Amid rising concerns about climate change, many companies are innovating solutions to address these problems. Within the food industry, some companies are investing in development of meatless meat alternatives. However, meat and dairy products aren't the only foods with a high carbon footprint. It's been found that a cup of joe can generate an estimated 29kg of CO2 per 1kg. Enter Prefer’s beanless coffee.

Jake Berber (left) and Tan Ding Jie (right).

The Founders

Founded by food scientist Tan Ding Jie (chief technology officer) and former neuroscientist Jake Berber (chief executive officer), Prefer aims to create sustainable solutions with food. With Tan's expertise in the field and Berber's experience in the investment sector, the two set up Prefer, which is the first of its kind in Asia.

While there are other bean-free coffee producers that use chickpeas, rice hulls and seeds to make their product, Tan and Berber wanted to push the envelope by using food waste.

Meshing of raw ingredients.
Laying out fermented base for roasting.
Roasted grounds.

The Process

Prefer produces their coffee by upcycling food manufacturing by-products sourced from local companies. This includes day-old bread from Gardenia, soy bean pulp from Mr Bean, and spent barley grains from local breweries such as The 1925 Brewing Co. Once gathered, the three ingredients are then blended in a secret ratio and fermented, roasted in an oven to bring forth aroma and flavour, and grounded till preferred fineness. Fermentation also enables Prefer to create flavours that can replicate coffee profiles sourced from far-away lands such as Ethiopia and Columbia within the same facility. This in turn, mitigates the environmental impacts that come with importing food and its price markups.

The Product

While Prefer’s grounds are caffeine-free, the upside is the ability to add caffeine derived from tea and adjust levels as preferred. Prefer’s coffee can be ground fine for espresso, or medium coarse for drip brewing. On the nose, drinkers can pick up a malty and nutty aroma reminiscent of dark roasted coffee. When sipped, flavours of cereal and hazelnut come through with an earthy bitterness and mellowed acidity. The extraction process is as per normal, taking the same amount of time when brewed using a coffee machine. Baristas and coffee drinkers can also appreciate the crema that allows for latte art.

At present, Prefer is available at cafes including Dough, Brash Boys, First Story Cafe, Foreword Coffee Roasters, Parched by Parchmen.

Photo by Jürgen Jester on Unsplash

"It's absolutely false to think that we in democratic countries have it any different to China," insists Frederic Lemieux. "The only difference is that China is open about what it does and we have a more layered, subtle approach. Governments say they’re not bad but the fact is that they have access to everything if they want it. Frankly, it's hard to grasp the scope of the surveillance apparatus today."

Lemieux is a professor at Georgetown University, US, specialising in information technology, and he uses a virtual private network. He avoids Zoom and social media; has "privacy settings through the roof". Lemieux is only "friends" online with people he’s met several times in person. He watches what he says in emails, won’t wear a smartwatch. And he is not remotely paranoid.

Just look, he says, at the mobile surveillance spyware Pegasus—technically illegal in the US. And yet the FBI has just been caught out. They are forced to cancel its arrangement with a government contractor that used the tool on its behalf. It’s the latest instance of an abuse of power. And the data breaches that underscore it are uncovered somewhere around the world every few months. Many more, one can only assume, are not. "So am I hopeful of some correction to this surveillance culture?" says Lemieux. "No."

Perhaps this culture has been a long-time coming. After all, the idea of systematic surveillance is not new. The Panopticon was the name given to an ideal prison devised by philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1787. In it, every prisoner would—as an encouragement to improved behaviour—be observable without ever knowing if they were being observed. It would, as Bentham put it, create a "sense of invisible omniscience". And, he added, more darkly: "Ideal perfection would require that each person should actually be in that predicament, during every instant of time. This being impossible, the next thing to be wished for is, that, at every instant, seeing reason to believe as much, and not being able to satisfy himself to the contrary, he should conceive himself to be so."

In Bentham's time, this was no more than a thought experiment. Today the situation is very different. As the tech entrepreneur Maciej Ceglowski put it to a US Senate committee in 2019, "Until recently, even people living in a police state could count on the fact that the authorities didn’t have enough equipment or manpower to observe everyone, everywhere". Now, it seems, it looks as though they "enjoyed more freedom from monitoring then than we do living in a free society today."

