Friday, August 10, 2007

Of Food and Wastes

As many of you may know, I am recently enrolled in the Masters of Social Sciences in Geography at NUS on a research scholarship. Not much different from undergraduate life except I take lesser classes, teach a few and have my own office space.

But most importantly, I share the same campus space and eat the same food. Food which I may add have been sorely lacking since November 2006 when the Arts Canteen "The Deck" was closed for complete overhaul.

Me and my favourite drink stall uncle on the last day of the old Arts Canteen

In fact, during my "last look" at the arts canteen, a chat with my favourite drink stall uncle revealed that the canteen has been flooded during heavy rains thanks to the leaking roof.

My last look at my favorite view from the outdoors deck in the old Arts canteen

According to the NUS Office of Estate and Development (OED):

"The upgrading and redevelopments work is necessary to meet current National Environment Agency’s (NEA) standards for food outlets. With years of usage and the increasing number of students, there are also problems like leaking roof, poor ventilation and limited power supply capacity in the existing canteen which require enhancement. It is therefore timely now to renovate and improve on the serviceability of The Deck (Arts Canteen)."

So for 1 semester, we had to suffer what we called the Funeral Tentage where a caterer operated the Megabites Cafe. Ironically, as much as we hated it, Megabites now has its own permanent cafe in the Science Faculty. Perhaps compared to the Arts Canteen which has always spoilt us with delicious food, the "Funeral Tentage" became bad in comparison. However, there seems to be no such complaints over at Science except perhaps of cold food but that's another story for another post.

Welcome to the Funeral Parlour. Photo by Kean Bon

But having been back in school for a week now, I have been dreading going to Engineering and Science, or god forbid the business school, for my meals! As such, a phone call to OED this morning brings good news.

A model of the new canteen, taken from OED website

The canteen will be opened from next Monday, 13 August 2007. I suppose this week has only been 0 week with no classes being conducted so fans of the Arts Canteen can be assured that once classes start, food will be served!

I cannot wait! Thinking of the chinese economic rice stall, ba chor mee (mince pork noodles) and the yong tau foo stall is already making me drool!

But speaking of food, there will always be wastes. Interestingly, in a sojourn at the Engineering Canteen, I came across this poster.

Food Waste Recycling

It would appear that NUS is now embarking on food waste recycling which is a fantastic idea! In Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang, they already have a strong vermiculture project on campus where earthworms to convert organic waste into fertiliser. In University of California Santa Barbara where I was at, a group from the Isla Vista and UCSB Worm Composting program, works not only within campus but also with the food outlets across town to collect their food wastes and feed it to the worm. In return the fertilizers produced are used to grow food! Talk about a closed cycle.

According to the poster, it seems that NUS, instead of an in-house campus compost, has tied up with IUT Singapore to send the campus food waste to their new Bio-Methanisation Plant in Tuas. Sad to say that this will probably not change the behavior of the students and staff much since the cleaners at the canteen does all the waste separation. But it is a good effort on the university's part to support food waste recycling by simply sending their food waste to IUT.

The IUT website has a comprehensive explanation for what happens during food waste recycling and I believe I might actually have passed by the facility before! In fact, according to IUT, they not only compost for fertilizer but also produce renewable biogas! For energy-strapped Singapore, the promised generation of 6 MW of electrical energy per hour at full capacity is enough to provide for 10,000 households. But this is only at full capacity so we should all send our food wastes to them! This definitely calls for a tour of the plant!

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