Soul Topics

Stories for environmentalism: Milk/dairy and its identifications (histories, politics, emotions)

Bottles of milk, nutrient packed

The significance of milk to human diets was boosted in the historical context of malnutrition and World War I.

Recognising opportunity, companies and science leveraged on the high nutrient content within dairy milk – consisting of protein, vitamins, calcium – to ascribe it a ‘SUPERFOOD‘ status at the time.

Therefore, dairy milk was marketed as an essential food for children, helping them to grow up and become strong. The rise of dairy milk in the past was attributed to factors of science, economics and politics.

We still like dairy in contemporary times

In today’s context of climate change, dairy is undisputedly one of the most environmentally detrimental everyday foods. Dairy products come from cows, which emit unsustainably high levels of greenhouse gases, including nitrous oxide and methane.

Dairy milk and cows

Today, our unquestioned liking of milk persists – but this is because of a continuation of historical worldviews that had once served the human population.

Certain ideas – bolstering the status of dairy as an essential component of our diets – should no longer carry as much weight and significance.

Dairy has been known to cause inflammation, and excess dairy contributes to health issues. Besides, “superfoods” are aplenty and can be vibrantly found in all sorts of non-dairy, plant-based sources, such as chia seeds and nut milks.

To move into a sustainable future, what we need is a better understanding of where our unquestioned biases, likings and tastes came from, so that we can re-think them and come to better solutions. If we do understand the historical context of these (dominant) views, we find that different views may be appropriate for different times, and made valid due to the science, economics and politics of those times. Ultimately, we want to create better stories for our contemporary times and futures, and actively communicate them in the present.

To tell effective contemporary stories that would benefit us and our environments, we must unpack and destabilize old ones – the claims that keep our bodies in states of resistance and addiction.

Moving Forward With Stories


In recent years, the rise of plant-based milks demonstrated the consciousness of an increasingly health and environmentally conscious citizenry. Several noteworthy factors debunking the importance of dairy are:

  • the dairy consumption timeline of the human race only dates back to 10,000 years ago amongst the 4,000,000 years of human bipedal history (that’s roughly 25% of human history)
  • contemporary humans who consume dairy possess relatively lightly built skeletons compared to our ancestors (dispelling the brittle bones myth put forth by dairy companies)
  • the lack of bone fractures attributed to the non-consumption of dairy (our bones are not that brittle when we don’t consume dairy, after all)
  • global statistics that most people in the world are lactose intolerant.

How will people identify with stories for environmentalism? The crucial next step in storytelling is to go beyond factual information, as the logic of facts do not appeal more than the emotional tone and immediacy put forth in our storytelling.

When we tell stories of milk, we may consider how these stories would ‘clash’ with other stories, such as stories sold by companies that use milk. Milk (and dairy) has been commonly placed as an ingredient into food varieties today (e.g. the popularity of milk teas and coffees), appealing through a variety of brands and narratives.

In fact, the most effective stories are contextualised in our cultural contexts, those that can appeal to our intuition, win hearts (not just minds) and gain traction.

If we are infiltrate the consciousness of citizens with such a framing: “Would the majority of people in our planet be okay with destroying ourselves and the livelihoods of our future generations through our dietary choices?”, would there be sufficient political backing and industry clout for such a stance? It would be unlikely, as such a stance goes against our cultural norms. This framing, then, supports momentum generated for transformational discussions, interventions and institutional responsibility.

In communities of our everyday lives, stories that enable common ground and places of agency can inspire us to act.

A starting point is to communicate stories that portray clearer links between the perceived infinitesimal scale of our actions with the (felt) immediacies of impacts here or elsewhere.

Written: Feb 8, 2019.


Ode: How to tell a great story

White Gold: The unstoppable rise of alternative milks

Dairy-Free Diets Are Dangerous (Mike The Vegan)

Soul Topics

An Unintentional and Discouraging Critique of a Food Waste Entrepreneurial Idea

Delving into Seth Godin’s philosophy of serving our tribes, it seems that the goal is to find a product or service that can positively impact one community (i.e. a tribe that already exists amongst us), while sustaining us (the providers of that product/service) – so that the systems we set up may long continue, and even scale. But that comes after benefitting a small group.

