to interactive quizzes to poster presentation. Thus, taking this module would give you a flavor for everything, and more importantly allow you to benefit holistically as well. From the plethora of assessment modes, it will allow you to be more proficient in aspects such as report writing, poster designing and presentation skills. As they will most probably be required for your other modules in the future, why not start now?

  • Sense of fulfillment

Having mention how comprehensive it is, it wouldn’t be realistic if I told you that this module is an easy one. However, if you are up to the challenge and want to try a flavor of everything, you will be assured that the sense of fulfillment at the end of the journey will be immense! Seeing the model you create match the real world scenario and how the trend goes the way you expect is a feeling hard to forget!

  • Prof = Brof

Last but not least, Prof Jenson, which I shall address as Brof from now on, is like a brother to his students. He provides his contact to you during his first lesson and he ensures that he is available to help you with your query. I recalled that there was once where my group’s model had a feedback issue, and he spent 2 hours of his time at night helping us to rectify the feedback loop. With Brof, so long as you are willing to help yourself, he will definitely be there to help you.

Feeling pumped up? Now let me provide you tips on how you can go about tackling some of these seemingly daunting assignments.

If the structure of the module has not changed, the major grading components would include the quizzes, group project report, individual reflection report, as well as the poster presentation.

Quiz

Brof’s quiz has an unique twist to it, whereby you would be allocated 10 marks for each question, and you can split those 10 marks among the 5 options. Generally, there will be a correct answer but if you feel that your answer may be wrong, you can choose to justify in the space given below the question as well. You will be able to get credit so long as your justification is sound. To do well for the quiz, remember that you should always prepare beforehand. Typically, Brof would tell you which concepts will be covered for the quiz. Even though it is open book, some questions may be tricky. Prior reading will save you precious time in the quiz. Secondly, only split your marks when you are really unsure. While it is the safer bet to split your marks, doing it too often will lower your overall score drastically. Most importantly, only justify when you are unsure. Personally, I clarified most of my questions in front, which resultantly led to me having insufficient time to complete the quiz. Know which questions are ambiguous and spend more time on them justifying!

Group Project Report

The group project report, I believe is probably one of the toughest part of this module. You will have to complete a 5K word report, consisting of typical things like your literature review, dynamic hypothesis, stock and flow diagram etc. To do well for this component, it is extremely crucial to start early. Completing a 5k word report is no simple feat and you definitely will have to start early so that you have time to make fine adjustments. Also, always ask for a second opinion! As with all writing modules, you would often be too attached to your essay. Asking for a second opinion, be it from Brof or your other friends might give your group a refreshing point of view from another perspective.

Individual Reflection Report

The individual reflection report involves writing a minimum of 5 blogs on the blog that you’re looking at right now. To make your blogs more interesting and less narrative, write with your reader in mind. Think about how the person who is reading your blog post is going to feel. More importantly, write what you feel is true to yourself. It will only sound convincing if you believe in what you are writing.

Poster Presentation

Last but not least, the other major component is the poster presentation. To do well, know what you are presenting. As the poster is probably the barebone version of your report, you must know your report well, so that you can convey your message effectively. A technique which you can adopt, also learned from this module, is the Feynman Technique. Ensure that you can teach someone what you’re trying to convey in simple layman language. If you cannot, it probably means that you haven’t understood your content well enough.

As what they always say, leave the best for the last. Personally, I feel that the most Interesting part of the module is its element of interactivity with the outside world to draw relevance to what we have learned. The module includes 2 field trips, 1 to AVA and 1 Foodbank volunteering, as well as an expert sharing by Daniel Tay. Towards the end of the module, there would also be a LEGO Serious Play activity that promises to be filled with fun. I feel that these experiences are the ones that will really form the memories of the module, being able to firsthand experience things for yourself. Don’t believe that people in Singapore may be food insecure? Convinced that all food waste would merely be of subpar quality? Come on down and see for yourself!

All in all, this module promises to be an all-encompassing one. To do well, be sure you know what to expect and adapt as the assignments start to hit you. This is your one and only opportunity so don’t forget to have fun in the process! Having said that, I hope that you will enjoy the process and look back at them with fond memories. All the best for your future endeavors!


Friendships forged over 13 weeks (Source: Taken from Brof)

For the Last Time,
Paul Cheong

Trust me, this is one of the best SS offered in RC4

I know I know, some of the comments on Jenson might not sound appealing to many, but trust me. I know how you feel and I was reluctant to place this module as my top few priorities too.

As 13 weeks comes to an end, I can say with confidence that through communicating with my other peers, pursuing other SS, this SS is one of the most enjoyable, if not the best amongst all (at least for those that were offered in 2018/19 Sem 2). You might think to yourself that “Oh, this is just another usual vensim mod”, in fact, vensim plays only a small roll in this module.

Interesting & important content and skills in this course

The way Jenson approaches teaching system thinking is very unique as compared to other profs in RC4. He literally teaches you how to be a systems thinker instead of a vensim modeler (main selling point). This module is never dull and boring, you get to learn new and interesting things every lesson. He will always infuse “juicy” ways of teaching (I shall not spoil you all on them) to ensure that everyone gets to learn and be attentive in the lesson while keeping the lesson enjoyable. Beyond vensim, he also loves sharing life lessons and skills from himself or online to help you to path a better future for yourself. He will even bring you on field trips to have hands-on experience on food waste and food security issues in Singapore!

How to succeed in this course

1.Read the Assessment Components and all the grading rubrics provided by Jenson

How to score well? Simple, just find out on what basis are you assessed on. You have to make sure that you are able to meet his criteria of quality work in the things you submitted to him. If you don’t really understand what some of them means, approach or text Jenson, he’s a human and he wouldn’t bite you.

2. Be open to new ideas and experiences

I would say that his module is mostly based on exchanging ideas and opinions. He might even make you do things that you’ve never tried before (don’t worry none of them are bad). Thus, don’t be triggered when someone comes up with a different opinion than yours. Plus to get the full experience out of this course, you have to be open-minded and willing to accept changes to help you in understanding more things at a quicker rate.

3. Do not be afraid to speak up in class

Jenson class are structured in a way so that the classes are in an inclusive and safe environment for everyone to raise their own opinions without getting judged. There are never right or wrong answers in his SS class, any questions or opinions are acceptable in his class. Furthermore, through asking questions or raising your thoughts, you get to be more comfortable speaking up in public. Also, the whole class gets to learn a new perspective together through this event.

Tips from me!

1. Start your final project as early as possible

Whatever you are doing, even out of this module, it is understood that starting early is always better than starting near the due date. Especially when most of the works done in this course are in groups.

It is harder to produce quality work if you try to cramp everything to the end. It is much better if you start early, and have progressive improvements every week. Once again, don’t be afraid to reach Jenson when faced difficulties, based on my experience, his constructive input will greatly help you get out from the bottleneck in your project.

2. Pay attention and take notes in class

Don’t get me wrong, most of his classes are fun and interactive. However, regardless of the difficulty in content, you should always pay attention in his class, many things he mentioned during class can be valuable in your future when it comes to modeling in vensim or some helpful general skills. On top of that, it is much easier to revise and refer to during your quizzes or assignments due.

3. Take notes of the details in class that you might include in your blog post requested by Jenson

I often find myself struggling to write a comprehensive blog post as compared to my peers. One of the main reason might be due to me not being aware of the details that could have been recorded down somewhere during class to help myself. In fact, you can plan out the details for your blog post as soon as he uploaded the assessment components. Be ready to record down important events happened or learned in class.