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

It’s easy to see why. The aforementioned spyware, with advanced processing power, can now collate, save and analyse truly awesome quantities of data. Increasingly prevalent CCTV has morphed into often erratic facial-recognition technology and biometrics. That includes the unevidenced idea that people’s emotional state can be read through their physical appearance. Drones have provided 'eyes in the sky'. These digital currencies—actively promoted in many nations as a stepping stone to doing away with cash—will allow the tracking of all financial transactions. So-called 'smart cities'—the UN recognised Singapore as a world-leading example—see the mass deployment of intrusive sensors to monitor its citizenry. Supposedly with the intention of improving the urban environment. And there's ever more wearable tech, RFID tags, GPS dots and the growing Internet of Things to provide anyone sufficiently well-resourced with a detailed picture of what once was considered private.

“But then we have also become largely indifferent to matters of privacy,” stresses sociologist Dr Gary Armstrong, co-author of The Maximum Surveillance Society. “Generation Facebook/ Tik-Tok / Instagram have a different perception of privacy than my generation—over 60s—and think nothing of self- revelation and self-promotion. As it stands the state knows less about me than, say, supermarket chains do.”

How so? Invariably because the greatest tool in the snoop’s armoury is, as Lemieux puts it, "our own complicity". We let Alexa listen and Ring Video doorbells watch. We sign up for loyalty schemes. Given that 86 per cent of the growing world’s population owns a smartphone, we willingly allow the means of our own monitoring. David Lyon, director of the Surveillance Studies Centre and professor of sociology and law at Queen’s University, Ontario, argues that while CCTV might remain the most powerful symbol of surveillance, to still think of it as the most powerful means of surveillance is way out of date. That's the gadget in our own pocket. Our self-imposed, frantically upgraded, style-conscious ankle monitors. He calls the result 'dataveillance', our supervision and assessment through a melding of state and corporate interests.

"And that’s been mutating and accelerating at a rapid rate," he says. Lyon cites a recent case in Canada. A user of the ordering app from a Tim Hortons put in a "freedom of information" request about its function. He discovers that, even when he thought he had disabled it, the app continued to track his movements. It even recorded when he visited one of the company’s competitors.

What he still didn’t grasp, however, was "the other uses that data was undoubtedly put to. His data was sold to and among other corporations and institutions in what has become a globally-significant economic system," says Lyon. "It's not just about being tracked but analysed, and then treated according to the profile then created and from which all kinds of judgments are made—by employers, healthcare providers, banks, insurers, law enforcement. The thing is that most people just don’t get that this is even happening."

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Small wonder then that when the public reaction to surveillance is discussed it is, at best, rather muted. As Lyon puts it, "we've become seduced [through our smartphones] by the idea of the world organised around our needs, living in a very consumerist society in which efficiency, convenience and comfort have been elevated into core values"—"luxury surveillance" as it has been dubbed. And even if we give it some thought, our rationalisations justifying our acceptance of surveillance tend to be misguided, adds Juan Lindau, professor of political science at Colorado College, US, and author of Surveillance and the Vanishing Individual.

People dismiss the encroachment of surveillance because "they have nothing to hide"—"but it's a bullshit notion that they wouldn't mind if every detail of their life was out there for all to see," Lindau notes. Or they say they're too irrelevant to be of interest—"but if you ever do anything of even remote political consequence then you’re immediately not irrelevant to the state," he adds. Or there's the argument that any one personal revelation is now merely lost in a giant sea of revelations and so doesn't matter.

"But its evil brilliance... is that tech gives the veneer of distance and [us the sense of] anonymity that is entirely fictitious," he says. "It is not impersonal. We spend our lives now interacting with machines that observe all, that never forget and never forgive, such that the delineation between our inner and outer selves is [breaking down] by stealth."

It's also because thinking seriously about the boundaries for surveillance is relatively new. Before the seismic revelations of Edward Snowden, much concern about surveillance was dismissed as so much conspiracy thinking, argues Professor Peter Fussey, an expert in criminology at the University of Essex, UK. That, and because much of the surveillance apparatus is, governments so often argue, for our own safety. That's the line Myanmar has taken in the junta’s crackdown on protests. Or for more effective, worryingly "proactive", increasingly militarised crime prevention.