The difficulty lies in achieving both the former and the latter at the same time. Sometimes, truly impactful and sustainable solutions for our communities require plenty of layers of hard work and commitment, along with ingenuity, creativity and passion sustained throughout its systems. I guess it is fair to come to a realisation that, for entrepreneurs, the monetary incentives that sustains most businesses typically outweighs the aspect on “making a difference”, and for social science nerds like myself, we have plenty of critique of why solutions are bad whilst failing to come up with ideas, executing them and making money.

Recently, I came across an article which celebrates the invention of an AI food waste tracker, which initially impressed me – on the surface, it seemed to meet both communal needs and monetary incentives (as a tech & AI start-up which can scale, with a brilliant idea). Especially with lines/paragraphs like this that were re-posted on social media pages:

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 1.18.17 AM.png

The following video explains the objectives to an identified problem, and the corresponding technological solution.

The AI food waste tracker is a solution that works for the clients (hotels and other dining places), by helping them save cost of purchasing excess food that is ultimately to be thrown away. Purportedly, it addresses the environmental issue of food waste. Unfortunately, when critically examined, both of these may not be the case at all. As a very critical but well-reasoned comment would point out its flaws: in terms of difficulties understanding the needs of clients (the businesses purchasing the AI tracker), as well as difficulties understanding the complex multi-scalar problems of food waste:

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 1.20.04 AM

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 1.20.17 AM

There is another problem: It does not solve the problem of hunger, which was initially identified. Does it really help the issue of food nutrition, health and hunger for lower-income folks?

Screenshot 2019-06-02 at 12.54.12 AM

Very unencouragingly, this brings me back to a cycle of assumptions around the food issues lower-income folks face:

  • Donated food is better than not donating food (Are distribution systems effective? Should we enhance food distribution in SG?)
  • But donated food (or thrown away food) tends to be poor in nutritional value, and are not that healthy
  • Food donation and distribution systems can be very tedious to set up and maintain, involving unsustainable work processes and lack generation of a profit margin or even revenue that sustains its efforts. Besides, they are difficult to scale.
  • It seems like the solution needs to be re-worked altogether. Not only does it have doubtful environmental benefits (would food waste really be reduced in earlier parts of the global production networks? Even if so, is that beneficial for starving farmers?), it seems completely disconnected from the community it is trying to serve.

Admirably, the initiative is bold enough to target clients (hotels & other dining places) that could afford the technology, and the technology is perhaps brilliant.

But here are some alternative — rather unformed thoughts of tackling the food nutrition, health and hunger issue:

  • Begin with a lower-income community in mind.
  • Understand how culture, sustainability, costs and other factors mediate choices that undermine health and nutrition. Get people to share their results on certain diets / meals / health foods, the monetary costs, convenience, and food miles.
  • Implement experiments amongst community members to see what dietary or lifestyle changes might work. Document this.
  • Find a way to re-embed poorer folks who cannot afford food amongst communities where there can potentially be a sharing culture.
  • Build a database of foods that people consume.
  • Maybe we can come up with our resources and what we support (e.g. locally grown food, medicinal herbs, plant-based, IF, keto).
  • Ideally, there should be research, and we (the ones serving our tribes) should have our own stances (albeit slightly differing from one another), and we are ready to consider, critique, debate, incorporate new knowledges. We are not necessarily the providers of information, but we are the architects of a robust system that serves the community and is for everyone. Making money is possible, but not the ultimate aim, maybe affiliate, and to sustain ourselves – there must be potential for scalability.
  • Then, through our identity, we can broaden our reach to welcome greater target audiences, from youths to elderly, including low-income folks w/ special emphasis/targeting projects.
  • Then, we can get businesses / organisations w similar values (health, environmental sustainability, local orgs) to work with us, collaborate via healthy, mutually beneficial partnerships.


