What comes to mind when we think of ‘sharing economy’? Perhaps we think of rentals, ride-sharing, bed and breakfast, borrowing tools or books. Sharing economy is part of the bigger circular economy principles, believed to be socially and environmentally beneficial for many reasons. Less resources can fulfill the demand of more people. Co-creation and co-consumption are likely to be more equitable and sustainable. These are the assertions made to support the idea of sharing economy.
But to truly optimise the potential of sharing economy, let us take step back and ask, what does it mean to share? Before any form of commodified sharing such as bike rentals are brought up, we already know of sharing as an important form of social interaction. As Monika Rut, a PhD researcher and part of Sharecity examining food sharing in Singapore, pointed out, ‘Even before birth, a mother shares her food with her baby in the womb.’ Sharing is a matter of survival and it happens in many ways every day, some of which have been commodified for economic sustainability while others will remain free.
Whether it be through simple gifting, bartering, collecting or selling, different ways of sharing can contribute to good ‘sharing economy’ in their own important ways. Whether sharing goods, knowledge, experiences or spaces, the sharing economy is unique in the way it straddles the boundary between commodity and common good. Food is a good example of this.
In a recent forum organised by Green Drinks Singapore and Foodscape Collective, Monika Rut spoke about her research ‘Mapping Food Sharing Landscape in Singapore’. Looking at food production, community gardens are managed together by residents and the harvests from these gardens may be shared freely among them while the excess may be sold. Sharing in this case also involves passing down knowledge of gardening and uses of different herbs, or sharing a plot of land among neighbours.
As a ground-up group with an interest in food sustainability in Singapore, Foodscape Collective asserts that there is a growing movement of people who grow their own food. In an effort to map these grow-your-own-food movement, Foodscape Collective crowdsourced for food growers through an online form and received 125 responses on just 4 days. Beside the location and types of food grown, the respondents indicated their reasons for growing food. Being conscious of what we eat – its environmental and health effects, of what happens to excess food and food waste, are some interesting reasons shared.
The fact is sharing food does not automatically mean wasting less. For example, when having a potluck, each guest may bring in a large portion of different food and there may be large excesses remaining. Good matching of demand and supply need to be coordinated when sharing food to avoid waste, and it help to have alternative channels for where excess food would go. For these reasons, food sharing in Singapore also extends to collection and redistribution of unwanted food, and collective composting of food waste.
So that is sharing food from the points of view of production and waste – the input and output. But the most intuitive way to share food is to eat together. In Singapore, eating is almost never missing in any public event and can be said to be the highlights of all festivities. Sharing food on the same table is a means of intergenerational and intercultural sharing. It initiates conversations about both lighthearted and difficult topics, and bring into the same conversation people who would have meet each other in other settings.
People’s Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze) picked up this idea in its recent initiative called What The Haze – an afternoon of conversation regarding the issue of haze and possible solutions that took place over lunch. The meal shared was cooked without the ubiquitous palm oil whose cultivation is frequently unsustainable and associated with haze-inducing forest fires. In this way, the event demonstrates that it is possible to both enjoy haze-free food and take further actions to fight the haze.
This is an example of the potential positive impact of food sharing. Through sharing, it is possible to effectively introduce the habits of mindful consumption, including reducing unsustainably sourced food and opting for naturally, locally grown food. Together we influence one another to eat more healthily and sustainably. If we can extend this idea to influence other choices in our lifestyle as well as to other aspects of our economy, then we can indeed build a more sustainable world by doing something we always knew how to: by sharing.