That's concerning. As Armstrong argues, we're well on our way to systems that look for the potentially suspicious or merely inappropriate. "Doing that requires a database of both known and potential offenders. And such schemes are always sold on the benefits of apprehending these known offenders," he says. "But these schemes are expansionist and soon develop databases of 'people of interest' too".

But it's also concerning when national emergencies are used to bring in more surveillance. We see subsequent spikes in favour of its expansion. A TNS poll conducted in 2014—three years after 9/11, but also not long after Snowden—found that 71 per cent of respondents thought the government should prioritise reducing the public threat "even if this erodes people's right to privacy".

"The idea that surveillance is for our own safety holds water, but only up to a point. Surveillance doesn't inherently make us safer. And that’s aside from the misplaced assumption that surveillance always works, as many cases of misidentification suggest," says Fussey. (He also an independent human rights observer of London’s Metropolitan Police while it trialled facial recognition technology from 2020.)

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

"The problem with people being suddenly more accepting of surveillance after, say, a terrorist attack is that the powers then given [to the machinery of state] don't tend to be rolled back later," he adds. "And then there is the fact that if we keep creating these tools that can be used for surveillance—even if that's not their intended use—they will be. There is simply just so much evidence for their misuse."

Furthermore, the expanding means of surveillance—from gait recognition to remote heartbeat analysis—are developed at such a pace that campaigners and legislators can barely keep up. It says something concerning that a hugely powerful business like Amazon has been entirely open in its ambition to create tech products with what it calls "ambient intelligence". They are always there in the background harvesting your life.

There's mission creep to contend with as well. If it wasn't bad enough the state and commerce wanting to watch us, remote working has encouraged a culture of surveillance among employers too. There was a boom in monitoring software. Tech used to map the behaviour, mood, eye movement, location, online activity and productivity of often oblivious workers. The American attorney Zephyr Teachout has predicted the coming of "surveillance wages". This is where each worker’s pay is constantly changing according to that worker's perceived alignment with their employer's expectations. Data would be used for hiring and firing decisions.

Could a new ad-free business model be devised for the web, disincentivising data collection? Could the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation be adopted beyond its borders? Even as Facebook obtusely moaned about how it and other regulations "may be costly to comply with and may delay or impede the development of new products, increase our costs, require significant management time and subject us to remedies that may harm our business".

Is there scope for a rebalancing of the interests of the surveillance industrial complex and individuals' rights? This segment makes billions from monetising data flows, with China and US the leading exporters of surveillance tech. Surely the transparency and accountability necessary for the relationship between state and citizen to function requires it? And yet, right down to how certain parts of your smartphones algorithms work, all is opaque, and getting more so.

Photo by Tushar Mahajan on Unsplash

"We have to have a much clearer sense of how surveillance will be used, whether it's legitimate and the necessary limits on its use," implores Fussey. "We're invited to think that the technology is just too complicated, but actually the standards we need to protect—standards in international law—are basic. The problem is who enforces those standards. We need the right policies, programmes and oversight."

"My concern is that so much surveillance now isn't just about watching where you go and what you do but what information you consume and what thoughts you express," adds Lemieux. "Surveillance can now be used to gauge opinion and so influence opinion too. It's not just about watching us through data but manipulating us through data."

Indeed, the instruments of surveillance only look set to get more invasive, more clever, more wily and devious. The tide might be turning. Lindau argues that after a long period of being "promiscuous with sharing our information", some of us are waking up. With low download rates for various government-driven tracking apps during Covid, the pandemic opened the doors to data collection and tracking on a scale that would have been imaginable just a few years before. Some cities— Portland, Oregon, for example—have banned the use of facial recognition in their stores and restaurants. And there’s a growing academic interest in surveillance overreach too.

And yet the more a surveillance mindset is applied, the more ordinary it seems. "Citizens are allowing greater and greater intrusion, to the point where the distinction between public and private has really broken down at this juncture," suggests Steven Feldstein, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of The Rise of Digital Repression. "The smartphone has normalised surveillance but it's a slippery slope. You continue to push at the boundaries and surveillance just becomes more and more acceptable. And there are no concerns about this because there is no political will [to make changes]. And there's no political will because nobody seems to care about it. We're seeing a greater level of omni-surveillance made possible and that needs more push-back."

