‘Singapore has a gluttony culture’

Belmont Lay
The culture of gluttony is alive and very strong in Singapore owing to our ability to eat anything. (Photo courtesy of Belmont Lay)
The culture of gluttony is alive and very strong in Singapore owing to our ability to eat anything. (Photo courtesy of Belmont Lay)

In "The FlipSide", local blogger Belmont Lay lets loose on local politics, culture and society in his weekly musings. To be taken with a pinch of salt and with parental permission advised. In this post, he talks about Singaporeans' obsession with food.

At the inaugural Social Sciences Conference organised by the Singapore Management University (SMU) School of Social Sciences on 17 March, former President of Singapore S.R. Nathan was asked by a student if there was a common Singaporean culture.

This elicited what was perhaps a scoff and a dismissal, as our ex-president replied rhetorically, "Do we have a Singaporean culture?"

After which, the mainly pubescent audience burst into laughter.

I mean, all this is fairly understandable.

It is definitely hard to say what is our culture and identity.

Especially when we've been exposed to ourselves for so long to the extent that we have become blind to our idiosyncrasies.

But do you know what is glaringly evident but no one is willing to say out loud?

Here goes: the culture of gluttony is alive and very strong in Singapore owing to our ability to eat anything.

Food obsessed

And it is not just about bonding over food. It is about eating until it hurts. Like until it comes out of our ears.

Over here, people eat not as a pastime or for survival. But the partaking of calories is for absolutely no reason at all.

In other places in the world, people eat when they are hungry. Or when they are taking a break from engaging in a full-fledged civil war.

However, Singaporeans eat when they are full -- because they are never hungry in the first place.

To prove what I'm saying is true, let's look at the figures -- and I don't just mean the physical aspect of things.

In this country, one in 10 bloggers writes about fashion.

This is in comparison to nine in 10 bloggers who write about food.

I can bet you a million dollars these statistics are completely spurious, but it could well be true because you intuitively know what I'm talking about.

The most frequented websites here, besides porn sites, are food sites.

HungryGoWhere is huge -- or as humungous as the man I'm staring at now who is putting food equivalent to the size of his head into his mouth.

Think: when a certain Dr Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost blog fame, which celebrates the culture of chewing, also happens to be a food critic and a general practitioner at the same time, you know things have come to a head.

Not to mention, another particular food blogger who is relatively big here, Brad Lau, a.k.a. Lady Iron Chef, has eaten so much he has developed a problem identifying publicly his own gender.

That should sufficiently explain the magnitude of the problem of gluttony, shouldn't it?

Think again: what is one hot topic on the national agenda this year?

With HDB prices going through the roof and costs of COEs exploding, you'd think to say our economy or what's left of it, right?

But alas, no. The hot topic is the design of hawker centres of the future.

Think again, but harder this time: Ask any man of the street what are the pros of implementing a progressive tax system, and the most common answer will be: "Erm... ya regarding that... Yes, I think... erm..."

Ask where to find the best char kway teow, and they will argue until they turn blue.

And that is after a 30-minute bout of chest-shoving and in-your-face trash talking.

Food overrides all

Plus, a multitude of slimming advertisements and centres should be an indication that people have issues keeping their weight down.

And remember, people don't grow fat overnight.

They grow fat after years of cultivation.

You mean you don't wonder why?

Still don't believe me?

Travel along Geylang on any given night and tell me what you see.

Yes, you will witness vice in its rawest form.

Besides the brothels soliciting you lustily to give in and savour their goodness, there are the temptations served up by the eateries that are the real attractions in this part of town.

And when the street walkers are coming in as distant runner-ups against food in this race to the bottom between the deadly sins, it is clear we have undoubtedly fostered an undeniable desire to eat ourselves silly.

But our culture of being gluttons and amateur foodies ought to be celebrated.

It is what keeps us alive. It is what makes us human. And boisterous.

It is also what keeps us functioning, along with what's left of our economy, till kingdom come.

Belmont Lay is one of the editors of New Nation. He thinks the best char kway teow is at Golden Mile Food Centre.