Overall, this module proves to be enjoyable to me, as long as you are willing to step out from your comfort zone and willing to open up to new experiences in his class. Oh and one last thing, don’t be too worried on your vensim model in your final project, Jenson believes that “what matters most is the thought process of formulating ideas into your vensim model, not the complexity of the model” (quoted from our one and only brof in RC4).

A Letter

Hello Juniors! Welcome to the class of Singapore Food Story. Before coming to this class, I’m pretty sure you must have heard from your seniors or friends about how nasty the workload is – 5 reflection blogs, 1 project proposal, 1 final proposal, 2 quizzes, 1 poster, 2 site visits. On top of that, there are some (non-)compulsory extra readings to enrich your knowledge regarding food security and modelling. If the workload does not deter you, maybe the Vensim might. Imagine doing your JS, but this time with no prior specific topic or variables or constant values or equations given to you. You choose your own topic, find your own variables, make your own values, and link them up in any way you want them to be. However, if you are in for the challenge and would like to improve yourself in terms of soft skills and hard skills, then you better stay on for the rest of the semester and enjoy the ride.

Truthfully, this module was not my first choice and I had ever considered dropping it. Well I’m glad that I didn’t. To those of you who are considering whether to continue or drop this module, there are several takeaway points that makes this class very special and important in my opinion.

First, Jenson’s class encourages critical thinking and analyzing skills because there are no textbook answers to follow. During the class quiz, the only thing certain is the uncertainty of each question. Even if your answer is not the same as the marking scheme, Jenson might still accept your answer given a strong enough justification. While this method of learning departs from the usual in-class teaching and learning activities, I find the uncertainty in this module as an important aspect that mimics what the real world is all about.

Second, Jenson emphasizes on the importance of playing while learning. A unique session in this module was the Lego Serious Play, which incorporates Lego playing with model building. To me, not only did I have fun while learning, Lego Serious Play also taught me of mindfulness in my actions, since every brick that I place on my model must have a meaning to it. Furthermore, for someone like me who has never fiddled with Lego before, I had the chance to play with a variety of exquisite Lego bricks to build some interesting models that I never imagined doing.

Third, taking this module reminds me to appreciate the things that I have and empathize with the less fortunate people. In this world where we strive to achieve our goals, such as getting good grades and having a good career, it is so easy to just focus on ourselves, and forget that there are people out there who need our help. With such a developed country like Singapore, I still find it hard to imagine that there are people who cannot place food on their table readily, and volunteering with FoodBank exposed me to reality. Not only did we witness the amount of fresh, nice-looking, salvageable goods that were readily thrown away, we also directly delivered these items to the needy people such as the elderly. An added bonus in doing volunteering work is that it makes your heart go warm and fuzzy J.

Fourth, one of our assignment requirements was to do a reflection about the main topics of this module. Through this, it makes me understand more about myself and gleaned some implicit messages that are often missed out. While the 5 compulsory reflection blogs seem very tedious at first, writing them actually helps to solidify my thoughts and improve the efficiency of our thought process. The world, especially with technology, is moving so fast these days and doing a reflection of our thoughts is a good way to sit back, relax, and just think.

Fifth, Jenson’s class provides many opportunities for us to train our soft skills, such as the group projects and the spontaneous presentations during class. At the end of this module, not only do I obtain valuable skills, but also good friends that I met in this module, and a teacher that I can depend on for help.

To those of you who have decided to stay, welcome onboard! At first glance, your main concern must be about the workload and the teacher. Fret not, because all the assignments are actually dispersed evenly throughout the whole semester and Jenson will actually advice you about when you should start doing the assignment. The assignments are actually pretty good considering that you are actually only recapping what you learn in class, which brings me to the next tip that I think is very useful and important for you. Please, do listen in class instead of texting your friends or playing your phone. The class time has been designated for your learning time, and if you don’t listen to what Jenson is saying, then you’ll have to go back and revise again, which is extra effort. The easiest way to learn is just to listen in class and ask questions, not by adding your own workload with self-revisions.

As for the teacher, Jenson is a friendly and attentive Brofessor that you can ask help from any time.  My group had even asked for his help on the eve of submissions, and through his help we managed to pull through (thank you Brof for your help and guidance!).

To end off, I would like to encourage you to take this module, because it is really worth your time and effort. Furthermore, you’ll never be alone in this learning process, since you’ll have your friends when doing the group project together and Brof to help you at times of need!

 

[Letters to Juniors] This the end of my journey, will it be the start of yours?

Now as the semester is coming to an end, so has my journey in this module. However, this will not be the end for my journey exploring food waste and food security in Singapore. I am sure that many of you will have heard things from your seniors regarding this module: high workload, huge commitment, UNCERTAINTY. I’ll tell you right now that all those words are TRUE, but with a side note: you will learn a lot from this module. For me, despite knowing the consequences of taking this module, I still went ahead and took it. It wasn’t because of the challenge (it certainly is challenging mind you, balancing this module together with all your core modules will be a nightmare), but it was because of the huge variety of life lessons that you will be able to learn from this module. Do not be traumatized by Vensim or the huge workload, for the rewards that this module provide is well worth it. The experiences and opportunities that Brof Jenson will provide you will prove invaluable in not just your student life in NUS but probably throughout your entire life.

Let me cut to the chase on what this module expects you to deliver: Blog posts, Reflections, Poster Presentation and a final Project (and Paper of course)

To be honest, if you are a consistent learner who puts perhaps 2 hours everyday to this module, you will have a much easier time that I had. But that doesn’t mean that you cannot do it! this module truly drags you out of your comfort zone, but with the warm guided hands of Brof Jenson 😊 . Without any guidelines or any references, you really have to create ideas that are uniquely yours, especially during the really fun LEGO session. Throughout the module, there isn’t any drilling of ideas or statistics of food waste and food security. All the content that you will be learning will be learnt through hands on sessions, either through reflections or actually experiencing it first-hand. The homework that is expected of you may seem daunting to you at first, but grades isn’t all that matters. Open up your mind and accept new ideas with open arms and you will find yourself learning, not just about food waste but also on how to be a better person or a better presenter. 

There will be ample opportunities to present your ideas. It may not be to the entire class but to a small group of people, but you will have to share the thought process and your end product nonetheless. Do not treat it as a chore but treat every presentation as an opportunity for you to practice actual presentations. What Brof will provide you is a safe environment for you to learn and experiment with different things, so feel free to do so! If you treat every presentation as a test instead of a learning experience, then you are not truly experiencing what Brof is trying to achieve for every student that takes his module. I was a introverted and soft spoken person when I attended the first lesson of this module, and it was only afterwards that I realised that I am not alone, that there are many in my class that were facing the same problems and fears as me. Therefore, do not fear that you will be alone for there will always be another student feeling the same way as you!

What can you expect from this module? Field trips, free vegetables (maybe?) 

I am sure that this is something that most seniors will not have told you! You will get the opportunity to go to a wholesale distribution center and help out organisations like Foodbank in collecting unwanted food from wholesale distributors in order order to give them away to certain households in Singapore who are in need of food or are food insecure. If you are lucky, you may even get to grab some free vegetables back to RC and cook! Not just that, you get to go on a field trip to AVA and learn about how they ensure that food in Singapore is generally safe for consumption! These field trips allowed me to learn more than any classroom could offer, by seeing and participating first hand in such field trips I was able to understand the magnitude of Singapore’s food waste problem.

