We are nominated for Singapore Blog Awards. Vote for us if you like what we have been doing! You can vote everyday. In order to fulfill one of the judging criteria, we have to write something about the 60s, the theme for the Awards.
Why “Eat More Wheat” Campaign?
The 60s was a turbulent time for Singapore. We just separated from Malaysia. There were racial riots and even a bombing. Just “a small red dot” with no natural resources, we needed to fight for our survival or sink. Started from 1967, the “Eat More Wheat” campaign was part of the government’s aim for Singapore to be self-sufficient in food production. There were plans to build multi-storey buildings to house livestock and farmers were encouraged to grow crops that yield 11 to 13 times a year.1 This means growing rice, which require much land and time, was out of the question.
Besides self-sufficiency, the other reason is economy. In the late 60s, there was a communist uprising in Thailand, which caused the price of rice to soar. If people ate more wheat and less imported rice, Dr Goh Keng Swee, then-Finance Minister, estimated that Singapore would save $22 million a year and at the same time, create jobs in local flour mills.2 In a time when a bowl of noodles cost 5 cents, $22 million was astronomical. Not only was eating more wheat beneficial to the country economically, it could make us less dependent on imported rice.
One last reason why flour/wheat was encouraged was because it fits across all races. It can be made into bread, noodles, and chappatis.
Eat More Wheat Ad in Straits Times, 1969. From National Library
How the Campaign Was Carried Out
Deputy Prime Minster Toh Chin Chye (Right) Tasting a Wheat Cooking Competition. From National Archives Singapore
Then-Deputy Prime Minster Toh Chin Chye personally spearheaded the campaign. Although his name was Chin Chye, he didn’t chin chye, chin chye handle the campaign. Jingles were played on air. Posters of a chubby boy eating noodles were plastered along streets. (Yeah, models used to be plump. Fat is beautiful.) A flour exhibition was held in conjunction with National Day ’67.3 The Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association organized a “Eat More Flour Week” in liaison with the government.4 The Singapore Medical Association endorsed the campaign publicly, citing health benefits of flour over rice in Straits Times.5
Secondary School Winners of One of the Many Wheat Cooking Contests. From National Archives Singapore
The campaign’s primary targets were aimed at women and blue collared workers. For the workers, organizations such as Port of Singapore Authority distributed bread instead of rice for the port workers’ free meals.6 The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) urged “workers and their families to have at least a lunch or dinner of wheat products.”7 Obviously, there was elitism going on that needs to be explored further.
It should come as no surprise that the other primary target was women, because they were in charge of the household nutrition in the 60s. The Siglap Women’s Association held wheat exhibition.8 There were numerous cooking competitions using wheat as a main ingredient, targeting women. For instance, a Cooking with Wheat competition was held for housewives on TV and radio, which drew 1000 over entries of recipes.9
Officer Chang Heng Wan, Navel Cook, Winner of Baking Contest. From National Library
But when three men won the top places in a cake-baking contest organized by Madam Chan Choy Siong, MP for Delta and chairperson for People’s Association of Women, the shame “made the ladies blush.”10 The message was quite clear that although women were the main targets for the campaign, men could contribute to the cause. Like targeting workers, targeting women showed a gender inequality that can be explored further.
Why Eat More Wheat Campaign Failed Miserably
A survey was done six months after “Eat More Wheat” Campaign was launched and only 1.8% of the 900 households across all races started to consume wheat. The campaign was an epic fail because of these reasons:
a. Cost: Although then-deputy Prime Minster Toh Chin Chye claimed out that flour cost about half the price of rice11, it was not true. For instance, a reader of Straits Times wrote that it was more costly to buy bread than rice and the wheat cooking competitions were a waste of time.12 MP S. V. Lingam was against the campaign, stating in parliament that the workers couldn’t afford wheat because breakfasting at $2 was worth a family’s meals for the entire day.13 The irony of the campaign was that while it was aimed at blue-collared workers, only the rich could afford to eat wheat.
