SINGAPORE - The Straits Times looks at what politicians, and the politically related, are up to in this weekly series.
In this edition, we take a look at Finance Minister Lawrence Wong’s trip to the United States, chow crossovers and Earth Day celebrations - all of which have a nexus of food.
Look out for the latest edition of the series every Friday, and check out past ones here.
Flying Singapore’s flag
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was probably served some of the finest meals during his official visit to the US from April 16 to April 25, but it was the humble bak chor mee, or minced meat noodles, that hit the spot.
That is what he had for breakfast early in the morning on Thursday (April 28) at Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre.
“Jet lagged and craving for some local hawker food,” he posted on Facebook, a hearty bowl of noodles before him.
The 10-day trip took him to Washington DC and New York City, where he attended the World Bank-International Monetary Fund spring meetings and the second Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.
Other highlights of his trip included pow-wows with US administration officials and his counterparts from the Asia-Pacific and beyond, as well as a gathering with Singaporeans studying, working and living in New York.
Mr Wong, who took the train from Washington DC to New York City, also squeezed in some time for sightseeing when he had some free time.
“I enjoyed going out to nature for walks, and seeing the cherry blossoms in full bloom,” he wrote.
Why do Singaporean leaders like him travel so often for work?
The city state takes a deep interest in the world as it is a small and open country heavily open to trade and investments, he said.
“So I was glad to fly our flag overseas, to reaffirm relations with our international counterparts, and discuss new areas of cooperation ranging from the economy, to sustainability and innovation,” he wrote at the close of his trip.
“All of these will help strengthen our ties with the world, and attract more opportunities for our people - especially as we reopen post-pandemic, and as we chart our new way forward.”
Speaking of post-pandemic reopenings, Mr Wong gave a shout-out to Singapore Airlines (SIA) on both Facebook and Tik Tok.
He posed for a picture with the crew on his flight home and cheered them on for their optimism at taking to the skies again.
Mr Wong also noted that SIA’s route between Singapore and New York is the longest commercial passenger flight today - an 18-hour journey that covers more than 15,000km.
The post drew an emphatic response from Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin.
“Singapore Airlines, You are a great way to fly! Always!” he exclaimed.
Food was also on the agenda for other politicians, such as Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth and Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling who seemed to read Mr Wong’s mind when she proclaimed that hawker food is “the one thing every Singaporean would never fail to miss when we are abroad”.
Japanese ramen restaurant Ippudo has partnered with three of Singapore’s renowned hawker and food businesses - Da Dong Prawn Noodles, Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap, and Keng Eng Kee Seafood - on a heritage hawker menu that will be served at the restaurant.
Dishes include The Hae Ramen, Lor Ark Bun and Kopi Chicken Karaage.
Ms Low, who got to try the dishes on launch day, said: “This is an innovative way to promote our hawker culture and enliven its food offerings.”
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat had on his mind another kind of local food: a low glycemic index (GI) oat cookie.
This healthy snack was included in the National Day Parade funpack last year and is made by Nutriient, a start-up spun off from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation.
Mr Heng, who visited A*StartCentral, the co-working space for deep-tech start-ups where the cookie was developed, encouraged government agencies to continue working with businesses to create innovative solutions that meet Singapore’s needs.
How does the cookie do this? It is made using plant-based ingredients and can keep blood glucose levels in check while improving gut health.
Singapore declared a war on diabetes in 2016 after a report found the Republic to have the second-highest proportion of diabetics among developed nations. Despite this, the crude prevalence of diabetes increased slightly between 2019 and 2020.
Diabetes is caused by having too much sugar in the blood.
Mr Heng warned: “Low-GI foods cause a slower and smaller rise in blood sugar levels but it does not mean low calories!”
Going green by eating green
Did you know that a 250g piece of beef steak produces 25kg of carbon dioxide?
Thanks to Health Minister Ong Ye Kung’s Tik Tok video on Earth Day (April 22) that has been watched more than 45,000 times, many more are now aware of this factoid.
Noting that this is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from driving a car for 200km, Mr Ong vowed to cut down on red meat to help save the planet.
A sobering reminder that one’s food choices can have a meaningful impact on the climate.
Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, meanwhile, preached about reducing the use of food packaging.
At her constituency’s Earth Day celebration, residents got free carrier bags to hold their tingkats, multi-layered food containers that are also known as tiffin boxes.
“Takeaway containers are a major source of disposable waste, and as they are generally contaminated with food waste, they cannot be recycled afterwards,” she said.
Proving her right, Speaker Tan lamented that he found a lot of styrofoam and plaster wrappers during Southeast District’s beach and sea cleaning outing last Sunday.
Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng, who joined residents in his constituency for litter picking, also “unfortunately managed to collect quite a fair bit of litter”.
The Workers’ Party’s Hougang MP Dennis Tan, meanwhile, posted a video of himself tossing litter into a dustbin set to Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me.
His reminder: “It is our collective responsibility to keep our public spaces clean by properly disposing our trash.”
And as the song’s lyrics say: “Hey, isn’t this easy?”
A year wiser
A few politicians celebrated their birthdays this week, including Progress Singapore Party (PSP) chairman and founder Tan Cheng Bock, who turned 82 on Tuesday (April 26).
The former MP of Ayer Rajah SMC celebrated with some kueh and longevity lotus buns shaped like peaches, which symbolise a long life.
Wearing pink - and looking in the pink of health - the retired general practitioner thanked friends and family for their birthday wishes.
“May I wish everyone good health and the blessing of wonderful friends and family today as well,” he wrote.
PSP Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai was among those who sent birthday greetings, and called Dr Tan his leader, mentor and friend.
Noting Dr Tan’s 40 years as a People’s Action Party MP, his work as a doctor and later his decision to set up the PSP, Mr Leong said: “Trust me, it requires a lot of sacrifice and perseverance to embark on the journey of an opposition politician.”
Meanwhile, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah marked her 59th birthday by posting her first video on TikTok and buying herself three presents.
In the video, Ms Indranee could be seen squinting at a copy of The Straits Times.
“Managed to get by with iPad and e-reading for the longest time but I started to miss my hard copy paperbacks,” she admitted.
She revealed that she got herself prescription reading glasses, and another two pairs of glasses: for distance driving in the day, and at night.
“Aging happens, but you can be chill about it if you go with the flow,” she quipped.