You will have seen that throughout my post, I did not mention about Vensim at all. Before you rejoice, yes this module requires Vensim still. However, do not be alarmed or daunted as if there was anything that you are unsure about, Brof will certainly guide you. Moreover, an important lesson taught to me by Prof was that grades is not all that matters, what matters are the learning process and the takeaways from the lessons and how you apply them to become a better person. Therefore, do not be scared of Vensim!

At the end of the day, I will end my letter by assuring all of you that this module is worth taking. Do not be daunted by the scary workload and Vensim, for there is something greater that is awaiting you to be uncovered in this module. The lessons, especially from the StoriesInSTClass sessions, are invaluable and not taught anywhere else. Last but not the least, find enjoyment in this module! Everything will seem dull, empty and pointless but only when you put your heart into it and like this module (which is honestly not hard given that Brof is very friendly and there is little to no consequences making mistakes in class), you will find that this module is very enjoyable and you will be able to learn a lot like me!

ALL THE BEST!

#ReflectionsFromSSClass: From Me To You: A letter to the future cohort

Let me guess what you are thinking about now as you read this. Vensim? 3 hours lesson every week? Thinking of SU-ing this module before it has even begun? That’s fine, we have all been there before. I recall vividly during the first lesson, when Jenson told us to write down our biggest fears coming to class, it truly showed on the projector screen: VENSIM was the biggest words plastered on it. (It was comforting to realise that I was not the only one worried about Vensim at that point). Before you read this blog, take a 2 minutes break. Let go of any expectations you have of yourself, and read the rest of the blog with an open mind.

Let me warn you, this module is only for you, if you are a consistent worker. And if you are not one, do put in effort to be; it will pay off. Pay off in terms of grades? Nah. The learning process in this module has honestly thought that me it’s not the grades that matter the most. Then, is the knowledge of how to ensure food security, and what we can do as an average Singaporean to mitigate food waste, the greatest takeaway from this module? Yes, but not the main point I am trying to make. The greatest takeaway I truly had from this module, one that I apply even to daily life now, is to think from a broader perspective; to comprehend the complicated interconnectedness of the systems in this world, scaling it down to multiple subsystems that we can understand.

What to expect in class

Presentations. Poster. Projects. The three Ps that will probably daunt you.

Be willing to step out of your comfort zone; forming ideas is one aspect of the class. Presenting it to the class convincingly is another completely. It was truly heart-warming to witness introverts and soft-spoken people in the class to open up, to share their ideas. As the weeks progressed, I too became more vocal, as I realised discussion among peers is one of the best ways to learn. As for the poster and project, I will talk more about it below!

Blogs

Honestly, I am one to talk a lot; but if anyone had told me to write blogs before this lesson, I would have straight up ignored them and would have just replied “Sorry, I don’t really have the time for that”. But ever since this class began, and we had to write blogs, I genuinely enjoyed it so much that I actually update my own personal blog as a self-reflective process. Expect about 6 blogs over the course of 13 weeks. As you sit down in front of your laptop, pondering how to write blogs; just remember this: blogs are a tunnel; connecting your inner thoughts , then being sent out for the world to read. Everything you write comes from within, and I strongly believe that words are the shaped form of a person’s believes and ideologies. Take a firm stand and believe in what you write. Be honest to yourself, that is how learning occurs.

I’ll be honest; when I first came into class, I kept thinking: “How can I secure an A in this class?” (Just like in every other class, honestly, who doesn’t?). I still remember my first blog “How I secured an A in this class” But over time, I realised that I was initially depriving myself of the learning process. While I do understand that at the end of the day, as university students, the grades matter, I urge you to enter the class with an open mind; one willing to absorb new perspectives. I am not exaggerating when I claim that Jenson’s passion for food security and food wastage issues has rubbed off on most of us in one way or another (in a good way of course!).

 

How to learn, not WHAT to learn matters

A lot of information will be passed from Jenson to you in just a span of 3 hours. We are not superhumans; our memory can only contain so much. So I encourage you to take consistent notes, keep a Google Doc solely for this module for note-taking purposes. Review each notes after each lesson, for that is when memory is best retained; and doing so helps to solidify the lesson learnt. This not only helps for class quizzes, but also for your project.

Secondly, it does not matter if you are an arts student, a science student or even a biz student! The moment you tell yourself you can’t do it, before it has even started, you have already lost half of the war. We are all learners learning along the way, and the best way to go far is to go together; help your peers along this journey, and accept help when needed. This would immensely help you in your project and poster presentation!

 

To conclude, I would just like to end off with two words: “reflective” and “iterative”. While this does apply to Vensim in order to continuously improve on the system dynamics we learn throughout the entire module, I also took it to heart, for it should apply to every learning journey we embark on. But I don’t want to spoil it for you by explaining what these two words mean; that is something you have to experience it for yourself. Just remember, even if you forgot to bring your notepad, or your laptop to class, you will learn far much more by just bringing an open mind willing to learn new perspectives into class. Enjoy learning!

 

With the warmest of regards,

Shaheel

Drop out of this module if you wish to regret

This post acts as my letter to the next cohort of students.

As per the title, I recommend all who have enrolled into it to see through to the end of this module. UTC2712 holds dear to my heart in AY 19 Sem 1 because most of my mods this semester had been daunting, excruciatingly taxing and even boring to a certain extent. I cannot say the same for this module. Through this module, my system thinking had strengthened, Vensim capabilities had deepened and outlook on food (and life) in Singapore had broadened. Some of you may think this post is biased, maybe due to “graduation goggles”, but bear with me to understand my logic and advice if you truly wish to make the most out of the curriculum. 

How to succeed:

“Seek comfort in the uncomfortable” . Follow that phrase as you journey through this module under the guidance of Brof (Jenson). As you introduce more discomfort into your life, the more your comfort zone will expand and it is a whole lot more valuable than your cozy zone. Discomfort is subjective to everyone. Some find discomfort in speaking aloud, some find discomfort in Vensim and some find discomfort in making friends. Generally, these are the discomfort you should aim to seek as it will bring great value to you in this module and as a person. Brof acted as our lighthouse to guide us through the vast unknown as we had challenge ourselves in learning new things. For that, I am grateful. In my case, I feared Vensim. Previously, I could barely grasp the concept of the dimensions for each variable. So I made notes on Brof’s Vensim classes which were around the 2nd half of this module. I asked questions whenever I was unsure and at the end of the class. I searched through the help manuals for equations I wasn’t sure of. Now, I am happy to say that I am comfortable in using Vensim and I have my Stock and Flow Diagram from my project to prove it. (Was a team effort but I spearheaded it :)). Likewise for you, pursue your discomfort and never hesitate to ask Brof for help.

Okay, now is some real advice if you want to get that big A:

  1. Read John Sterman’s article
    The first few lessons are introductory which are fine but it’ll be where you begin to read some of the very important readings like John Sterman’s article. I can’t stress enough the importance of Sterman’s article. It is pretty much the starting foundation of learning modelling. Once you understand this article, whatever Brof teaches, reinforces your learning and becomes second nature to you. Modelling was the most interesting and important content in my opinion for this course which is exactly why reading Sterman’s article is the first point. Vensim is the TOOL to assist you in modelling, remember that.                                                              Good-looking John Sterman
  2. Pay attention and take notes
    Brof’s classes are actually quite entertaining. Don’t fall victim to opening another tab to use social media or watch videos. Stories, life lessons, Singapore’s food crisis and values are shared in each of his class. Unlike other modules, paying attention in his class truly sparks your thinking without wrecking your brain too much :). As you listen, take notes which could also be drawn from his slides which are very informative. The benefit of his slides is being able to summarize and screenshot important points when learning the process of modelling and Vensim. Summarized notes are much easier to facilitate your revision when required for your quizzes or projects. By completing this point, half the battle is won in achieving that A.

