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‘Per Votum Ad Astra’, through Choice Architecture to inspire Circular Food Equity

Using choice architecture guided by positive psychology and behavioural economics to achieve zero food waste, zero hunger, and balanced diet

Photo of CHIU YIH
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

MyQR Sdn. Bhd.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small company (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

(1) Triple Ventures Sdn. Bhd. (2) Aciliit Solutions Sdn. Bhd. (3) Sunway University (4) University of South Wales (5) University Technology Mara (6) Global Shapers Kuala Lumpur

Website of Legally Registered Entity

http://myemptyplate.org/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Kuala Lumpur

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Malaysia

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

West coast of Peninsular Malaysia, which is an area size of about 70,000 km^2

What country is your selected Place located in?

Malaysia

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

The Sunway Group Malaysia is our foremost role model which we feel encapsulates our vision for sustainable development. The founder of this group, Tan Sri Dato Dr. Jeffrey Cheah turned an open mining land into a well-developed bustling hub of economic activity in Selangor. With a myriad of key developments under the Sunway construction arm, facilities such as theme parks, hotels, education institution and a medical centre were developed using a sustainable blue-print in these endeavours. As such, we are inspired to use sustainable development principles to guide our vision in creating new and sustainable economic growth through the facilitation of circular food equity.


We first developed the seeds of our vision in a local food outlet in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur known locally as the “Mamak” which is an Indian-Muslim outlet serving a halal fusion of Indian-Malay food. The first three team members formed the founding team in June of 2018, all having experience in the food industry, one in providing IT infrastructure, one in marketing, and another in sustainable processing of food. The combined working experience totals to about 40 years. The team has seen a huge amount of food waste in this region, some of which actually resulted from unused surplus. One of the founders did both her degrees (Bachelor’s and MBA) at Sunway University which is owned by Sunway Group, as she looks up to them due to the commercial and economic achievements in sustainability. Sunway University is also a start-up hot-spot for social entrepreneurship and tech-based entrepreneurship which resulted in very intense knowledge exchanges that further refine the tools necessary for the implementation of the aforementioned vision. The subsequent recruitment of the remaining visionaries was also via Sunway University which include nutritional economist, social marketing, behavioural economist, and social media influencer.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Malaysia is a multiracial country blessed with a variety of food where approximately 30% of Malaysians have inherent food obsession. Younger generation of Malaysians have preference for higher spending when it comes to the purchase of food and beverages, with more inclination to dine out. Malaysian food is a strong symbol of cultural identity as it brings together a blend of multiculturalism and national unity, and the source of national pride and joy.

There are more than 160,000 food outlets in Malaysia and a number of them are open past midnight. These places are ‘Mamak’ outlets. People usually like to spend their time ‘Mamak’ing, a Malaysian slang that means eating and chit-chatting at Indian-Muslim food outlets that operate until the following day. The etymology of ‘Mamak’ is conventionally a reference to a sub-section of the Indian-Malaysian community who is Muslim. A ‘Mamak’ outlet serves essentially the same food as a typical Indian outlet but with beef. A ‘Mamak’ outlet represents a kind of multi-cultural and multi-class setting for gathering, as it is cheap and usually opens past midnight, convenient for conversing on a wide range of topics, from politics to entertainment. Oddly, ‘Mamak’ outlets have now organically become hot-spots for cultural exchanges and a cultural symbol of unity, becoming an unofficial decentralised multicultural sources of pride that are not facilitated by any official top-down policy. Typical ‘Mamak’ food will be a flat dough bread known locally as ‘Roti Canai’ (a variation of parotta), Mee Goreng Mamak’ (fried noodles using tomato sauce and/or chilli sauce, potatoes, sweet soy sauce, and curry spice).

‘Peranakan’ culture is another one of Malaysia’s cultural gems. The dominant ‘Peranakan’ centres in Malaysia are Malacca and Penang (located in the west coast), characterised by its unique hybridisation of ancient Chinese culture with the local Malay culture. The cultural roots can be traced back to the 15th century from inter-cultural marriages. 'Peranakan' food in Malaysia is sometimes referred to as ‘Nyonya’ food. These places serve distinctly ‘Nyonya’ food such as ‘Otak-otak’ (grilled fish cake made of ground fish meat mixed with tapioca starch and spices, wrapped in banana leaf), and ‘Perut Ikan’ (a spicy stew comprising mainly vegetables, herbs, and fish bellies preserved in brine and leafs of wild pepper).

In Malacca, there is another multicultural rich heritage that is not as well-known, which is the ‘Kristang' community. Due to the past Portuguese and Dutch colonisation there, the ‘Kristang’ community is a result of mostly Portuguese and Dutch colonialists intermarrying Malay, Chinese and Indian living there in those times. This multicultural gem arose a century after the first traces of ‘Peranakan’. However, ‘Kristang’ community and language are fast disappearing, but traces still remain in the family names of Malaysians having Portuguese and Dutch origins, such as Fernandes, Pinto, Gomes, and Van Huizel.

