26 year-old Yeo Pei Shan is the co-founder of UglyFood. She share the importance of watching our food waste in the battle to preserve our planet.
Hi Pei Shan, great to have you here! Tell us more about yourself.
I am the co-founder of UglyFood, a social enterprise with the aim of reducing food waste.
UglyFood resolves this issue through three ways: operating its very own grocery store to sell this excess or blemished groceries at a reduced price, educating audiences through interesting mediums and conducting educational workshops on how to minimise food waste.
I am currently a facilitator under Pivotal Youth to nurture youths into leaders and a volunteer at Ground-Up Initiative and Green Monday. I believe strongly in developing self-awareness and looking within ourselves to reach our potential.
Why focus on sustainable foods?
I have always had a heart for the environment since I was young. During my university days, both my grandmothers fell ill, which spurred me to read up on healthy living. That’s when I discovered more about how a good diet is a huge contributor to health, such as consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as less processed foods and meat.
I met like-minded people at Ground-Up Initiative, where we place importance on our health and also on the planet. I continued to volunteer there throughout my college years, and the community spirit really encouraged me to start doing something on my own.
This further aligned to my beliefs of not pursuing the typical corporate track, something I had envisioned for many years.
Pei Shan with Dunman High School students who went to UglyFood for job shadowing.
PHOTO CREDIT: PEI SHAN
The chance came when a programme at SUTD, my university, allowed us to explore any community issues and ideas to solve them. I decided to kickstart the idea of UglyFood because it would allow me to reduce food waste while at the same time provide healthy fresh produce to people for a healthier lifestyle.
How has the UglyFood journey been? How did it lead you to youth empowerment?
I have always declared myself as an introvert – I do not like to put myself under a spotlight or any centre of attention. Yet, being in UglyFood pushes me out of my comfort zone. Indeed, I do have to face many people to advocate for cosmetic filtering of fresh produce and convincing them to see past these superficial imperfections.
Even though uncomfortable at first, I started to see the impact I could possibly have, especially on youths.
When UglyFood started gaining more attention, I was invited many times to different schools to talk about it. I decided early on that instead of an information dump on students, it was better to address the thought process, barriers we faced, and why we don’t always do what we know is the right thing.
To me, it’s not about knowledge, but pushing youths to take action despite their fears. One of the issues I address is peer pressure, which I experienced when I wanted to have plant-based meals although everyone else wasn’t. Another topic I like to raise is the bystander effect, where there is a sense of diffused responsibility when one thinks there are others around to solve a problem, such that one does not need to do anything.
My message to youths always comes back to what kind of world they want to create and what are the precious things they want to protect. We must ensure our living environment is sustainable for us to live in for the next decades, and also for our future generations to live in for many years to come.
I enjoy seeing the inspired faces of those who come to speak to me after these sessions, and receiving emails from students hoping to work on a project similar to UglyFood as part of schoolwork. It is really heartening to know that what I do is a form of catalyst for them.
Realising that I do have influence on people has kickstarted my belief that I can empower the younger generation to be comfortable with who they are and that they have the strength to start doing what they have always wanted to do without holding back.
There must be days that feel a little harder. What motivates you to keep going?
First, the belief and vision that the world will be a much better place if more people are eating healthier, have more concern about how their daily actions impact the environment, and take charge of their mental well-being.
Second, the feedback I receive from people on how they are inspired and have found courage through my story to take action in their own lives.
Third, the constant self-reflection I do to keep myself in check, practising self-care and celebrating every small win I have.
What are some hard lessons you’ve learnt?
During the circuit breaker last year, UglyFood lost many of our key revenue streams such as corporate event orders, loss in footfall at our physical store in SUTD and difficulty in holding workshops. As such, we needed to pivot quickly to set up an online store and make logistical arrangements for delivery.
However, as the mode of purchase changed, there were times where customers were dissatisfied with our produce, especially because transportation can be tricky with fragile produce. Hence, the challenge of educating our customers while not angering them continues to be a real challenge.
Closer to the end of the year, I realised the importance of building a strong foundation for a company. I started UglyFood with the intention of reducing food waste but was not aware of the steps to build the foundation of my team. All these slowly accumulated and it reached a point where I made the choice to leave UglyFood with a heavy heart.
This learning allowed me to look inwards and take more ownership, and have the conviction to face similar struggles head-on in the future.
It is understandable that we will make mistakes in life, some with larger consequences than others. But most importantly, we must ask ourselves what kind of relationship we have with our mistakes and how we view them. Are we a failure because we have made those mistakes? Or do we see every mistake as a seed to grow and be gentle with ourselves?
For a long time, I took the first view, seeing myself as a failure. Now, I have started to see mistakes as opportunities for growth and am kinder to myself.
A flat lay of Ugly Food.
PHOTO CREDIT: PEI SHAN
Thanks for sharing with us what you do! Moving forward, what’s next? Do you have any new initiatives in mind?
I am currently considering how to create possibilities for students to explore social entrepreneurship, and at the same time, create closely knitted communities in various areas that strive for a cause, while supporting one another to better themselves.