In fact, we're moving towards TIA or Total Information Awareness. "The goal to know everything about everyone in real-time," as Lindau explains. "And so far all that has limited that most totalitarian of ambitions has been the tools."

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

The really bad news? The tools are coming. The AI Global Surveillance Index suggests that at least 75 out of 176 countries, many being liberal democracies, use AI for automated surveillance purposes. "All considerations we have about surveillance get put on steroids with AI," Lindau says. The French government, for example, has passed a law allowing the use of AI in mass video surveillance at next year’s summer Olympics in Paris. For AI to work, the data must flow. Your data. Everybody's data. "The ease with which AI will be able to amass and process information, combined with facial recognition, well, that’s ominous," he says.

He cites by way of example his recent experience of returning home from a holiday in Norway. Passing through the notoriously aggressive and prying US Immigration, he expected the typical barrage of questions. Instead, he was just asked to look into a small camera. That was it. Lindau asked if they wanted the usual details about where he had been and for how long and why. No, they said casually, we already know that.

Intoxicating interiors at Christina's in the Mondrian Singapore.

I recently had a suit made at Marlo Bespoke on Club Street. Wanting to do something uniquely Singaporean, I decided to juxtapose a cloth that reflected this city’s position as a financial hub—banker-style navy pinstripes—with a vibrant tropical-motif lining, a nod to Singapore’s ‘garden city’ status.

The idea was to sartorially balance business and pleasure, sobriety and whimsy. I’m far from the first to have had this thought. Vishal Advani, managing director of Officine Paladino, the Singaporean cloth merchants responsible for the bold bird-emblazoned internal fabric I selected, says his range of splashy graphic linings have proven to be a tremendous success.

A bold lining from Officine Paladino at Marlo Bespoke.

“We wanted to give sartorial enthusiasts a way to express their individuality and their passions, whether that be golf, fishing or tennis, travel, automobiles or cryptocurrency, whatever the case may be,” Advani says. “It’s an opportunity they’ve really embraced—sales of our more outré designs have been brisk.”

In addition to its Italian-made viscose linings, Officine Paladino also traffics in an array of audacious suiting cloths, for those who fancy a more overt expression of maximalism. “Being from Singapore and dealing with a lot of tailors around Southeast Asia, we take inspiration from the situations and people around us,” Advani says. “In this environment, colour and pattern just come naturally.”

Shinta Mani Angkor's lobby

That’s a statement prominent hotel interior designer Bill Bensley would most certainly agree with. Since establishing his studio in Bangkok in 1989, Bensley says, “I have evolved into a serious maximalist. My personal taste craves layer upon layer of quirkiness and colour.”

Arguably the leading name in sustainable hospitality design today, Bensley (who was initially trained in landscape architecture) may seek maximum impact visually, but he always aims for minimal impact environmentally. His own Shinta Mani Wild luxury eco-resort in the jungles of Cambodia was built without cutting down a single tree, and at sibling property Shinta Mani Angkor in Siem Reap, greenery is just as important a part of the décor as the plush furnishings and glitzy fittings.

Shinta Mani Angkor's pool villa.

“Many of our projects are in lush, tropical places, and over the years tropical maximalism has become a way of life, especially in terms of gardens. This climate lends itself so easily to gorgeous, overflowing gardens,” Bensley says. “And being a landscape architect, one must always put nature first—the architecture and interiors follow.”

In building an urban Bangkok outpost of her family’s Chiang Mai luxury resort, 137 Pillars, Nida ‘Natty’ Wongphanlert referenced elements of the original property’s heritage aesthetic, traditional handcrafted touches and verdant setting within the new high-rise hotel. “We didn’t consider a minimalistic approach for our property,” she says. Instead, the goal was to provide guests with “a visually stunning and memorable experience,” Wongphanlert says, “combining boldness and elegance.”