                                                                 Paying attention in class
  3. Take note of details you want to add in your blog posts
    At the start of the module, the requirements and details for blog posts are informed beforehand. During the activity for each blog post, take note of details you can add to reflect upon in your blog. For example, a blog post was required on the Lego Serious Play. During the Lego Serious Play, I paid particular attention in the intentions of building the Lego models. As originally, I was skeptical of the whole concept of playing with Legos to learn. However, by understanding the intention of each task and noting it down, I was able to reflect upon it in the coming days. For someone like me, I require a couple of days to reflect critically on the activities carried out. Noting the details down allowed me to refresh my mind when I choose to write the blog post a couple days after the event. Now this may seem trivial, but considering blog posts act as a relatively significant percentage of your overall grades, it is advisable to put effort into it.

That concludes my advice on getting an A. NOW IF U WANT SOMETHING HIGHER THAN AN A, LIKE AN A+, do everything of the above and ENJOY THE MODULE. Honestly, when you enjoy this module, the grade attained is just a complement to the interesting life lessons and values you learn in this class. I could tell you what these life lessons and values are, but I think it’ll be more fun for you to experience it for yourself in this module. 🙂

 

 

Taking this UTC/UTS?

If you’re reading this….. It’s not too late to bail!! (This has to be week 1 into the semester or maybe even earlier)

I am writing this to warn you of challenges you will definitely face if you take this module.

Challenge #1

Group work. It’s not that I have troubles with my group mates but surely you have to be prepared to work as a team! What’s the catch with working in a group in this SS then? The work load is manageable if and only if:

  1. you work as a team
  2. exercise due diligence to be very consistent regardless of whether you are good in vensim
  3. work around your strengths and weaknesses to overcome hurdles as a group(being transparent really helps!)

If you fail to do any of these throughout the 13 weeks then be prepared to have your work snowball and it will definitely go wrong. Have faith in your seniors because this module is not meant to be a solo project and I have been through the 13 weeks with brof.! You will find this module enjoyable because it’s definitely challenging(not brutal), anything non-vensim is an eye opener, working as a team is definitely made more interesting and if you want to better yourself as a person then you will enjoy this module.

Challenge #2

Uncertainties. Lots of it and when I mean uncertainties, it’s simply exploring what you are unsure of. I took this module because I really wanted to know the situation of food in Singapore and it’s from the things you wish to find out that pivots your final project. From identifying the problem to getting to know your stakeholders and figuring out the underlying issues, the process is guaranteed a long and tedious one. This process does not guarantee that you’ll find the answer to the problem but each time you do so, the picture becomes clearer. Trust the process of bringing information to the table and what brof. tells you. There is no such thing as the most ideal way to fetch what you need to better understand your problem; have faith in the process and learn to be comfortable with uncertainties. 

Challenge #3

Demand. With group work and uncertainties coming into play, it is not possible to figure out what is enough to get that ‘A’. Don’t be too fixated on doing what is enough. Ask yourself what can you do better! If no one pushes you, you have to push yourself to do better. There is no such thing as the best model or the best project proposal as every project is unique; the only yardstick for your project is yesterday.

If you are still unsure whether to take this module… Let me assure you that you will definitely learn new things. I think if you’re someone who would like to learn something new then this is definitely the module for you. All these being said, be prepared to learn a thing or two about vensim no matter how much you hate it! After all, you are doing systems thinking in food waste and food security. Whatever brof. has in class, I’d strongly suggest you to consolidate your learning after each lesson! This really helped in enforcing my understanding in vensim as I really had no clue what each of the function in the software does till I went about checking my understanding after the lesson. Recalling what you did in JS might help in this module but what you really need is taking a leap of faith into things you can never be too sure of. This module has very high emphasis on group work so you have to get to know you group mates better!

 

After taking this module, I’ve learnt quite a number of things and I’ll attempt to summarise them here:

  1. We are all blissfully ignorant of the problems in the world and this module gives you the exposure you need to know
  2. Do not attempt to do things without having a concrete plan
  3. Group work if done right saves the day
  4. Never be too satisfied with whatever you have completed
  5. Appreciate everything that happens to you- even the things that don’t happen to you or even to the unfortunate things that may happen to you

TLDR; take everything in this ss seriously even though you may have already learnt in in JS and don’t ever give up!

To the future cohort:

This module will make you feel even more uneasy peering into the trash bin designated for left over food in the dining hall.

Jokes aside, this module will make you feel so much more than that (yes, you will feel actual emotions reading this mod as opposed to just going through the motions!); it will make you feel empathy for those who are less food secure than yourself, it will make you feel fortunate and privileged that you do not need to worry about where your next meal is coming from, it will make you feel that it is okay to make mistakes, and that no opinion is more valid than another. Most importantly, it will make you feel curious.

As 13 weeks come to a close, I feel no regrets choosing to read this module as my SS. Throughout the semester, not only did I learn more about food waste and food security in Singapore, Jenson has also infused life lessons through #StoriesinSTclass and his own sharing. In this mod, you get to experience MORE Vensim, be taught by a passionate prof who truly cares about his students, do volunteering work, take a field trip, and play with Lego, all while learning at the same time. If this is not part of the quintessential RC4 experience, I don’t know what is.

There are so many things that I want to share with you in this post, and so for better organisation, I will be dividing it into parts.

Playing to learn

Jenson tries to infuse as much fun as he can into class for us to learn better. Besides his occasional games in class (I shall not say too much spoil the fun for you), there is also Lego Serious Play. For me, LSP was one of the most fun and creative activities in a module I have ever taken part in. It is not everyday that you get to play with a wide variety of Lego blocks in class in the name of education. Not only did I have a lot of fun, I also benefitted immensely in terms of consolidating all the knowledge we have learnt in class. You will find this especially enriching if you are a kinaesthetic learner, but you will still learn a lot while having fun regardless of your preferred learning style.

Out of class learning (FoodBank and AVA)

You might probably think that the trips to FoodBank and AVA will be a big fat waste of time. Looking back on how much I have learnt beyond the four walls of SR1 and 2 (and 4), I am ashamed to admit that it was the mindset I had too.

Learning all the theory and statistics on food waste and food security in Singapore in class may make it seem like those issues are distant, and that we are not part of the issue at all. However, I have learnt that this is untrue – we are either part of the problem, or part of the solution. Food waste exists everywhere, in school canteens and our very own dining hall, and the only reason that we never think about food security is because we are fortunate enough to never have to worry about it.

Through the volunteering experience with FoodBank, it really opened my eyes to the sheer number of food insecure people in Singapore, the most food secure country in the world. They no longer exist as mere statistics on a website, but they are people just like us, our parents and our grandparents.

The AVA trip taught me about all the behind-the-scenes work that has to be done for us to be able to have a steady supply and a wide variety of nutritious food. The safety standards are extremely stringent, and whole consignments of food get rejected over one substandard sample. Knowing all the work that goes into getting food into Singapore and onto our tables further disincentivised me from wasting food.