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

70000

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

32000000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Malaysians are categorised into Top 20% (T20), Middle 40% (M40), and Bottom 40% (B40) income groups. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) campaign is typically marketing campaign, but usually does not target the B40. Thus, the latter is less aware about food waste, food inequity, and poor diet. This is compounded by the fact that many processed, fatty, and sugary foods are cheap and easily accessible. Even some local delights found at cheaper outlets serve sugar-rich foods and drinks. The most popular substitute-diet to that of low-carbs is keto-diet (high protein diet) but they are more expensive, and lifestyle of people above the B40.

Many Malaysians also use cheap margarine as a substitute to ghee and butter in their cooking, especially the B40. Margarine is an artificial trans-fat that has been scientifically known to be the worst form of fat. ‘Mamak’ outlets serve food that is especially known to be cheap and delicious, although traditionally used ghee, nowadays use margarine thus exposing their customers of all classes to the ill-effects of trans-fat. Some traditional Malaysian diets especially desserts like the multitude of ‘kuehs’ are high in sugar. Decoupling culture/tradition from healthier eating and lifestyle would be very challenging now and also far into the future.

Malaysia’s food waste is estimated to be about 6.5 million tonnes, from 4.4 million tonnes in 2005. Households are biggest contributor to food waste, at 38%; this is followed by food courts and restaurants at 23%, wet and night markets at 24%, and hotels at 7%. Restaurant patrons expect larger portion of food served beyond their dietary necessity, thus if not overeating, inevitably result in large amount of edible food being thrown away. In restaurants, 65% of food wastage could be avoidable if consumers take responsibility for their sustainable consumption. A Malaysian on average wastes 150g of food for each of his/her meal which is equivalent to 250g of CO2 emission, 30 minutes of electricity for one household, and 17 litres of water wasted.

As food gradually moves down the supply/value chains from farms to forks, the environmental impact for each kg of food increases. The increasing environmental impact for every kg of food moved is due to a combination of factors, such as (i) single-use plastic needed for packaging and repackaging, (ii) fossil fuel needed for transportation and distribution, (iii) energy consumed for food preservation, (iv) gas and electricity needed for preparing and cooking meals, and (v) water used for farming, washing, and rewashing. Therefore, as consumers are end-users in a typical value chain, every 1 kg of food waste at consumption has significantly higher environmental impact than 1 kg of food waste at farms, processors, supermarkets, or groceries. The future challenge is to redesign for low environmental-impact value chain, and to change consumer behaviour since the shape of future value chains are defined by consumer preference.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Circular food equity can be achieved by utilising Multi-Sided Platform (MSP) business model. These business models are already utilised and popularised by big tech, but have yet to be applied for value chain integration and circular economy. Through network effect, an MSP creates value by facilitating exchanges between two or more interdependent groups, usually consumers and producers (sometimes with advertisers). This business model is a perfect fit to create economic growth via circular food equity when communities work together to achieve zero hunger, zero waste, and balanced nutrition for all. The ethics of governance for the creation and management of circular food equity enabled by MSP business model will predominantly be by UN Sustainable Development Goals 2 (zero hunger), 12 (responsible consumption and production), and US EPA’s ‘Food Recovery Hierarchy’.

Behavioural change theories and behavioural economics are not widely understood or practised in Malaysia. While Malaysian stakeholders do aim to reduce food waste by recycling, reselling, and upcycling of food surpluses, they only do this via awareness-raising campaigns which is inadequate. In other fields of study, positive psychology and positive reinforcements appear to yield better results when applied to feel-good effects of self-improvement; while negative psychology and negative reinforcements appear to yield better results when people are trying to avoid pain and discomfort, but less effective at sustained positive behavioural change. The most promising of behavioural change theories seem to be Fogg Behaviour Model (FBM) which states that three elements which are Motivation, Ability, and Trigger (MAT) must converge at the same moment for a behaviour change to occur.

We believe that a good choice architecture is an extension to a sustained behavioural change towards sustainability. A good choice architecture such as priming and heuristic (for example, improved rate of organ donation in France) can yield a sustained positive outcome. In the context of zero food waste and zero hunger, there is already a Malaysian food outlet that gives their diners the option (through menu design) to reduce portion size of some of their sides (most commonly wasted), and for every side that is not wasted, the outlet donates a certain percentage of their revenue to food aid, thus addressing food waste and food inequity simultaneously.

