Last week I was in Singapore attending the first Worlds of Healthy Flavors Asia conference at the Raffles City Convention Centre. The three-day event, hosted by The Culinary Institute of America, the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition, the Health Promotion Board of Singapore, and the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, brought together culinary and health experts from Asia and America. The main goal of the conference was to address major nutrition and health issues in Asia, such as diabetes and obesity. I was there because the organizers had asked me to make a presentation explaining UMass Dining’s efforts in promoting healthy eating and addressing wellness issues. Thanks to Greg Drescher, Vice President of The Culinary Institute of America, for inviting me, he is the visionary behind the Worlds of Healthy Flavors Conference
I had never been to Singapore before, but I’ve always wanted to go, especially to sample the food. The city is one of the most advanced and cosmopolitan cities in Asia, with one of the highest standards of living in the Southeast Asia. At UMass Dining, we already have a connection to the country. Our executive chef, Willie, is from Singapore. He often boasts about the country, and after one visit, I can see why. Food and shopping are national obsessions. Several bustling hawker centers displayed enormous arrays of Asian dishes. Meanwhile, major departmental stores and boutiques have made Singapore a byword for extravagant shopping in Asia.
The conference was well-attended by a cross section of academics, health practitioners, food and beverage directors, executive chefs, and food writers and bloggers, all of whom came together to share knowledge and gain a deeper understandings of health and wellness issues related to food. Attendees also shared a sense of urgency to advance healthier food choices in order to curb the growth of Type 2 diabetes and other diet-linked chronic diseases. The latest National Health Survey shows the obesity rate has increased in Singapore, from 6.9% in 2004 to 10.8% this year, while Massachusetts has climbed from 18.6% in 2005 to 22.7% in 2011. Something has to be done about this.
During my presentation, I discussed how UMass Dining looks after students’ health. Our foodservice operation is the second-largest campus dining operation in the nation, and I stressed that we have a responsibility to provide food that not only tastes good but also is good for our students. This involves a stealth-health policy of serving smaller portions, reducing sodium, adding more whole-grain options and fruit and vegetables, and opting for lean protein in all of our foodservice outlets. Meanwhile, we educate and promote healthy eating. In everything that we do, we do our best to provide healthy and flavorful meals that are served in an environmentally friendly manner. As I told conference attendees, this is our guiding principle.
Although I only spent four days in Singapore, I left feeling that it is perhaps the nicest country that I have ever visited in Asia. I look forward to going back to try the cuisine, especially since the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, National University of Singapore, and Singapore Health Promotion Board are educating chefs to incorporate health imperatives into local menus in a way that honors the authenticity and great taste of Asia’s wonderful cuisines.
This is Ken Toong. Thank you for keeping UMass Dining at the top.
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