Sunway FutureX Farm: Reimagine The Future of Diet workshop

To match with the theme of World Environment Day, Sunway FutureX Farm has launched three virtual workshops to educate the public on urban farming, sustainable diets, and food waste management. As the first urban farm innovation hub in Malaysia, Sunway FutureX Farm strives with the mission to innovate transformative solutions for the food and agricultural technology sector. Other than sharing knowledge, they also own urban farms such as greenhouse hydroponics, indoor vertical farms, and aquaponics that supply fresh vegetables for sales.

The Reimagine workshop was held on the 5th of June, on the World Environment Day itself, from 2.30 pm to 4 pm with the goal to share about sustainable diets. In this session, Sunway FutureX Farm had invited three speakers to share their initiatives in promoting sustainable diets. 

Speaker 1: Ms. Joyce Shih

(Source: from Instagram)

The first speaker is Ms. Joyce Shih, an integrative health nutrition health coach, recipe developer and editor. At 13 years old, she started becoming the only vegetarian in her family, and 6 years later, she switched to vegan. Currently, is the spot for her to share her amazing vegan recipes and portray her vegan lifestyle. 

Why sustainable diet?

To start off, Ms. Joyce started by explaining the impact of diet to one’s health, the community, and the environment. As more processed food is more accessible nowadays, increased consumption of it has progressively increased the risks of contracting long-term diseases. To add on, Malaysia has the highest diabetes rate in Asia, and most diabetic patients do not even notice it until conditions like stroke, heart attack, or kidney failure arrive. 

Some food for thought: How does one’s personal diet affect other people? To explain this scenario, the concept of supply and demand was brought up. For example, the local community may rely on commercial fishing as their source of food or income. However, when there is an increase in market demand for seafood, big corporations would set up large-scale task forces to catch fish to meet demands and gain profit. In this case, the local communities could lose their source of income to big corporations and go into poverty. 

Lastly, livestock and food processing had also brought a negative impact to the planet. Lamb and beef productions produce the most greenhouse gas emissions among all food materials. This is because it requires forest clearing for housing lands, transportation and meat processing. Forest clearing therefore causes the loss of natural habitats and accounts for the loss of biodiversity. Ruminants like cows further contribute to methane production by their digestion and their waste. Aside from that, it is not energy efficient when comparing the amount of meat produced per livestocks to the large amount of land and clean water occupied.

The current system of food choice has already contributed to too many problems, and it is time to make a change in everyone’s diets to be more sustainable. As Ms. Joyce addressed, a sustainable diet would better support nutrition, livelihood and the planet while ensuring that there is no over-reliance on any selected commodities. 

Solution 1: Plant-based diets 

When it comes to plant-based diets, people often confuse them with vegan diets. Vegan is a lifestyle that emphasizes animal rights and protects animals from harm. So, vegan would not use animal derived products like leathered shoes and would not have animal products in their diet including eggs and dairies. On the flip side, plant-based diets focus more on whole food derived from plants and avoid or limit animal products for health benefits. Whole food refers to food that is as close as its original form without much processing. An example to illustrate the difference is that , plant-based diets would opt for a whole apple instead of drinking canned apple juice as that is acceptable in vegan diets.

Since young, people were taught that meats and eggs are the main protein source of the diet. So, here comes another common concern about plant-based diets: What is the source of protein in plant-based diets? Ms. Joyce told the audience that the main source of protein comes from tofu and tempeh, but there are also a wide variety of protein choices to choose from such as edamame, chickpeas, homemade peanut butter, red beans, green beans, and so on. They can certainly replace protein from meats and dairies in plant-based diets. 

(Source: Mostly Green)

When it comes to the benefits of being on plant-based diets, it can reduce high blood pressure and reduce the risk of a heart attack by 40%. Besides, it also has a lower bad cholesterol and total cholesterol level. From a global view, plant-based diets generally bring lower planetary impact as the ingredients produce less greenhouse gases, use less clean water, and involve less land. Ms. Joyce also shared an interesting webpage known as Vegan calculator, which calculates the total impact a vegan or vegetarian had created by just switching their diet for a period of time. 

(Source: Vegan calculator)

Tips to implement a plant-based diet in Malaysia

Making changes in one’s diet is definitely not easy, so Ms. Joyce had shared some tips to make plant-based diets sustainable. For the food ingredients, one must know the plant-based protein substitutes for a more satisfying and balanced plant-based meal. For those who have conditions like gout or allergy that require them to avoid certain food ingredients, it is best to consult a doctor for other plant-based protein alternatives. As for growing children and teenagers, parents need to be aware of the essential nutritions and look for suitable substitutes for the children’s plant-based meals. For example, dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are good calcium sources to help in a child’s development. 

