Right before the end of 2019, I made my way to Thailand for a short trip to oversee a workshop and reconnect with colleagues. Thailand is a fantastic place to visit for work or pleasure—the food is amazing, the people are incredibly nice, and I always encounter something surprising. Two things struck me during my time in Bangkok: 1) the diversity of ecological food labels and designations and 2) the ubiquitous food delivery scene.
Food transparency in Thailand is much more developed than what we see on the shelves in Japan. On a trip through a supermarket one evening, the vegetable section was shocking. There were four different production designations: Organic imported from Australia, Thai Organic, Hydroponic, and Hygienic. Something for everyone! Thailand has long embraced international food safety standards as a vehicle for food export, striving to be the “Kitchen of the World”.
It was refreshing to see the level of detail in packaging and food labeling. Chicken labels featured what feed the bird had eaten—brown rice in the case I found. There were some curious examples as well. A package of eggplant said “Naturally grown by soil.”
While I didn’t have the chance to sample it personally, I saw evidence of food delivery services everywhere. The company of choice seems to be “Grab”- just the push of an app button and you can have anything you want from one of Bangkok’s plethora of restaurants and canteens. Bangkok’s roads are normally packed with scooters, but I’m sure the new trend in food delivery has made things even more congested. Uber Eats has taken off in Japan, but sadly we are unable to receive deliveries at RIHN because it’s too far from the city center.
The main reason for coming to Thailand was to oversee a workshop run by my colleagues at Mahidol University on the future of urban food practices in Bangkok. If you live in Bangkok, chances are that you eat out at least once a day and may not actually have a kitchen in your dwelling. Cooking Thai food is quite labor intensive and a massive take-away and eating out culture has developed over the years. We were interested in how the practices of home cooking, eating out, and purchasing food might change in the future—do Thai lament the fact that many of them are losing the knowledge and skills to cook at home? Or do they prefer the convenience of 24-7 urban food availability that matches the increasing pace of life? What about concerns for food safety or the environment?
In the initial phase of the research, we asked different groups of consumers what would be a desirable future for each food practice. These were then analyzed and made into plausible, storyified scenarios. The workshop this time was designed to get feedback and reactions on the scenarios and then backcast action plans to achieving the desired future food practice. We’re still crunching the results and will let you know when we know more.
As I was curious to know more about home cooking in Bangkok, my Thai friends mentioned that there is a rise in “ready-to-cook” packages sold in supermarkets and I did manage to find one. This of course is nowhere near the Blue Apron-type services that exist in North America and elsewhere. There are more ready-made packs available in supermarkets in Japan, similar to the one I found in Bangkok.
While in Bangkok, you must try the street food and this time I had the pleasure of joining my friends in Chinatown and tried some Guay Jub – rolled white rice noodles in an extremely peppery pork broth served with pork offal and an egg. The vendor was awarded “Bib Gourmand” status by Michelin, so there was a very long line. But the wait was worth it! Incredibly peppery and sweat inducing, everyone was drenched by the end of it.
Finally, something else I found interesting from a material consumption standpoint—a winter jacket and suitcase rental shop. For those planning a trip to a snowy destination, Japan perhaps, why buy a winter jacket you will never use! Rent and return.
(Photos: Steven McGreevy)