Growing up in Singapore in the 80s was one of the richest times for all-round learning. I might be biased in this, but it was a time of percarious yet harmonistic balance between the old world and new.
And nowhere was this more evident than in the food culture. Besides being a melting pot of the region, we accepted cuisine from far beyond our shores. We not only embraced the steak, but we sucked it in and made it our own. Go to any hawker centre and you'd find a stall, serving a fillet steak or chicken chop, smoothered in savoury gravy and served with coleslaw, baked beans and a slice of garlic toast. Not entirely authentic and sounds more like a big Western breakfast, but by god, we loved it!
Singapore still had a small agricultural sector in those days. My dad would occassionally drive the entire family to a farm as a day trip. I remember being intimidated by towering hogs, their front trotters perched on the tops of their stall wall and grunting for their lunch as the farmer walked by pushing a wheelbarrow of slop. Another time, it would be a chicken (eggs and meat), quail, frogs or vegetables. I am now infinitely thankful to my dad, for having the forsight to take us before it all disappeared in my teen years.
Sunday mornings was my mother's time to shine. Supermarkets and wet markets co-existed in harmony, offering very different products, but it was the wet markets, which were the best fun. The assault of smells from fresh hebs heaped together next to stacks of vegetables would mellow the pungent stink of live chickens awaiting their death in crates. The tiled or concrete floor would be slippery with murky water and I would curl my toes in my flip flops with every step to avoid getting them wet (yes, silly, but I was a kid). The din of mothers and grandmothers bargaining with stallholders may have been fierce, yet it built a sense of community and was all part of the fun. And you couldn't get fresher or cheaper anywhere else.
But gone are those days. Gone are most of the farms and today, many families opt to shop in sterile supermarkets for convenience.
This isn't happening only in Singapore. It's happening everywhere, as population grows and farmers become displaced by population shifts and large corporate farming organisations. I feel a little sorry for the generations to come, who have little opportunity to experience this exchange between nature and man. They now live bundled in cotton wool and behind a glass screen - increasingly experience retarded.
So while many kids begin to evolve into the American children Jaime Oliver met in Huntington, West Virginia on his Food Revolution quest - unable to distinguish tomatoes from celery, I draw hope that the inherent human desire to discover and create will override any cultural trend towards laziness to simply accept what is offered for convenience.
My hope for the next generation is that they go back to basics to rediscover the simple joys of knowing where their food comes from - to become as inspired and as inspiring as the Aussie kids on the upcoming Junior Masterchef.
Oh, and let me put it out there that I would adopt any of those kids on that Junior Masterchef show in a heartbeat. If all else fails, I'll 'grow' one myself. (^_~)-☆