Tips

After sharing so much about the module, you might be wondering if I have any tips to share. Having gone through a semester reading this module, here are the tips that I have gathered:

1. Start early!!!

It is very difficult to produce high-quality work if you rush it out last minute. The nature of modelling and writing reflection blogs is centred around iterative learning. For the modelling process, this means that you are going to have to make small improvements as time passes and you come up with more ideas or go for consultations; it is hard to produce a good model in one sitting. For reflective blog posts, it is actually quite therapeutic to sit down and think about what you have learnt and experienced, and how you can apply it in your life.

Since this module is largely project-based, you can spread out your workload over a longer period of time — take advantage of that! The deadlines that Jenson sets are also really reasonable, and it leaves you with enough time to complete the project well while juggling  other commitments and modules.

2. Be open to new experiences

In this module, you will be experiencing many new things; try not to view these as a waste of time! An experience is as meaningful as you make it out to be. When you go in with an open  mind, it will be much more enjoyable for you, and you get to learn more at a quicker rate!

3. Do not be afraid to speak up

One of Jenson’s goals is to create a safe environment for everybody to share their opinions without the fear of getting judged. In his SS class, there are no invalid opinions, and there are no questions too stupid to ask. Through asking questions and voicing out your opinions, you get to learn to be more comfortable with speaking up while getting your questions answered at the same time. Furthermore, your classmates will also benefit from added perspectives.

In conclusion, this has been an extremely eye-opening and rewarding module, and I urge you to take full advantage of the environment and opportunities Jenson provides for his students! He can build the stage, but he cannot force you to dance on it.

A small letter for the upcoming junior!

Dear upcoming juniors,

If you are reading my post right now, I assume you have been officially enrolled in this course. CONGRATULATIONS! You have made the best decision ever for your UTCP journey (no, I am not kidding, I will tell you why on the latter part of this blog, keep reading! :D). In this blog, I will tell you some tips and tricks on how to do well in this course (although at the end of the course, I can assure you that you will believe that grades won’t define but oh well, I know we are always looking for that A anyway), my unforgettable experience(s!!), and insights that I have gained through this module!

To start off, I can assure you that you will expect to gain knowledge on what you have read from the title of this course, “Hard to Secure Easy to Secure – Singapore’s Food Story”. You will uncover the ugly truth about food waste and food insecurity in Singapore. You will learn the difference between food waste and food loss (which I think is important if you want to recycle the right thing). You get to see how much food is being wasted in Singapore and Brof will make you realize that food waste is truly a concerning problem in Singapore. On the other hand, you will also find out that few Singaporeans are still struggling to meet their recommended daily intake of food! (yes, I am also shocked at first and I couldn’t imagine how this problem is in another country, which can be so much worse) Through this course, you will be revealed by so many facts on food security in Singapore and you will find out the ‘imbalance’ part between how much food that has been wasted and the number of food insecure people in Singapore. It is through this course, I can truly see the real worth of food and start perceiving it more instead of taking food as granted. And trust me, you will too!

If you also happen to check the assessment scheme required from this module and what you’ll do in this module, I can safely say that this module has a very unique grading scheme and this is where you’ll uncover so many great experiences from this module! To be frank, the workload required is not easy. It is a lot but no worries! I will lead you through each important assessment and what are the key points that you should do in order to do well in this course!

This course requires you to have a quiz, group project report, individual blog, and poster presentation at the end of the course. Moreover, I would safely say that this is the only module in RC4 that will facilitate you to have a chat with food waste expert (for my cohort, its Daniel Tay! He is very inspiring and you will be amazed on how he actually started his project that leads to making a big change for food waste problem in Singapore!), volunteering works, industry visit, and my favorite part from this course… LEGO SERIOUS PLAY!

In order to succeed in this course, you have to do a very consistent amount of work throughout the semester. If you assess the assessment required by Brof carefully, he does not put one heavy percentage in one assessment. Instead, he spread it nicely so that you take every assessment seriously (we all know the guilty of chiong-ing everything at the end of the semester but no, not in this module kiddo). Which in my opinion, I am very thankful for this. Why? Because by putting a small amount of good quality effort each and every week for this module will actually allow you to gain more understanding and will appreciate more the knowledge that you have gained in this course. Moreover, I think this kind of spread is very nice and fair for students, just in case you are not “skilled’ enough for one assessment, you can still make it up in other assignments. I think Brof makes it very clear that he applies ‘fair assessment’ for everyone. So no worries! Brof will not assess the ability of a fish by how skilled a fish is in climbing a tree 😀

Additionally, in this course, you also have to train your reflection skill. Instead of treating every project or assessment of as a one-time thing, you should look deeper than that. Is it worth trying? How does this change you? How does this has improved you? Which of the things from this event you wish you could change? In this way, you can get to know yourself better. You know what works for you and what is not. That’s why writing blog (including this post!) is a part of our assessment as well. See? It is really fun! :D. Not only it ensures you that you have to have a deep reflection for yourself, but writing blogs, in a way, can help to improve your writing skills as well which is a plus point as well!

You also have to listen very carefully and take information that is useful for you rather than just dumping everything into one. Just like what they say, take everything with a pinch of salt! Along the way, in this course, you have to be comfortable with obtaining data from various sources and decide what is really worth to be considered. And trust me, this is very useful as well to be applied in another module! This way, you get to study more effectively. Please make the best use of the expert’s talk, volunteering works, and industry visit (in my cohort, we went to AVA!) to extract as much information as you can! This is the only chance where you will get to experience the reality of food waste and food insecurity problem in Singapore.

At the beginning of the course, Brof will also warn you how this course is full of uncertainties. I was very skeptic at first because I know that uncertainties are definitely not my cup of tea. However, I decided to stay still and face this out of my comfort zone journey. That’s why you should learn how to accept and appreciate your teammates in your group project. I don’t know whether you are a type of person who works well in a group or not, but in order to finish the war (not really, jk HAHA) in this module, you gotta be comfortable working in a group and communicate in your group! Most of the assessments are group work (even the quiz!). And for the vensim part? Don’t be worried. Vensim is definitely one thing I am not comfortable to start with but no worries, Brof will guide you very patiently! And since everyone comes with a different background in vensim, I can safely say that your classmates (especially your group mates! they will stick with you until the end of the semester!) will always be there to help you overcome any difficulties in vensim! Additionally, it is important to note that this course is not about vensim. Vensim is just a tool to help you ease the problem of modeling. What’s important is how you articulate the problem and how you can use the best and train your system thinking to find a solution (in food waste and food insecurity, which will be the case for your group project!).

You will have to be challenged enough throughout this course. Through Lego Serious Play session, you will feel so much confusion and overwhelmed at one point of time. However, don’t stop! You have to keep going and push yourself until you reach a limit you never know you are capable for. Although it is challenging, LSP really helped me to see the problem in a more concrete way. It allows me to visualize the problem and I can really see “sensitivity analysis” being applied by just playing around with the model that we have built. You will be amazed by Brof seriously. I mean, I still am. I think he has done a pretty good job in bringing Lego for this course and makes it work very effectively. This session really allows me to internalize the problem which helps my group to work on our project!

All in all, aside from technical terms, I think this module has taught me so many things outside my expectations. All the outings really bonded the relationship of my classmates and me. Moreover, brof also inspired me to do more volunteering work since that volunteering work with FoodBank and indeed I am doing it for this upcoming summer! :”) I am very happy that I decided to take this module at the beginning of this year because I get to know Brof who is very passionate about teaching us and treat us very fairly. All the group project that brof has given us also allows me to make more friends (since we spend so many times in SR4 in the last 2 weeks to finalize our poster, hehe). Seriously, you can message Brof at anytime, and he will help you right away. Just ask him away and he is always there for you (he legit helped my group to figure out the error that we encountered in our model).