Also, it is encouraged to eat locally and seasonally. Although blueberries are the #1 health-boosting superfood, it is also quite costly to purchase them. Instead, one can switch to local fruits that are fresher and more affordable such as dragon fruits which also have high antioxidants that can keep the skin and eyes healthy.

Will a plant-based diet restrict someone from enjoying finger-licking local cuisines? Fret not, plant-based local food is also available. Through her continuous exploration, Ms Joyce had discovered plant-based tosei, asam laksa, vegan nasi lemak, vegan burgers, and more. Furthermore, the continuous local demands of vegan food had initiated some impacts in the food business industries. Sala is an example of a plant-based vegan restaurant that sells salads, burritos, tacos, healthy bowls, and vegan local delights. For one who has a sweet tooth, ice creams from Calli could be another option as they are dairy-free.

Vegan Nasi Lemak from Simple Life
Bagel Burger from Sala KL Vegan Restaurant 

Huge changes made overnight are difficult to sustain in the long run, so the most important step is to make small changes progressively. One can go for quick and affordable plant-based meals without preparing everything from scratch. Besides, trying challenges like “Meatless Monday” can help one to adapt better to the transition. It simply means having plant-based meals on each Monday of the week. Another way of doing this is to have plant-based dinner several nights a week. If they are achievable, the challenge can be extended by adding more days or meals. Ultimately, these actions help to lower the difficulty to start and sustain plant-based diets as a new habit and lifestyle.

When asked by the audience, Ms. Joyce shared that she does not believe in forcing people to change their diet preference despite understanding the benefits of plant-based diets. The most important factor is mental change. So, one could lead by example by showing that a plant-based diet is achievable instead of something difficult and boring. By sharing these experiences with others, people around would slowly become curious and ask questions, and become more open minded to try this out by themselves.

Speaker 2: Mr. Kevin Wu

(Source: Forbes)

The next speaker is Mr. Kevin Wu, who is one of the seven Malaysians who made his name in the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia List in 2021. He owns Ento Malaysia, a startup based in Kuala Lumpur that has a mission to provide healthy and sustainable protein by creating edible cricket snacks and protein powders. Besides that, he also owns a law firm (Kevin Wu & Associates) and a furniture startup (Furniture Outlet Center). 

Solution 2: Insect protein

Mr. Kevin fell in love with fried crickets at first taste when he was traveling abroad. To his disappointment, Malaysia did not offer fried crickets snacks at that time. This had made him discover market opportunities and started to venture into this field. Other than his personal experiences, Mr. Kevin also shared that the general food choice as source of protein had slowly shifted from meat-based proteins to plant-based proteins after more awareness was provided within the last decade. Nonetheless, Mr. Kevin believed that insect and lab-grown proteins will be the next focus of protein source to deal with the worsening environmental issues and the expansion of human population in the future.

Consuming insects seems horrible to many people. This is totally understandable because insects have alien-looking appearance which produce a negative response from the general population. However, most people had forgotten that crustaceans like crab and lobsters are no different too. 

Lobsters, for example, that were abundantly found at the western coast in early days, were initially regarded as “the cockroach from the sea” due to its disgusting look. It was treated as the food of the poor and was usually served to peasants and prisoners. It was not until the mid 19th century when chefs discovered a way to make cooked lobsters look better and taste better. Now, lobsters have become one of the world’s delicacies that is worth much more than its initial value. Mr. Kevin believed, if lobsters can be accepted by people, then insects can be accepted by the people worldwide one day. 

Why have insects become the choice of a new protein source? Mr. Kevin explained that insect proteins are found to be more nutritious than other food sources. Compared to 100g of beef, 100g of crickets can provide 3 times more protein than beef, 4 times more fiber than oatmeal, and 7 times more iron than kale. Besides, raising crickets is more environmentally-friendly because they consume 12 times less feed, take up 14 times less land, and require 2000 times less water than beef production. Therefore, crickets can bring lesser planetary impact and meanwhile provide better health benefits to humans. 

Ento and Insect Protein

At this point, some audience members reflected their concerns about the safety of consuming insects. To reassure them on the safety issue, Mr. Kevin explained that only farmed crickets are used to produce Ento products. Similar to growing animals in a lab, these crickets are fed with corn and grain appeal, grown under controlled temperature and humidity, and free from antibiotics and hormone injection. After the 2-month growth cycle, these crickets will be harvested and roasted. 

