Feeding the next generation right.

So the big news is out. Jamie Oliver wins the 2010 TED Prize. Each winner receives $100,000 and, more importantly, the granting of “One Wish to Change the World”. Through TED’s extensive network of sponsors, conference attendees and online community, the prize winners have doors to powerful collaborative opportunities swing wide open. (Read more about Jamie’s win here)

Jamie has spent years trying to revolutionize the way we eat and live by getting us off unhealthy eating habits and getting us to cook again. Even with 12 tv series that’s been aired in 130 countries and 10 cookbooks in 29 languages, Jamie is set to create even bigger change. As far as I can remember, I was a big fan of his campaign School Dinners. His mission was to ban junk food in schools and get kids eating fresh, tasty and nutritious food.

“What we eat affects everything: our mood, behaviour, health, growth, even our ability to concentrate. A lunchtime school meal should provide a growing child with one third of their daily nutritional intake.”

I remember watching an episode where he cooked a tray of food and placed it next to a tray of deep fried chicken nuggets and fries in the dining hall. The kids, who came through the buffet line were so unused to seeing fresh, healthy options, mainly chose to go with the unhealthy stuff they’d been so used to putting in their mouths. They just didn’t know any better. It was a sad realization of how we’ve been conditioned, and why the level of obesity in children has doubled over the last decade. In fact, it’s estimated that the number of obese people in the world will rise to 2.3 billion within the next 5 years!

What’s the situation with schools in Singapore? Looking back, I remember that deep fried chicken nuggets and hot dogs formed a big part of my diet in primary school. Ice cream and fizzy, sugar-laden drinks were easily available too. Things were a little different in Secondary school. There was no ice cream in my first two years there. Frozen yogurt made its way in later on though. I also believe we didn’t have any options to buy coke or any other carbonated drinks. Although I’m not so sure my daily dose of Pokka green tea was a much better choice.

Photo by Kevin Krejci

All this leads me to wonder… what are they feeding students now? Think about it. If they typically have two meals a day, five days a week in that dining hall, that’s a big part of their diets. The system works a little differently back home, where instead of paying for a fixed meal plan for the semester and then getting food from a buffet line, students still have the power in their hands to choose what food to buy from a variety of 8 – 10 different stalls. This means that stall holders are motivated to sell the products that have the highest demand. So apart from getting the authorities to crack down on what can be sold, an alternative way to get healthier choices on the menus is to educate the kids so they start to demand better food.

Health education from books isn’t cutting it anymore. Take them out to visit farms and gardens. Teach them through hands-on practice ways to do urban farming. Get experts to come into class to give real life examples of what they can do. So much can be done!

What was your experience with food in school like?

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Turning Windows into Farms

Big window farm at Eyebeam, July 2009. Photo by Lindsey Castillo.

I’m a city girl. I grew up in a place that was pretty much a concrete jungle. And until I was 21, the only farms I’d seen were those on my computer screen when I played Sim Farm. That probably explains why I stared in wide-eyed wonder as Sam drove me around the vast farmlands of Wisconsin. I was so excited that the barns, silos and haystacks looked just like the images painted in my mind by the virtual game!

Gabriel Willow's Window Farm, July 2009. Photo by Gabriel Willow.

When I was working on the documentary for Project Green Heals, where we followed 98 high school students on their journeys to learn about urban agriculture, I learned about the great benefits of having food grown close-by. Food grown locally:

  • doesn’t have to be transported over hundreds of miles, so you save on gas and energy.
  • gets to you faster, so it hasn’t lost as many nutrients.
  • has no need for harmful chemical preservatives to keep them looking good longer.

Just like Singapore though, Chicago is a bustling city where buildings fill almost every square foot of the area. Without the huge plots of land, many believe it’s impossible to grow our own food. Fortunately, there are groups out there working to prove that it can be done. Uncommon Ground has turned one of Chicago’s many flat roofs into the country’s first organic rooftop farm.

Gabriel Willow's Window Farm, July 2009. Photo by Gabriel Willow.

The Jane Addams Hull House turned a small plot of land right in the middle of the city into an urban farm, growing enough food to run its soup kitchen to feed the hungry.

But what if you don’t own a restaurant or you’re not part of a large organization? What can we, as regular individuals, do about it?

Window Farms could be the answer. Imagine being able to grow food, right in your own apartment window.

Window Farms are vertical, hydroponic, modular, low-energy, high-yield edible window gardens built using low-impact or recycled local materials.

Learn in less than 3 mintues what it’s all about:

Made from recycled bottles, decorative and food bearing. I find that pretty darn cool. I’d definitely love to give growing my own food a shot in my future home. Has your family ever been into home gardening? What are your thoughts on the Window Farms?

Dreaming our own dreams.

When I chose to pursue documentary film making, I knew I wasn’t going to have it easy. Especially coming from a traditional Asian culture where parents dream for their kids to become doctors and lawyers. An environment where I was often told not to spend so much of my time on art because “maths and science is more important”. A place where uncles and aunts frown in skepticism upon hearing my dreams because such careers “have no future”. And a country where locally produced content has played second fiddle to the supposedly better content from overseas for years.

I’ve heard the testimonials. “If your goal is to get rich, then film making isn’t the path you should take.”  I’ve heard the warnings. “How’re you going to put food on the table?” I’ve heard the attempts to persuade me to try something else. “Earn a stable income with a proper job first. You can always use your extra funds to do whatever you like later!”

But i stand by what Jacqueline Novogratz says in her book, The Blue Sweater:

“I argued that you had to start early, understand how change happens, and build relationships and credibility over a long period… I had to be who I was, not someone else until I made enough money to come home to myself.”

Yep, I’m stubborn. And I’m paying the price. I’m sitting here as a recent grad from one of the best colleges in the country, and I am struggling to make ends meet. I thought that I’d just have to work really hard, impress my bosses, and everything would take care of itself. I succeeded with the working hard. My bosses love me and want me to carry on working with them. It’s the getting paid part that isn’t quite happening.

So what do you do then? What happens when you love what you do, and love the mission and values that your content represents, but it won’t pay the rent? If this is what I’m facing here in America, the birthplace of cinema, what will my future hold when I return to Singapore, where the film industry is still in its infancy?

Well, I’ve been told that to predict the future, you’ve gotta create it. It’s a scary and unpredictable road ahead, but I fear not, for I’m blessed to have the support of family and friends. A few bumps on the road ain’t gonna stop me now. Positive social change through film can happen in Singapore. I’ll make it work, somehow.

And when I need a little dose of inspiration, I take in the words of Singapore’s pioneers in film and hope to speak among them one day. Will I have your support?

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the lil’ showcase – videos

NU is slowly turning me into a film geek. *grin* Here’s some of the work I did for school in my first year.

I Screwed My GPA

The Northwestern University Singaporeans and Friends (NUSAF) came together to remake the classic Backstreet Boys hit “I Want It That Way”. Loads of hard work, fun and laughter later, we’re proud to present “I Screwed My GPA”!

This music video in much better quality is available on DVD! It includes a 10 min blooper reel + a special bonus video. Let me know if you’d like to have your very own copy.

Chickened Out!

Made for my final project in RTVF 180. The assignment was to make a short film using only still photographs. Many thanks to Wanlin for agreeing to play the lead!


My edit for our final project for RTVF 280. We all had to write our own scripts, bring them to class, read everyone else’s work and vote for our favourite 2. The class was then divided into 2 groups to produce the 2 winning scripts.

Strings (written and directed by Evan Twohy) was a group project involving Jonathan Gomez, Taylor McNulty, Andrew J. Rogers, Evan Twohy, Yira Vilaro and myself.