We also believe that social media and mobile apps are the best platforms for the application of choice architecture, FBM, and the application of positive psychology with positive reinforcements. Unlike conventional media (printed advertisements, radio, and television), new media such as mobile apps and social media are highly interactive for users with fast feedback loop to identify best practice in behavioural change to create circular food equity. This fast feedback loop is what first enabled social movements such as ‘#MeToo, and ‘#TrashTag’ challenge to go viral.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

By using choice architecture to close the gap between people’s beliefs and people’s actions, food equity can achieve zero food waste, zero hunger, and accessible healthy diet for all, regardless of cultural, ethnic, religious, and class differences. This circular economy (circular food equity) will be demand-led (or bottom-up approach) driven by social movement, citizen philanthropy, sponsorship, and/or volunteering. The digitalisation of the economy and services (as we approach IR 4.0) will increase transparency of many forms transactions and communications. All stakeholders of food value chains are going to be held more accountable, thus will consume and/or produce more conscientiously. Food aid and food donation will not be single-mindedly focused only on elimination of hunger, but also on providing balanced nutrition. Healthier food ingredients and meals will not be as expensive as they are now, and will be more financially accessible by the B40 income group. Choice architecture (inspired by Fogg Behavioural Model, positive psychology, positive reinforcements, and behavioural economics) in UI (user-interface) and UX (user-experience) will be applied not only in current generation big tech companies for outsize profits, but also help bridge the gap between people’s beliefs and people’s actions as society strives for food equity for all. The next generation of big tech companies are the ones that can create and manage circular economies, and in our case, circular food equity. Food waste will be a relic of the past as innovators upend conventional value chain, guided by the principles of ‘Food Recovery Hierarchy’, UN SDG 2, and UN SDG 12. Circular food equity can help preserve our distinctly multicultural yet national identity, especially cultures from marginalised communities. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will not just be a paid lip service of multinational companies, but also a central part of new business models such as Multi-Side Platforms (MSPs).

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

‘Per Votum Ad Astra’ is in Latin which literally means ‘through aspiration and hope to the stars’. This is a metaphor for using positive psychology and positive reinforcements in behavioural economics to achieve circular food equity. Our food equity achieves zero food waste, zero hunger, and accessible healthy diet for all, regardless of cultural, ethnic, religious, and class differences. Prior studies have shown that people’s beliefs are not always congruent or translated into actions. We believe that the application of positive choice architecture can close the gap between people’s beliefs and people’s actions.  As consumers are typically located at the end of our conventional food value chain, the concept of ‘circular’ came into the picture where we envision consumers to be the driving force behind demand-led circular economy and by extension, circular food equity. This driving force will be in the form of social movement, citizen philanthropy, sponsorship, and volunteering. This stands in stark contrast with prior attempts at circular economy which tended to be top-down approach or supply push through technological innovation in the supply side, but has met with limited success.

Environment: The current estimate is that each Malaysian wastes about 150g of food every time they have a meal. At zero food waste, each Malaysian is saving an equivalent of 17 litres of water, and 250g of CO2 emission for every meal. Also, the nature of food production and manufacturing will change as producers and manufacturers start to think of innovative ways to create value out of the concept of ‘Food Recovery Hierarchy’ to utilise waste and by-products of others. Environment will be less stressed by the pressure to ever increase food production as food value chain produces less waste due to more efficient production and consumption. Malaysians will consume more consciously as they become more aware of the environmental impact of over- and wasteful consumption such as pollution, ecosystem destruction, and deforestation.

Economics: Multi-Sided Platform (MSP) business models have already been proven to be feasible, very scalable, and highly profitable. They are utilised by big techs such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon. MSP monetises relationships between different group of stakeholders, usually without producing or owning any products (e.g. Uber does not own a single car or taxi to enable inner city transportation, and Airbnb does not own a single hotel or accommodation to provide accommodation for travellers). This strategy does not require high capital expenditure into physical assets that slows down scalability. Circular economy, in this case, circular food equity would need to utilise MSPs to close the value chain loop since circular economy will require multi-stakeholder engagements and rapid scalability to address some of the world’s most pressing social and environmental issues. The advent of IR 4.0, which is the enabler to circular economy will create wealth multiplier effect for Malaysians. As this circular food equity is predominantly service and knowledge intensive, more white collar jobs are created to help transition Malaysia from middle-income country to high income country. Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) of the B40 have lots of surpluses that they cannot sell or offload before their sell-by date, usually resulting in loss of income. Circular food equity will be a platform enabler for these SMEs to offload their surpluses before their sell-by date due to exposure to buyers/consumers who are concerned with conscious consumption and value-added upcycling. B40 food businesses will experience zero food waste, with smaller operating costs, thus larger margins and improved spending power.