Soul Topics

The Necessity of Mourning in The Modern Era

We are not a society that discusses much on the value of grief and death.

We are ‘ascenders’; we constantly seek to elevate ourselves amongst the masses, and proudly define ourselves as superior in our own ways.

We want to feel good in our identities – Who doesn’t? To act as a beacon of light, we might even (want to) fight for change, justice and goodness in a divided world.

However, as we look toward and reach out enthusiastically for the skies, we have forgotten the necessity of appreciating the ground that has enabled us in the first place, the lowly Earth.

Unfortunately, this matter goes beyond a matter of gratitude. Our inability to examine and process lowly, Earthly things pertaining to our humanness – as compared to the grandeur of the skies where our hopes and dreams reside – literally stunts our growth, and makes us imbalanced individuals.

Without perspective of polarities and the dual nature of life, our linear obsession with ascending becomes our downfall.

Transition Phases of Life, and Sacrifice

In an information saturated society and technological age, we have been taught the ways – along with many tips and tricks – to achieve what we want, thereby making us very clever.

But something is missing, as we have not been taught what sacrifice or making space means, and the necessity of it. Often we fail because we are not ready ourselves to handle what is to come as we transition from one stage of life to another.

Undoubtedly there are the obvious transition phases in our lives, when a kid grows into an adolescent and into a mature adult, middle adulthood, old age, pregnancy and death.

During each of these transition phases, in order for the new event to be embraced and welcomed, it is clear, inevitable and undeniable that something has to be given up.

Just as a mother gives up the old freedom of her lifestyle to raise a child, a teenager makes numerous sacrifices to embrace what he conceives in his mind – as societally conditioned – as adulthood, whereas an older man relinquishes his impossible dreams as he embraces a new dawn in old age.

However, it is not only during these key milestones of our lives that such sacrifices must be made. As we seek to grow and evolve, we must grow stronger to handle the challenges to come.

This means that we must become aware of what aspects of our old conditioning, habits and identities – that have supported us up to this point – must be relinquished. For what is to come, these aspects of ourselves are no longer resourceful. We must let them go.

This is the concept of making space. By allowing the old to pass, we make space for something new to be manifest. For us to do greater things, we need new thoughts, knowledge, habits and rituals. The deeply subconscious beliefs that hint of a degrading “I am not good enough” must be confronted, undermined and replaced with more supportive, uplifting thoughts.


Thus, we must mourn. As humans, we are wired, conditioned and addicted to certain ways of life most familiar to us; we naturally seek stability and gravitate toward the default.

To mourn goes beyond merely recognising that our default is no longer useful. Instead, it is a conscious effort to feel sadly for these ways of living that were once supportive.

Because we are absolutely certain that we will get better (and we are getting better), we must deeply feel sad that no longer would we stuff junk food and alcohol down our bodies in order to numb ourselves from pain. We must deeply feel sad that the days we indulge in the comfort of our addictions – all of which fuel our needs and are generated by our deepest wounds – are no longer going to be tolerated. We must deeply feel sad that we would no longer let ourselves enjoy the cheap thrill of an egoistical win by hurting others in a needless argument.

The key, though, is not the feeling of sadness, but the awakening of ourselves. It is the process of bringing the wounds deeply embedded in our subconscious into light. The beautiful irony is that the darkness of mourning sheds the light of day upon us. By mourning what is to pass, we go within to negotiate with the inner demons that rule our lives, so that we eventually reach an agreement where they would no longer rule over us.

This ensures that we are adequately prepared for the next phase. We go into the lowliness of our souls, clean up the dirt within our psyches, and thus allow our heavy souls to finally delight in the hopes and possibilities of the skies. Truly, we have become better humans, bringing goodness to ourselves and others.

Yet, we must understand that this does not mean we have escaped our human frailties; we have merely done the necessary work sufficiently to get to this next destination of ours. And when we are ready to move on, the cycle of mourning resumes itself.