At 137 Pillars BKK, Jack Bain's Bar

She explains, “We utilised luxurious materials such as marble, silk, and brass finishes. We integrated authentic Thai elements, like Jim Thompson curtains and pillow cases, to pay homage to local craftsmanship. To add warmth and depth, we incorporated dark, rich wooden tones along with a navy colour palette, as well as small areas of strong contrasting colours, such as red, and decorative ornaments like our elephant lamps.”

The overall effect could best be described as ‘tastefully maximalist’. “Material selection was incredibly important, aiming for a luxurious feel while incorporating local design in a modern and sophisticated manner,” Wongphanlert says. “Additionally, we wanted to showcase the works of local artists throughout the property, immersing guests in the vibrant local art scene.”

At 137 Pillars BKK, the hotel lobby

Eye-catching art is a core element of the lavish tableaux created at Singapore’s new Mondrian Duxton hotel by US-based interior designer, Robbyn Carter. She reckons the secret to crafting a maximalist space that bursts with visual interest, without warping the viewer’s mind, lies in “meticulous curation and intentional composition.”

Carter says, “While it may appear chaotic, each element should have a purpose and place within the design. I ensure that there’s a unifying theme or colour palette that threads through the space, anchoring it and preventing it from feeling disjointed.” Success lies in thoughtfully layering textures, patterns and colours to maintain a harmonious balance, she suggests.

“Ultimately, it’s about orchestrating controlled chaos, where every element contributes to the overall narrative, resulting in a vibrant and captivating space that never overwhelms, but continually surprises and delights,” Carter advises. Just as the layout of these magazine pages tempers rather hectic images with plenty of serene white emptiness, Carter says expertly executed maximalist design provides “areas of negative space that allow the eye to rest, preventing sensory overload.”

Nouri's picture-perfect narezushi

Chef Ivan Brehm of Michelin-starred Nouri restaurant is responsible for some of Singapore’s most visually stimulating cuisine. (It tends to taste pretty good, too.) Asked how he manages to create dishes that are aesthetically impactful, without being overly fussy or bombastic, he replies, “Obviously that’s the golden ratio, isn’t it? If it was easy, everybody’d be doing it. For me, content—the substance of what you’re doing—leads the way.”

In crafting a meal that is a visual feast and yet, aesthetically balanced, he says, “When done correctly, all of the elements are there to promote a particular idea; they are very much in agreement with one another.” Doing maximalism well requires you to ask yourself, “Are all the elements purposeful? Are they there for a reason? Are they driving a singular message in what you’re trying to express?” Picture perfect as his creations may be, Brehm decries our Insta-driven obsession with the look of food, reminding us that while the eyes eat first, it’s our tastebuds and gullets that savour a dish’s deeper beauty.

An international, multicultural melange he describes as ‘crossroads cuisine,’ Brehm’s cooking is difficult to pin down or categorise. This Brazilian with a German surname is inspired by the cacophony of colours and flavours, sights and sounds, spiritualities and philosophies, of the Mediterranean and North Africa, the Middle East and India, Europe and Scandinavia, South America and Southeast Asia, and beyond.

“When cultures interact, the tendency is for some form of aggregate to take place, which manifests visually, religiously, musically—all of those things start to become more complex,” Brehm says. “And the result is greater than the sum of its parts.” In Brehm’s view, it is the clash of opposing forces and the friction between different approaches that creates something of singular beauty.

“Every movement starts in opposition to another, and it’s because of that opposition that each moves forward,” he says. In much the same way that there can be no light without darkness, maximalism only exists in contrast to minimalism. Yet despite their stark differences, the two ends of the spectrum actually have much in common.

“It’s like a snake eating its own tail,” Brehm says. He gives the example of the type of severe, ascetic, unadorned churches designed by architects like Tadao Ando and John Pawson. “Those spaces are totally overwhelming,” he says. “What could be more maximalist than that?” 

As the Lunar New Year approaches, adidas sets the stage for a blazing start to the Year of the Dragon with the release of the SS24 Originals Key City Tee. Collaborating with local artist Erika Tay (@erikartoon), adidas brings forth a celebration of local culture and childhood nostalgia through her character inspired by a local icon.

