What does ‘Support Local’ really mean?

The term ‘support local’ today is primarily used to show support for individuals and independent business that market themselves as new creators of made-in Singapore content. Often, the ‘content’ in mind relates to that of the arts, fashion and the new wave of food offerings, particularly cafes, that’s constantly growing in Singapore.

Simply put, ‘support local’ is a symbol of anti-mass consumerism, coupled with a desire by individuals and groups to identify themselves within an already diverse young nation.

While Singaporean band .gif has flown the flag in venues like London, they ultimately still face a challenge reaching out or rather gaining the support of the general public.

While Singaporean band .gif has flown the flag in venues like London, they ultimately still face a challenge reaching out or rather gaining the support of the general public.

Yet can the ‘support local’ tag be more than just a term to describe content and individuals that do not fit the norm?

The recent news that Singapore would be getting its own Michelin Food Guide has brought a strong call for the world to recognise our ‘Singapore Food’ onto the global stage. Foodies and food aficionados alike would definitely agree on this in an instant. I mean we don’t want the world to know us simply as ‘Singapore Noodles’ in Western Chinese takeout do we?

If that’s the case, can such acts of togetherness of a larger community be considered as ‘supporting local?’ How then does this differ from the often-negative perceptions people have towards the support for local music, literature and other similar content?

At Farmer's Markets such as this one at Dempsey offer fusion food with Singapore-sourced produce, what makes it different from supporting the local Char Kway Teow dish>

At Farmer’s Markets such as this one at Dempsey offer fusion food with Singapore-sourced produce, what makes it different from supporting the local Char Kway Teow dish?

The Arts & then some
Contrast concert tickets to Taylor Swift and any K-Pop band, musicians in Singapore, until recently, have long struggled to tap into our own local market, having instead to explore international options just like Stefanie Sun and JJ Lin did.

Locally produced theatre shows by the likes of The Necessary Stage and Checkpoint Theatre can never compete with blockbusters such as Les Miserables and even Disney on Ice, whereas even Museums and galleries often only experience high visitorship when internationally acclaimed exhibitions arrive in Singapore.

As an organiser of made-in Singapore music gigs myself, my talk with musicians, whom I feel exhibit perhaps the best balance between supporting local talent and being open to international exposure, often goes back to the point that there really is no such as thing as a ‘Singapore sound’, while debates persists over whether there is indeed a brand of Singapore film, literature and theatre.

While literature in Singapore has found some success in creating an identity base of the types of relatable stories told, it's recognition still ultimately pales in comparison to that of food.

While literature in Singapore has found some success in creating an identity due to its relatable stories told, it’s recognition still ultimately pales in comparison to that of our association with food.


Back to the Food-ture
The debate as to whether the familiar dishes of our hawker centre are truly Singaporean is often up in the air. A simple rattling of items like Hokkien Mee, Hainanese Chicken Rice and Indian Rojak easily highlights the influence that our cuisine has adopted from all across the world. This is not to discount the ingenious adaptations our hawkers and chefs have come up with over the years to adapt to our palettes, but it does bring about the eternal question of what do we exactly label as being Singaporean.

Does buying a teh ping (tea with condensed milk in ice) at Toast Box (owned by mega-chain Breadtalk) served by a non-citizen count as supporting local? How does it contrast to having a latte at a new café established by a budding, born and bred Singaporean entrepreneur?

If we take it almost a century back, the pioneer Hainanese coffeeshop owners (such as Ya Kun and Killiney), adopted the skills of the coffee brewing and kaya toast making from their former colonial masters to begin the institution that many see as definitively Singaporean. How then does supporting their incarnation of a shopping mall space in today’s age differ from that of a café, let alone the $1 kopi-oh (coffee with no milk) at our neighbourhood coffeeshop?

Traditional Hainanese Coffeeshops like Heap Seng Leong adopted their coffee brewing and toast making skills from their former colonial employers.

Traditional Hainanese Coffeeshops like Heap Seng Leong adopted their coffee brewing and toast making skills from their former colonial employers.

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The quintessential tea in itself has numerous variations depending on whether its tarik-ed (pulled) properly.

(Food) is still at the heart of it all
Food, at the heart of it is perhaps the only common ground where the term ‘support local’ resonates seamless amongst all Singaporeans. Perhaps it’s the commonality and necessity of food that binds us together, whereas the generally diverse realm of the arts and everything else remains subject due to a lack of overall cohesiveness.

Ultimately #supportlocal in itself is dependent on one’s own opinion, but that’s not to say it cannot eventually allow us to identify just what it means to be Singaporean.

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