Most importantly, this module also taught me that you are good as long as you ensure that your existence can truly be beneficial for people around you.  

 

The last two word game for you, Brof? GOOD JOB! You truly make your absence felt :D.

THANK YOU GUYS FOR THE RIDES IN THE PAST 13 WEEKS! I AM SIGNING OUT <3

 

 

 

 

Take me out of the oven because I am done

In the midst of the chaos that is studying for finals, I pause and think carefully how exactly I should go about writing this final blog.

I’ve never considered myself as one who’s good at giving advice, so this blog post was a little of a hurdle to write. When you think you’re giving advice to someone else, it’s actually just you talking to yourself in the past rather than that someone – or so I read in a book once. Therefore, what I deem as “advice” might not apply to everyone, since things that might have been useful to me may not be so for others. Hopefully I’ll be able to make some sense in the following paragraphs.

I think it would be difficult to sum up the feelings I’ve experienced over this past 13 weeks of sitting in SR1-2 every Monday evening. There were happy moments, but there were also frustrating moments. However, all in all, I still think this would be a module I wouldn’t mind choosing again if I had to. The workload might be hectic, but at least I can confidently say that I’ve been learning in this module. I also really appreciate the thought and effort Jenson puts into his lessons. It’s really refreshing to see an educator passionate about connecting with their students among a university of lukewarm lecturers (at least in my other modules). Therefore, I say that even though the workload may be relatively more than in other SS classes, if you truly want a learning experience out of university, do take on this module in earnest. Make your tuition fees worth it!

Having said that though, maybe you’re still worried. How’s the workload? Well, I think if you manage your time well and don’t leave things till the last minute, it should be fine – I felt that the deadlines were well spread out, and even though it’s more busy towards the last weeks, these deadlines should have been provided at the start of the semester which would’ve given you plenty time to plan ahead. Is it difficult? I personally don’t think it is, since Jenson is pretty enthusiastic in helping students so you can just ask him when you have doubts. As long as you pay attention in class and take the activities seriously, it should be manageable. Personally, I also feel that having a constantly open and inquisitive mind is important. This is a module that doesn’t spoonfeed you the answers for every single question but rather is filled with uncertainties that you yourself need to reflect on and think about.  And I think it’s good in the sense that there isn’t one fixed answer to a problem, and it helps train our reflective abilities and critical analysis, i.e. it’s the process of learning that counts over whether something is right or wrong. Something so ambiguous might be hard to get used to, but I think it’s worth getting used to. So often we find ourselves lost in trying to achieve the right answer but forgetting about the process.

You should also be pretty stoked to be in this mod because you get to do exciting things like take a 2h trip down to Lim Chu Kang (read: the middle of nowhere) and find out more about how Singapore regulates food! I think the learning journeys were quite impactful and memorable, as they truly provided a first-hand experience getting to see what exactly goes on with food behind the scenes in Singapore and where food waste could potentially occur. FoodBank volunteering was a meaningful event where we helped redistribute food that would’ve been wasted otherwise to families who’d need it. There was also the guest speaker Daniel Tay who talked about the concept of dumpster diving, and what he shared was really interesting – a perspective that I wouldn’t have thought of myself, therefore I’d say it’s worth a listen (even if you don’t agree with him in the end). Not forgetting also the Lego Serious Play session, which would probably end up quite a fond memory to me as well: the me who was thrown into the lion’s den and totally not expecting lego to help my learning in any way ended up being pleasantly surprised. Beyond this, I won’t spoil too much for now. But basically, I found this mod quite happening compared to the previous SS I took, so it’s been fun for me!

For myself the most significant skill I’ve learnt from this mod is the skill of self-reflection. When we were first told to write blogs in Week 1, it felt kind of like a primary school thing to do and I was like meh lame, but I couldn’t be happier to admit that I was wrong. I really enjoyed having the freedom to write in these blogs, and I appreciated that the style of writing was relatively informal (what with all the smiley faces and funky titles the others have used). Also, it goes without saying that the blogs really helped to consolidate my learning and truly think through constantly about what I’ve gone through during my SS classes, as well as see what’s been on the minds of my other classmates (from which you can gain pretty insightful thoughts). There’s also the function to comment on others’ posts, which I regrettably didn’t have the time to write many, but I think it was a really good way of facilitating discussion and active learning among the class – especially when we don’t get to talk to everyone. Also, it was a good way for less talkative people (like me) to express their thoughts and have their say. I liked it that way, since I prefer written to verbal communication. Finally, I’ve realised that learning to self-reflect is even more crucial in this fast-paced university environment where everything feels like a whirl. Sometimes we’re just obsessed with just doing and not learning, and it comes to the point where I feel the need to be occupied with doing something so that I can feel productive. But taking time to stop and reflect is so important because it helps you think through what you’ve learned and how you can act on it to grow and improve yourself as a person. I feel that this is something that doesn’t just apply to this mod but also life in general. How meaningful!

This blog ended up being a horrible case of word diarrhoea and a good reason why I should never write anything at 3am again. I don’t know if anyone would have read till this point, but the TLDR is that this SS has been a really meaningful experience for me despite the difficulties and workload (you know, the usual Vensim struggles and project deadlines). There’s many learning experiences you can expect and try to take them down regularly so you don’t forget them – I find myself having to refer to Jenson’s photos/videos so often because I have to recall what exactly happened during the class (oops). Lastly, the journey might not be easy, but it’ll be worth it. Best of luck! and be sure to thank me later on

Passing of the torch : Letter to my Juniors

Hi Juniors, this is an open letter to prep y’all for the journey that you’re about to embark on. I’m sure many of y’all probably heard many things about this module, some of which includes high workload, a lot of work to prepare beforehand and VENSIM. So the question is.. is it true? Of course it is! BUT fret not because the qualities and life lessons that you will gain at the end of it will pay off tremendously.

The first few lessons will begin with you learning more about what food waste actually is. Slowly but surely you will begin to understand the gravity of the problem and how it impacts all of us. You will find out how food is wasted on multiple levels and how we have the power to do something about it.

“So wait… isn’t this just like a normal class then?”

NO WAY. Learning food waste is important BUT SO ARE LIFE LONG VALUES AND PERSPECTIVES. That’s why we begin our lesson with #ASTORYINSDCLASS. Through which, we discuss the contents and share our thoughts so that we know how each other view a certain scenario. Truth be told, these moments were one of my favorite cause not only does it help me understand my peers better, I also learn something new every time I hear someone speak from a perspective that does not align with my own. I believe that the key to building successful relationships lies in our ability to take the perspective of another and understand them. The stories in SD class does that as it allows you to find friends with common beliefs as you.

“Are there any out of class activities…..?”

YES WE DO! For the cost of signing up for this module we offer not one but TWO field trips. Our field trips include a trip to AVA and FOODBANK where we work with people on the ground to see what the situation on the ground actually is like. When I first saw the numbers of food waste on a screen during class, I just brushed it off, however seeing is believing and being there in person to witness the amount of waste that is being generated is appalling and mind-boggling. To be able to experience and meeting the stakeholders involve in the process, it really opens up my eyes. You start to be able to see how people at different level respond in the system and it allows you to think of policies that can benefit them. Before we embarked on our trip with FOODBANK, we had the pleasure to receive a talk from Daniel Tay whom co-founded SG FOOD Rescue. Through his sharing, you get to learn his experience and you actually get to see it first hand when you visit the pasir panjang wholesale centre yourself. It is an experience like no other and it is one of the highlights of this module!