Since the start of the company, Ento has been striving to make insect protein more acceptable to the public. After the launch of whole roasted crickets as their first product in 2019, they innovated and started producing baked goods using cricket protein powder. The idea was to reduce the fear of insect protein consumption due to the original form of crickets. 

In the early 2021, Ento meat was launched to make insect protein a replacement for animal-based meat in main courses. By mixing the roasted cricket powder with a mixture of different spices and herbs, Ento meat provides a full flavour experience while retaining the texture of the normal meat. Nonetheless, Mr. Kevin pointed out that Ento Meat is not meant to replicate the taste of meat, so it would taste similar but not entirely like meat. 

Currently, meals with Ento Meat are available on foodpanda and Grabfood on weekday afternoons. These whole roasted cricket snacks or baked goods are also available for sale on Ento’s website.

Speaker 3: Datin Maziah binti Omar

Datin Maziah binti Omar is the general manager from Phuture, a plant-based meat startup in Malaysia. As a cancer survivor, she greatly advocates for health consciousness and promotes the consumption of healthy food. The mission of Phuture is to reinvent the meaty experience for Asian cooking using plant-based material without compromising nutrients and great taste. 

Solution 3: Phuture Meat

To ensure the richness of taste and nutrients in Phuture meat, the Phuture R&D team had incorporated various plant-based sources of proteins, carbohydrate and healthy fat supplemented with natural colouring. Besides, all products are certified halal to ensure all races in Malaysia can enjoy the delicious products in Phuture.

Food choices offered by Phuture 

In Phuture, the products are mainly categorised into three groups, which are the easy-to-cook food including Phuture Mince and Phuture Samosa, the ready-to-cook food including siew mai and dumplings, and the ready-to-eat food including Phuture Paratha with curry. Besides being sold in local supermarkets or online, Phuture products are also exported to their partner restaurants in Singapore. 

Demonstration to prepare alternative meat

A Sustainable Alternative Meat Meal Kit was sent to each participant of the workshop upon registration. For those in Klang Valley, they received one Ento Dry Mix for patties and one Phuture Daging. As for those outside of Klang Valley, they received one Ento Dry Mix for patties and Ento Snacks.  To proceed, the session was passed to Mr. Nicholas Ou, the founder of FutureX Farm’s business partner known as Spargo Eats. He had shared two demonstration videos that showed the methods for cooking Ento Meat and Phuture Daging. 

How to make Ento Dry Mix Patties? 

1. Prepare a wet mixture by mixing egg white powder, coconut oil and soy sauce with half a cup of water. Leave it aside. 

2. Next, soak the TVP balls in water for 15 minutes. 

3. After that, drain away the water and squeeze out the water from TVP balls before placing them into the food processor. 

4. Mash the TVP balls in the food processor. If one does not have a food processor, it is also fine to mash them in a bowl manually using a spoon. 

5. Next, dissolve the beetroot powder with a tablespoon of water.

6. Add the beetroot solution, dry mixture, and wet mixture into the food processor. Mix well until the mixture has the colour of red meat.

7. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and leave it in the fridge for 2 hours. 

8. After 2 hours, the mixture can be prepared into burger patties!

How to make Phuture Pad Gra Pow?

1. Add vegetable oil and 7 thinly sliced shallots on a heated pan. Stir-fry them.

2. Add minced garlic and 3 thinly sliced chilli padi. Stir fry them.

3. Add in Phuture Mince and break them into small chunks. 

4. For the seasonings, add 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce, 2 teaspoons vegetarian oyster sauce, and 1 teaspoon of light soy sauce. Continue to fry and mix them well. 

5. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar, some salt, and ⅓ cup of water 

6. Finally, add some Thai basil leaves to finish it up. 

7. Phuture Pad Gra Pow is now ready to be served!

Click here to access the Ento patties preparation demo video.

Click here to access the Phuture Pad Gra Pow demo video.

Besides that, Spargo Eats also offered new recipe ideas on how to make the two sustainable meats as meals. Before the workshop ended, a social media contest was announced to invite the workshop participants to create their own creative recipes using their sustainable meats and share them on social media. The best recipe will be sold at Spargo Eats for one month. 

To conclude, there is an urgent need to change the current food system that is inefficient, unhealthy, and unsustainable. This workshop had therefore revealed the possible solutions from three different perspectives, which include plant-based diets, insect proteins, and plant-based meats. Regardless of the preference of sustainable diet, one must remember to make small yet consistent changes to make it a habit and a lifestyle change that benefits the health and the environment. 

Written by: Chee San

Edited by: Maki

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