Another cost-related reason is that rice doesn’t need any extra ingredients. People in the past just ate rice with soya sauce or salted fish. But for flour, you need more ingredients to make it palatable, and more ingredients mean more money, which Singaporean workers could not afford.
Residents at Wheat Exhibition Featuring Food of All Races at Siglap Community Centre. From National Archives SIngapore
b. Labor: Cooking rice is easy, but baking flour to bread or rolling them to noodles take time and effort, and time and effort were something the working class did not have.
c. Culture: Asians eat rice. When Chinese greet each other, we don’t say, “How are you?” We say, “Have you eaten rice?” Old habits die hard. Culture trumps campaign.
In conclusion, the “Eat More Wheat” campaign shows the complex web of race, gender, culture, social class, economy, education, media, politics, medical power, and nationality with a simple ingredient as wheat.
Recipes from “Eat More Wheat” Campaign
These recipes are taken from Straits Times 10 Sep 1967.
4 tbsp ground oats
1 cup thick coconut milk
2 tbsp condensed milk
2 eggs, well-beaten
2 tbsp butter
4 tbsp flour
1.5 mashed banana
1 tbsp full-cream milk
salt & sugar to taste
1. Mix all the above ingredients.
2. Heat frying pan and grease it.
3. Pour in mixture to form a 6cm pancake in diameter.
10 eggs (8 egg whites, 10 yolks)
2 tsp baking powder
4.5oz ground oats
2 tbsp vanilla essence
2 tsp condensed milk
5.5oz self-raising flour
1. Cream butter for 25 minutes.
2. Add condensed milk and vanilla essence and beat for another 10 minutes.
3. Beat 10 yolks for 20 minutes and add sugar. Beat till sugar dissolves.
4. Whisk 3 egg-whites till stiff in another bowl.
5. Sieve oats and flour with baking powder.
6. Oil cake tin with margarine or butter; and oil the paper lining cake tin.
7. Preheat oven at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Bake cake in oven till cooked.
3 pandan leaves
0.5 cup oats
3 tsp sugar
2.5 cups water
1 cup undiluted coconut milk
1. Place pandan leaves, oats, salt, and water into pot. Stir over heat till thickens and boils.
2. Add sugar and let it boil for another 5 minutes.
3. Add coconut milk and bring to boil.
4. Remove pandan leaves and add beaten egg. Stir occasionally till porridge boils.
1. “Getting on Top of the Food Fight Down on the Farm.” Straits Times. 20 Aug 1967. p. 8.
2. “Rice VS Flour.” Straits Times. 9 Sep 1967. p. 6.
3. “All Set For S’pore’s Day of Joy.” Straits Times. 7 Aug 1967. p. 13.
4. “‘Eat More Flour Week’ in S’pore Next Month.” Straits Times. 21 Aug 1967. p. 9.
5. “Doctors Back Eat More Wheat Campaign.” Straits Times. 2 Nov 1967. p. 5.; “Eating More Wheat Instead of Rice May Save Your Live.” Straits Times. 5 Nov 1967. p. 2.
6. “It’s Bread Instead of Rice for Dockers.” Straits Times. 26 Sep 1967. p. 5.
7. “Start ‘Eat Less Rice’ Campaign Plea by NTUC.” Straits Times. 27 Jun 1967. p. 9.
8. “Wheat Food Display by Women.” Straits Times. 26 Jul 1967. p. 4.
9. “Cooking with Wheat: Radio, TV Contest for Housewives.” Straits Times. 24 Aug 1968. p. 6; “Over 1,000 Entries for Flour Dishes Contest.” Straits Times. 29 Sep 1967. p. 8; “Cookery Contest ‘A Gourmet’s Delight.'” Straits Times. 6 Aug 1968. p. 14.
10. “Petty Officer Chang Takes the Cake.” Straits Times. 30 Mar 1969. p. 8.
11. Straits Times. 26 Jun 1967.
12. “Eating More Wheat But Cheaply.” Straits Times. 20 Jan 1968. p. 16.
13. “Eat Wheat Drive Aimed At Rich.” Straits Times. 20 Dec 1967. p. 6.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.