“Love having FUN? Our Lego session is here just for you!”


Lego serious play is an initiative that Brof decided to implement for us to build on our critical thinking skills. To be honest, that was the quickest 3 hour lesson I had the entire semester. All I remembered was that I had my Lego pieces in front of me and I just let my hands do the work. You’ll be shocked to realize how useful Lego is in taking notes and explaining models. A simple model that could be used to explain a profound mental model. Not only do u get to have fun by rekindling your fond childhood memories but you get to built models and connect systems in ways that you never though possible.

“Wow… Its getting a little too much don’t you think?”

Yes it is! That’s why, with our regularly blogging habits, we take down our experience and what we’ve learned throughout the session. Through a deep reflection process, it helps us facilitate learning as we become more aware to what we are trying to accomplish and what we have learnt along the way that has helped us. Blogging does seem like a chore but when you go back to read your old blogs, you will be amazed with what your past self has learned and you’ll be proud of the journey you had taken to get to where you are right now! Personally, after reading through my past blogs, I was proud of myself for making it this far and it definitely kept me more motivated to completing this module!

“Ok… so any tips for the rest of the module then?”

If there are 2 tips that I can give you. It is “be willing” and “ask questions”. In order for you to maximize your learning from this module, you must first be willing to learn. Be someone that aims to maximize your knowledge and learn as much as you can from Brof. Pick up good habits of reflecting and finding out why through constant reflecting and time management. Be willing to understand people’s perspective and why a certain person thinks and functions in a certain way. Be willing to take the extra step and read up on modelling skills and food waste issues before coming to class and Be willing to share your perspective! Ask questions if you have a burning doubt, you can ask Brof or you can ask those around you. But never ever keep quiet about it! Food waste might seem like a tall order but with the willingness and mind power to learn, you can definitely conquer it!

Do remember that learning is a war not a battle. Even if you feel defeated and drain at the end of the day, know that the knowledge that you have gain will shape the person that you are about to become. Trust the process and the process will lead you to success. When I started the class, I was fixated with just getting an A for this module and move on. However, I soon began to realize that while the grade is important, what we learn is more important. I transitioned from “listening” for class participation to paying attention because its an issue that genuinely affects me and I want to know what I can do to contribute. Certainly after going through the module, I feel that I have become more aware in terms of consumption and I do what I can to avoid food waste. To know that my actions can contribute to something bigger than me makes me happy and hopeful for the future.

In conclusion, this course has been nothing short of amazing and insightful, not only in terms of learning more about food waste but the life lessons and values that I will take on with me. Brof played a game where we had to tell our past selves 2 words so perhaps my two words will be “Take UTC2712!!”. Ok just kidding but 2 words I really want to say to you Brof is Thank You. And to my juniors reading this, get ready for one heck of a journey!

All the best,
Zhengyi

 

 

How to “Brof’s class”

Hello and welcome to How to “Brof’s class”, where I will discuss tips and tricks to survive the 13 weeks of UTC2712/UTS2704 HAHAHA kidding 😀 but seriously, through these 13 weeks, I’ve gained many interesting insights and would like to share them with you!

Firstly, through the course, I learned a lot about food waste and food insecurity, such as how food is wasted on so many levels (retailers, consumers, etc) and how each and every one of us have the ability to reduce it. I also learned about the severity of food insecurity in Singapore and how it increases with increasing food waste, thus making the food waste issue an increasingly urgent problem (that people, unfortunately, are often unaware of). There are many other facts about food waste and insecurity that I learned through this course, but this post would never end if I were to list them all :’) so my tip to gaining more real world knowledge through Brof’s class is really to attend all the lessons and be attentive as there are many very enriching videos and sharings about food problems in Singapore!

This brings me to my second tip which is to attend in all the “extra” activities and be as participative as possible. There was a volunteer work that is… well… voluntary and an AVA visit trip, which happen to fall on saturdays, and are either really early or really far from civilization. Such activities may not be very appealing. However, being there to see, smell and feel the environment and do the work that we are often not aware of, like gathering and distributing unwanted yet completely edible food to those who need it, as well as understanding the vast amount of food waste even on the testing level, is a rare opportunity and very very worthwhile. Also, it is important to go prepared (tip 3: do some brief research about the work before going), to understand what is happening and being ready to ask questions to the professionals there. This will enhance learning by making Q&As more efficient! There’s just so much to learn, not only about the module but also about different people and different jobs.

The next tip is to take notes, especially during special sharings by experts. During the talk by Daniel Tay, I was too intrigued and drawn to his story that I forgot to take notes and that was troubling as he mentioned so many important and life-changing tricks and was truly a pity as I have memory of a goldfish and could not really recall certain details he mentioned D: I had to spend an extra long time trying to remember what he mentioned after that, but good thing I started early for Brof’s projects, specifically, the blogs. Though I had to spend a longer time trying to remember things, because I forgot to take notes, starting early helped me recall faster and keep up with my work. Starting early was also evidently important as it came to the later weeks, where there were many other modules to focus on, I did not have much time to juggle between finals and writing quality blogs. So friends, DON’T WAIT TILL THE LAST MINUTE!

Another tip is to be flexible and open to new or different ideas. This is especially so for the lego serious play (LSP), there will be many inputs from different people. To maximize learning, being open to different perspectives is essential in gaining more insights and seeing a larger picture. During the LSP, I started off quite conservative and was constrained to my own ideas which caused my pre-LSP mindmaps regarding food waste and insecurity to be very surface. However, having an open mind to different views during sharing of models during the session provided different views and perspectives that I’d not thought of, and that enriched my awareness of food issues and improved my ability to link varying ideas, which was evident in my post-LSP mindmaps at the end of the activity!

Next, be patient with yourself! There’s may be quite a few projects to work on for this module, such as the blogs and extra activities on top of the usual classes and reports to write, but do “trust the process” (Brof, 2019) (okay sorry I thought it would be funny to quote Brof HAHAHA) and be patient with your learning by working slowly but steadily. This reduces the stress put on yourself and allows you to enjoy the classes more. I started really tense in class as I REALLY wanted to get an A for this module, and the workload did not help with that. That made classes at night feel very long, especially the modelling classes which did not make any sense to me. However, through the lessons, Brof used videos and post-screening sharings to help us understand that life is more than school and grades. (I mean I kinda still wanna get an A but) I was less strict on myself through that which made me less stressed and more patient with my learning, and that release of tension naturally helped me become more motivated in class. This motivation helped me voice out more questions while Brof walked around class to answer our queries on systems thinking and modelling, and I was able to learn more! Looking back, I really don’t know why I was so hard on myself and now treasure the process over the product much more 😀

Last class! but aww bye friends, it was a pleasure learning with yall :’)

All in all, this course was a wonderful experience for me, not only in terms of learning about the module and Vensim itself, but also in valuing the little things in life. I hope that, with some of these tips I’d gathered through the course, you can also have an enriching growing experience and value the opportunity to learn 😀 All the best and don’t give up!

My Food Waste Journey – A Reflection Letter to Future Students

This food waste and security module has certainly been a long and impactful journey for me and my peers. I’m sure it will be for future students taking this module as well. Here are some of my thoughts and suggestions on how to approach this module. I hope that after reading this, more of you would be genuinely interested in giving this mod a try.