In Chinese legends, the dragon symbolises power and authority, and Tay's artistic vision transforms the mythical beast into a contemporary streetwear masterpiece. Tay, who previously left her artistic mark on adidas' AW23 Performance Key City Tee "Ultraboost by the Bay," takes inspiration from the famed Dragon Playground for the latest design. Breathing new life into the dragon character, Tay's localised interpretation sports sleek adidas Originals gear, shoes, and accessories, while incorporating the vibrant mosaic tiles of the playground drawn on its head.

"The Dragon Playground at Ang Mo Kio, in particular, has held many cherished memories of my childhood spent at my grandparents' house. Those memories have sparked my inspiration to bring the Dragon character to life," shares Tay. This personal connection adds a layer of authenticity to the design, making it not just a piece of apparel but a nostalgic journey into the artist's own history.

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The Dragon Key City Tee (SGD69) is now available at Brand Centre Orchard, Bugis+, Bugis Junction, Changi Terminal 1, ION Orchard, Jewel, Marina Bay Sands, Suntec City, VivoCity Originals, VivoCity Performance adidas stores.

Photo: Courtesy of Oval Partnership

This article was created in partnership with the Oval Partnership.

The Kampong Spirit has long been a part of Singapore’s history. Used to describe a positive communal attitude and solidarity of people, there seems to be a common consensus that the Kampong Spirit has been slowly chipping away as Singapore elevates its status from what used to be a small fishing port during the colonial era to its current standing as one of Asia’s most developed countries. The term has long been a part of our past, stemming from the period before Dutch and Portuguese traders landed on our shores. Prior to Western influences, our little red dot was a sleepy fishing village that contributed to Malaysian seafaring and trading.

The story of our island’s humble beginnings with trading may be common knowledge, but less is known about the time before colonial influencers took rein. What was the way of life before the rapid growth of Singapore, and how can our past and present interact meaningfully? That’s precisely what the Oval Partnership and several university research groups from Singapore Management University (SMU) and Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) sought to answer in the Lost Cities exhibition.

The Lost Cities exhibition is a purposeful stray away from your typical replication of Singapore’s pre-colonial kampong, but a unique display that showcases the pre-colonial urbanism in Asia from a past-meets-present perspective. Guided by exploratory trips to Pulau Ubin and Lorong Buangkok—the two earliest settlements on our island, and now the last two kampongs known to Singapore, the Oval Partnership and researchers took to the local culture and its inhabitants to document and collect first-hand experience of living the kampong life, a cultural gem unbeknownst to most Singaporeans.

Mr Chris Law, Founding Director of The Oval Partnership and visionary behind the exhibition shared, “this event recreates the experience of a bygone age, and enables attendees to explore how life was lived then,” he said. “Now we have a clearer sight of where we came from, and how we were shaped. It deepens our understanding of the giants whose shoulders we stand on, so we can build a better world for the generations that come after us.”

Debuting an experiential exhibition with three key zones, each guided by a reinterpretation of kampong living—The Lost Cities exhibition takes one through a fictional journey of a 14th century kampong through a contemporary lens of the three key themes of heritage, sustainability and community. The highly curated exhibition explores the world of a fictional kampong lead by the visionary female Chief Esah, as their thriving society lives in perfect harmony with nature and progressive cultural practices rooted in equality.

Members of the public can not only expect a refreshing perspective of our island’s past, but also an admirable display of sustainably sourced exhibit materials such as locally sourced wood from ethical wood-makers and non-profit environmental organisations. From interactive displays to creative experiences rooted in cultural kampong practices, exhibit-goers can expect an engaging and unforgettable journey through a reimagined city.

In addition to the research driven exhibits, the Oval Partnership has also tapped into the talents of three multidisciplinary artists—Gilles MassotMarc Nair and Zen Teh, to contribute their take on Singapore’s kampong heritage.

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An immersive experience through time, the Lost Cities exhibition will be taking place from 18 August – 1 October, 2023 in Fort Canning Centre for all members of the public to journey through Singapore’s earliest Kampong cities and dive into the past and present of Kampong heritage.

The Lost Cities Series: Kampong Port Cities of the Pre-colonial Era Exhibition

When: 18th August – 1st October, 2023 (Weekdays: 10am – 6pm, Weekends: 10am – 10pm)

Where: Fort Canning Centre, Singapore

Find out more

Originally published on Grazia SG