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How These M’sians Transform Surplus Food Into 3-Course Meals For The Underprivileged

It’s an oft-quoted statistic, but one that bears repeating: 16,000 tonnes of food is thrown away daily in landfills in Malaysia.

To put that into context, that’s enough to feed 12 million people daily.

Besides the obvious fact that people are going hungry from lack while perfectly edible food is rotting away, food waste in landfills produces a large amount of methane.

Context: Methane is a greenhouse gas that absorbs infrared radiation and heats up the earth’s atmosphere, causing global warming and climate change.

Three foodies saw this situation, and decided to make a change. SESO (which stands for “Save Environment, Save Ourselves) is a non-profit organisation that was founded with three intentions in mind:

To reduce food wasteTo reduce food povertyTo help to build communities among people who are suffering from social isolation

Shi Wen, the founder and CEO of SESO, firmly believes that food waste is not one person’s problem.

To her, opportunities for change are everywhere. Wherever there’s a community, wherever there’s a supermarket or restaurant or bakery, or even wherever there are people, she sees a possibility for SESO to get to work.

Saving Food From Becoming “Trash”

SESO comes in the “food” journey by rescuing surplus food from supermarkets, grocery stores and shops that would otherwise have been wasted.

Volunteers collect the food and then turn it into 3-course meals. These meals are then served in a “warm, dignified and welcoming environment” to their street-friends and any member of the public community who would like to join in.

“By getting people together to share a meal together, we ensure our guests and volunteers make friends and connections.”

They currently do the communal meal sessions in front of Bangkok Bank at Petaling Street every alternate Saturday.

According to Shi Wen, SESO serves 150-200 meals each session and they served more than 2,000 meals last year.

They’ve garnered some attention, leading to partnerships with restaurants, universities, groceries, corporations and NGOs including KPMG, Stoked, Jaya Grocer, Reliance College, Taylor’s University, Perdana University, Sunway University, Multimedia University and Street Feeders etc.

But in terms of impact, Shi Wen personally feels that it’s not about collaborations or how big they’ve grown. Instead, it’s about how a small change can make such big difference.

“I remember during the first few SESO sessions, when we set up our tables and chairs and asked the street friends to sit down while we serve them a three course meal, they were very reluctant. In fact everyone was rushing pushing and just wanted to take food and leave.”

“But now, you will see our street friends helping us out with setting up the tables and chairs, sitting around patiently, having a conversation and sharing a meal with the volunteers and other street friends. They often ask us not to leave, because sometimes, it’s not about the food but really just about having someone to talk to and share a moment with.”

Uniting Their “Superheroes”

It’s hard to enact change alone, and that’s something that SESO’s founding team understands very well. All three currently work full-time jobs, and their end goal is big: to build a sustainable community, an ecosystem for food from production to consumption to decomposition.

To achieve that, they need to get more people on board with their vision, and one way is through their “Captain Zero Campaign”, where they collaborate with organisations like Sunway University, Reliance College, Multimedia University of Malacca, Perdana University and Allianz Berhad Malaysia to increase food waste awareness in the respective communities.

Each of their partners set up their own food bank, and using the food saved, they will do a SESO communal meal session.

Today on April 25, SESO are also organising their largest community event so far with a private screening of “Avengers: Endgame”.

Underprivileged street friends will be invited for the evening and it will be an opportunity for them to go to the movies with the company and hospitality of the public.

SESO will also be launching Project FOOSH, a project they will focus on for the rest of 2019.

“The FOOSH Revolution (what we call it) is a community-based food sharing project that will be launched and supported by SESO on the FOOSH online platform that shares and redistribute surplus food in Malaysia,” said Shi Wen.

The project’s goal is to fight everyday food waste, nourish the community—especially the underprivileged—and increasing sustainability.

All this is part of their effort to build a network that connects and redistributes all surplus food.

“Inclusion is what we promote, and nourishing the community where everyone feels welcome and no one has to prove their need is what makes us different and so proud of what we do. And we want to do this not just in KL, but every part in the world where SESO can reach and have its presence.”

Find out more about SESO here.

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Feature Image Credit L-R: Shereen, Nadia and Shi Wen of SESO

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