Culture: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) marketing and spending are increasing especially for multinational companies, as each strive to be influencer and taking moral leadership in circular food equity. Woke-advertising is only just the beginning of impactful CSR. Businesses will be guided by principles of ‘Food Recovery Hierarchy, UN SDG 2, and UN SDG 12, as each treats moral leadership as new competitive advantage. Already, customers are rating food outlets by quality of food and services, hotels by their hospitality and room services, etc. This rating service is already influencing how future customers are selecting their ideal service providers. Moral leadership is the next phase of evolution for the rating industry. This is where the circular concept (social capital) comes into play as input from value chain end-users will transform the whole value chain of food.

Technology and Culture: In transforming the food vision, ‘Food Recovery Hierarchy’ model is integral part of the maximising potential of a circular economy, and it is applied in this case by societies, organisations and/or governments to minimise and divert a variety of food waste for the benefit of the eco-system, society, and the economy. Circular food equity and ‘Food Recovery Hierarchy’ will be  integrated into everyday life through Industrial Revolution (IR) 4.0, regardless if it is at home or at work, including utilisation of smart bins (for sorting) and smart fridges (expiry date, quality detection, recipe recommendation for reuse of leftovers). The food data can be easily accessed by utilisation of smart phones and mobile apps. Positive choice architecture in UI and UX for IR 4.0 can nudge for a cultural shift towards sustainability. This can be facilitated by mobile phone and mobile apps, in the form of digital tools such as push notifications, default settings, etc. Blockchain will also be an integral part of IR 4.0 as blockchain will be needed to record and ensure food safety, quality, and footprint across the whole value chain. As people like to take pictures of their food, and then posting them on social media, Artificial Intelligence (AI) would be able to recognise the cultural context of the food in question, then provide necessary information prompts or push notifications that provide relevant cultural information and context (e.g. Kristang, Chitty, Mamak, Peranakan). This way, the richness of our culture would not diminish due to constant personalised reminders and education.

Technology and Diet: Posting of food onto social media platforms such as Instagram is a very popular social activity. Our vision is to utilise the amount of data posted on photo-sharing platforms to analyse dietary trends of general and specific Malaysian demographics, for example, whether it is carbohydrate-laden, lacking fruits and vegetables, sugar-rich, meal times, frequency of snacking, etc. This information, alongside information inputs from smart fridges, can help us identify inadequacies in current diets, and then make appropriate and personalised recommendations to help consumers achieve more balanced diets. This data can also be used by policy-makers to identify if certain incentives or taxation are needed on certain types of food ingredients to encourage cultural shift towards diet that is less wasteful and more nutritious. As a good diet is a very effective tool for better disease prevention, by extension, healthcare cost would be lower too for both, individuals and government.

Policy:

Ministry of Communications and Multimedia: Data-sharing is inevitable as different industrial sectors collaborate amongst themselves to provide personalised value-added services for the improvement of well-being of all Malaysians. Regulations on privacy and data protection of all Malaysians need to be clearer defined to avoid unnecessary litigation (from breach of trust in regulatory grey areas) that will slow down the development of IR 4.0 in Malaysia. The best practice in data-sharing for the benefits of healthy and well-fed Malaysians will be defined and regulated since dietary patterns can affect health premiums, while the nature of physical activities (work and/or sports) can affect dietary patterns.

Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development: As women are dominant decision makers be it eating out or household food consumption, they thus play a significant factor in diets and food security of their family members. Policies will empower women (through education and economic incentives) especially from the B40 group to better manage and decide what and how food should be consumed by their households. Also, conscious consumption tends to start from home where mothers play a big role in the informal education of their children. Charity Aid Foundation’s (CAF) World Giving Index for 2015 ranked Malaysia in the 10th spot, but not effectively translated to food aid for the marginalised. As the ministry is also responsible for the marginalised communities, there will also be policies from the ministry to ensure that Malaysians’ charitable giving has better efficacy in its food-equity performance.

Ministry of Health and Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs: There will be tax on unhealthy food ingredients such as sugar, trans-fat, and ingredients with high glycaemic index. Tax money can be funnelled into subsidies for other healthier food ingredients such as ghee, butter, and ingredients with low glycaemic index. Without causing a wholesale make-over of much-love traditional cuisine, over a period of time, such policies would subtly nudge Malaysians to utilise healthier food ingredients for traditional cuisines.

Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture: Malacca and Penang are well known locally and internationally to be tourist destination for its food, rich history and multiculturalism. Policies will ensure the revival of cultures of marginalised communities such as Kristang and Chitty, as their food and culture also have revenue generating potential in the form of attracting more tourists. These communities will benefit not only from the revival of their cultures, but also gain increase income from extra tourist spending.

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Team

Hi CHIU YIH 

Welcome to the Food Vision Prize community!

For the last hours before the deadline, make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.
Here is the link to the pocket guide: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o8WGMus6-V8GywWdlNwmCpk7I1fMVzcQ/view

Look forward to seeing your submission finalised by 31st January, 5:00 pm EST :)