20 July 2022

On Food Security, Mealworms, and Cultural Exchange

By Dr Christina Yin

“The Green Club has a gift for you!” Lancelan Pegan tells a group of 14 students and four lecturers on a study tour from Japan’s Kanda University of International Studies. Armed with chopsticks and napkins, Aaron Mok, the Green Club President and Darren Sim, the club’s Vice-President, start distributing fried mealworms, a healthy protein snack to the group, beginning with their fellow discussion panellists, Painia Angelique Moe and Kotone Sakamoto.

It’s a brilliantly sunny day in Kuching and we’re on the ninth floor of Swinburne Sarawak’s G Block, the oldest building on the campus that once housed government offices, but which now boasts newly renovated lecture halls and classrooms equipped with multiple projectors and screens, desks and chairs on wheels that can be brought together to enable small group discussions or separated for individual work.

From the windows, we see the traffic coming down from the Simpang Tiga flyover, the Spring, and the buildings that stretch across the city landscape. It is a sight for the Japanese students and their lecturers who are here to explore Sarawak’s multi-ethnic culture and biodiversity following a two-day virtual study tour that they participated in along with some 66 other students in June.

The last session of the second day of the study tour is a student panel discussion. Lance, Swinburne Sarawak’s most experienced debater and the co-organising chairperson of the 17th Swinburne Sarawak Inter-School Debating Championship, is the moderator of the panel. Aaron and Darren, representing both the Green Club and the Debaters’ Club, and Angelique and Kotone, first-year undergraduates in Kanda’s Global Liberal Arts programme, discuss important and controversial issues such as food security, hunting and consumption of wildlife, and individual actions to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle.

It is uplifting to know that in both universities, the students are aware of the need to reduce material consumption and to use reusable bottles for their drinking water and cloth bags when shopping. The students actively practise eco-friendly behaviours, including careful use of energy and water. These common practices are habits that the students hope their peers will also adopt.

The Japanese students are intrigued to learn of the Green Club’s pre-pandemic activities ranging from beach clean-ups and field trips to Matang Wildlife Reserve and a local cricket farm where an alternative food source is being developed. During the pandemic, the Green Club hosted online activities, talks, and discussions to celebrate important events such as Earth Hour, the International Day of Biological Diversity and International Orang-utan Day. The Club is now looking forward to in-person activities such as a Tree-Planting exercise with Sarawak Forestry Corporation and World Cleanup Day.

Lance brings up the question of food security. It might seem like a dystopian future, but the food crisis is real and the discussion is pertinent, especially given the effects of the war in Ukraine. University students discussing such issues is crucial as events trigger environmental concerns around the globe. Flash floods and red alerts caused by spikes in temperatures are becoming more common; these are not topics to hide from the younger generation. Greta Thunberg has given the youth a voice; one which Swinburne’s debaters and Green Club members are using.

But not every student is a debater or Green Club member. How do Swinburne educators try to inform and make issues like these relevant to our student’s lives? In a Foundation Studies’ unit Creative Thinking and Communication Skills, the Reading Project is an assessment that requires students to read several articles on contemporary innovations and innovators. This past semester, the students have been introduced to WormingUp, a local social enterprise that uses Black Soldier flies as a unique means of food waste management. The students also read and learn about Rob and Paul Forkan who were orphaned in the 2004 tsunami when they were travelling in Sri Lanka with their parents and younger siblings. The Forkan brothers started Gandys, a company whose profits are channelled to set up Kids’ Campuses around the world to help provide an education to orphans and needy children. Their motto is “Just Don’t Exist” and Swinburne Foundation students are asked to describe how they would live up to that motto themselves by “doing some good” in the community.

Critical thinking about such important issues and communicating their views and perspectives are essential to young minds. Introducing thinking techniques such as Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and concepts like Elkington’s Triple Bottom Line and guiding students to apply them to real-life situations help them to think in different ways. For example, the third article students read about this semester concerned Arthur Kay’s innovation of Bio-bean, creating biofuel out of used coffee grounds. Sustainable eco-friendly biofuel made from recycled organic material is something new to most students. Can we make conservationists out of these students? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But we can help to make them aware of innovative ideas and ways that can help us navigate our way in this increasingly complicated, environmentally-troubled world.

The Japanese students and their lecturers will return home with the Green Club’s gift of fried mealworms (if they haven’t consumed them already) in a week’s time. Our students will continue their efforts in debate and conservation while new Foundation students read and learn about the importance of innovating to make our lives more sustainable. We hope that the students on different campuses will continue to engage through Green Club initiatives. One positive thing that the pandemic did bring about is the ease with online events; the Green Club will organize a mix of in-person and online activities, and we hope that we will keep the conversation going between cultures and conservation. It is with this communication that we can foster collaboration which, hopefully, will help us find practical environmentally-friendly solutions to save the Earth that we share.

Dr Christina Yin is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Foundation Studies. The winner of the Vice-Chancellor’s Sustainability Award 2021, Christina’s short story ‘A 22nd Century Au Pair’ was published in The Best Asian Short Stories 2021 published by Kitaab International, Singapore.