 

Why you should bother considering this module

The best thing about this module is that it isn’t just a module – it offers you a chance to experience food wastage and security problems on the ground. Few modules can boast this level of real-world experience and application, making this course something special altogether. Those studying this mod can never be accused of “armchair analytics”. When I first signed up for this course, I was not really aware of the level of real-world experience the course could offer, and it was really impactful for me. It was through these experiences that we really got to know first-hand the severity of food wastage in Singapore. We got to see for ourselves tonnes of food being thrown away in the processing centre in just a day; it was really shocking for me. It really takes learning about real-world problems and dynamics to a new level.

Another worthwhile reason to choose this module: precisely because of the focus on learning real problems rather than doing work for the grade, is that there is a lot of sharing of thoughts and ideas between you can your peers. This open sharing allows a much deeper level of connection and friendships amongst your peers. The many extra activities like visits to AVA, Wholesale Food Processing Centre and Lego Serious Play will also contribute to you making stronger friendships with your classmates. Speaking for myself, I think I have managed to make much better friends here than most other mods.

 

Study strategies & how to succeed in this module

I compiled some good mindsets and strategies which you can apply to your Food Journey as well:

  1. Learning > Grades

This really applies to this module because Brof has always been more concerned about us getting something more out of the module rather than a paper grade. That’s why it is important to maintain an open attitude to the lessons, and don’t just listen out for Vensim instructions. This is also the way to holistic learning and that is really what this module is trying to impart. Only if you prioritise your learning as a whole will you get something out of this module that you can apply to your real life.

  1. Always apply a good model thinking structure to any problem

This is a modelling skill that is stressed upon greatly in class, that is valuable to learn. Whenever you are asked to approach a problem, have a Systems Thinking structure in mind. You can do so by using mind maps or even using a more advanced model like the iceberg model, which allows you to think about the root cause of the problem you are considering. It is thinking structures like this that prevent you from making superficial observations about the problem and come up with good insights. I have included an example below.

  1. Make full use of the learning journeys/volunteering

As I have said, there are multiple good learning journey and volunteering experience that you can really take advantage of. When you are thinking of your project problem, it can save you a lot of time and effort if you apply what you have observed during the external events. Likewise, during the events, do pay attention and look out for useful information you can use. It’s just much more efficient this way!

  1. Collaborate with others

This is not a module that you can do all on your own. Because it makes you think about system dynamics as a whole, it is always valuable to take in others’ perspectives because people will always have opinions and views different from yours. This is very good, so don’t shy away from differences in thought, because when others share their ideas, it can often allow you to add more “meat” into your system.

 

What skills you can expect to develop here

Brof Jenson is able to teach you a couple of skills and tricks you can apply elsewhere, the best being the multiple thought structures you can apply pretty much anywhere. The few that I will be picking are the Iceberg Model and the Jigsaw Puzzle Approach. Both are useful in different ways but are just as effective and can be applied almost anywhere. The Iceberg Model makes you think more deeply about a problem, for example, what are the trends that are influencing them, and what are the mental models causing those trends. The Jigsaw Puzzle approach encourages you to list out all the possible variables, before attempting to link them with causal links. This is also good because it allows you to reach a greater breadth when approaching a problem. Both of these methods are good in their own way and do not strictly have to be applied to class time.

 

Most Interesting Experience

The most interesting experience I had in this module is actually the Lego Serious Play activity that we did. We had to make Lego models based on certain questions asked and we could build them however we wanted, without any restrictions. We were asked to make the models based on pretty difficult questions, such as what RC4 life is like, what is a major Food Waste problem, and so on. It was the first time I had ever had such an experience in a class. One would expect class time to be very serious, but LSP really showed that a fun activity can be just as effective. Because I like making things as well, it makes it all the more enjoyable for me. I also never expected that Lego could be used to express complex thoughts and opinions.

I hope my sharing on my experience can encourage some of you to take this module as well. It is definitely different from most other mods that you will take in your academic life here in RC4.

All the best,

Alicia

The Reflection Blog For Juniors — Strategies, Things I Learned, My Insights, What This Course Means For You

Dear future students of UTC Food Wastage module, I am Jonathan Ng and these are my reflections for the things about what I learned across this semester with Brof. Jenson.

I hope my reflection allows you to gain insight about this course and also to put you in the position to succeed so that you can get the most out of the experience and gain some new, actionable skills that you can take away.

Why you should bother about this course –
When I first signed up to this course, I believed I would have been able to learn about the problems solutions and current strategies that Singapore has experienced to make itself food sufficient. I would imagine a lot of overhead strategic making and policy planning tasks. However, my experience was completely different.

Instead, we had the pleasure of going down to the ground and survey the area, talk to the people who are actually affected by food wastage as well as the various stakeholders that are involved such as sellers, producers, scavengers and consumers of food. At every stage of the funnel, I believe the class has given us the opportunity to interact with people in the various ranks of the food chain, giving me incredible insight about the situation at large instead of theoretically examining the situation from overhead.

The course gave me first-hand opportunity to experience for myself so that I could be put into the shoes of these people, hence allowing me to examine the problem objectively and as a whole instead of guessing what the pain points are. This course is worth it just because of that purpose as I believe experience is always the best teacher.

Most Valuable Assignment Strategy –
Oddly enough, I believe the strategy that served me best was to just plunge in and take massive action on your plans. Every assignment is tough and challenging as a person who struggled with Vensim with JS, but honestly more often times I feel when working in groups the more we think about things, the less progress we make. Hence as a person who may be wondering on what to be doing for a module like this, I would highly recommend you to plunge yourself into the tasks, immerse yourself into the scenarios and make progress with your teammates.

More often than not, I feel the best ideas are always generated amongst ourselves instead of keeping things for yourself. You are only so good as your team and your support structure, nobody succeeds alone. There is always a discussion going around, but never forget to always just do something about what you have discussed. Does not matter if it is a broken model or wrong model, move the needle and Brof. Jenson will guide you along or your teammates can point out your mistakes.

Learning Experiences –
This is the first module where I had to take ‘excursions’ out to experience the classroom. That was a breath of fresh air as the tasks and experiences along the way were invaluable. Similar to my previous point, I felt I gained the most sensing about the problems that we were studying when I was fully immersed in the activities. In addition, do not forget to stop and always observe the behaviours, thoughts and actions of the stakeholders in the model you will be constructing. Be acutely aware of your surroundings and observe for yourself the motivations behind the residents who need food, the producers who throw away the food etc.

Every stakeholder will be part of the model you are building and the best way is to directly get feedback from these people when you meet them in person or to observe from afar.

Most interesting skill obtained to develop –
Oddly enough, the most interesting piece of ‘knowledge’ I learnt is not a particular ‘sexy’ part of the module. The most useful piece of knowledge and I did not even realise this at that point in time, is understanding that we build models because of human behaviour. And the root of all human behaviour is what Brof. Jenson always refers to as the ‘mental model’. This understanding of the psychology of human behaviour really aided me in understanding what is appropriate to model and what is redundant.

The reason for systems thinking and modelling is generally to help policymakers devise policies, identify the key principles of stakeholders and drivers behind the problem and to examine whether things are feasible if the plan is executed. Fundamentally, a lot of the variables are based on human behaviour and understanding that there are always underlying reasons to why the problems you model in the first place exist.

Besides the technical skills of Vensim, once I understood that by aligning all of the parameters to this central question of ‘Will this additional step allow me to get closer to the inner motivations of the stakeholder?’ I was able to start mapping out the structure of my models while always staying focused on creating models that were easy to analyse and simple to understand, even for people who were not trained in vensim.

This course is not like any other module out there and I wish you the best of luck if you do take it.

Cheers,

Jonathan