SESO began planting its roots only two years ago, but the seed of its inception began when Shiwen Tan was overseas in the UK studying for her law degree. What a homeless man did moved her and changed her life While at a house party in the middle of December, she was getting rid of the excess food when she came across a homeless man standing across the street from her. \u201cI recall he was nearly naked, without even a jacket to ward off the winter cold, because he had given it to his dog who was with him,\u201d she told me. Shiwen approached the man and gave her the food she was throwing away \u2014 but instead of wolfing it down, like she thought, he gave it to his dog companion. Shiwen Tan \u201cI was deeply moved. Here was a man who had literally nothing \u2014 but with what little he had, he gave it away to another living being. If a homeless man could be so selfless, what right do I have to throw perfectly good food away?\u201d That was her turning point. Since then, Shiwen has kept a fire in her heart to do something \u2014 anything \u2014 that would help save food and help underprivileged folk. She volunteered at food shelters, but they were going by-the-numbers. Shiwen decided to volunteer in the existing food shelters in Malaysia, but each of them had their own share of problems \u2014 all heart-wrenching and sad. Furthermore, the food shelters and soup kitchens were focused purely on numbers. \u201cIt was all about how many homeless they could feed day-by-day,\u201d she said. But Shiwen had other plans. There just had to be more to it than simply filling people up with food and sending them on their way. Why food wastage is a huge problem \u201cDid you know that we waste more than 16,000 tons of food every day in Malaysia?\u201d Shiwen said. \u201cThey go to landfill, which ends up creating methane emissions, leading to global warming.\u201d It turns out that Malaysia is very wasteful when it comes to food \u2014 supermarkets get rid of up to 20% of perfectly good farm produce before it even hits the shelves, simply because it is \u201cugly\u201d. One of the challenges SESO faced was getting most companies onboard with the idea of donating waste food. \u201cThe biggest scam in the food industry I feel is the best-by date,\u201d Shiwen told me. The \u201cBest-before\u201d date just means that taste-wise, you should eat it before that date. It has nothing to do with the expiry date. \u201cIt was a way for companies to avoid lawsuits from people complaining that the food didn't taste as advertised. But from an edibility standpoint, they are no different,\u201d Shiwen says. People shot down her ideas to help the homeless\u00a0 When Shiwen pitched the idea of setting up a community, the deal was shot down, with people saying there would be no interest. \u201cI wanted a place where the homeless, the refugees, and the B40 could feel like they could have fun and be happy sharing a meal together, at least for a while,\u201d she said. But she was undeterred. And that was how SESO, (Save Environment, Save Ourselves) was created. The secret to cooking for 40+ people is using pots \u201cAt first, I started by serving food like 40 fried eggs for 40 people \u2014 I\u2019d make each individual item on a plate, just like a catering service,\u201d recounted Shiwen. But soon enough, it was impossible to keep up especially with the growing numbers. So she switched to large pots over individual plates. \u201cNow we only cook things that go in pots \u2014 curries, soups, stews, and pair them with a base \u2014 usually rice or noodles and a side of vegetables,\u201d she said. Shiwen started out as a one-woman show. Now she is helped by a team of 10, plus volunteers filled with university and college students. Every week, SESO\u2019s menu changes depending on what is donated to them. Sometimes it can be 500 packets of curry paste, other times it can be 120 bottles of teriyaki sauce. \u201cOne time, we answered a call to an abandoned shoplot in the middle of PJ. The new owner had just moved in, and stumbled upon rows and rows of noodles. That day, we never wanted to eat a single bowl of noodle ever again,\u201d she joked. SESO doesn\u2019t collect meat and cooked products \u201cFood from functions, events, which are already cooked, are a live site for bacteria and we try not to take them unless we can ensure its safety for consumption. The same goes for meat as the freshness of these foods can't be judged with the naked eye,\u201d Shiwen said. SESO buys its own meat fresh, using the donations and funding it receives. The best foods are though with a longer shelf life \u2014 canned food, dry foods like crackers \u2014 and raw vegetable produce. \u201cWith our numbers, we\u2019re really only scratching the surface of how much food can be repurposed. There\u2019s food that\u2019s being thrown out in other parts of Klang valley that are too far for us to collect,\u201d explained Shiwen. How SESO makes a difference Despite these challenges, Shiwen says it\u2019s all worth it when she watches the people come in and sit down, their faces lighting up as they meet her and the other volunteers. Public perception is that charities are just giving the poor a free meal. But the people that come to the Feeds (meet-ups where SESO distributes their cooking) come from all walks of life. \u201cWhen I heard each of their individual stories, my mind was opened to the fact that they aren\u2019t all drug addicts and alcoholics,\u201d she said. There were salarymen who lost their jobs in the recession; youths who were orphaned at a young age; women and men with a history of mental illness. With SESO, there is no need for guests to queue. They serve a 3-course meal right to the guests\u2019 tables: A starter, main, and dessert. It\u2019s no 3-star Michelin restaurant, but people linger and chat over their food. And then something special happens. \u201cThey started to open up to one another. They were sharing their stories of pain and loss. Some would even stay back after the event concluded, unwilling to leave.\u201d Almost without realising it, SESO had started a community. SESO\u2019s philosophy is simple: \u201cIn the process of saving the environment, we improve humanity \u2014 and in the end, we save ourselves.\u201d Currently,\u00a0 SESO\u2019s F-series is underway, a community project that engages SESO\u2019s beneficiaires using ugly produce and they\u2019re branching out to preserving foods, pickling and making veggies and fruits into jams and juices. Here are Shiwen\u2019s tips for creating a less wasteful Malaysia: Food waste is a huge problem that can be solved by a change in mindsets. All it takes is a willingness to try something different. Don\u2019t overbuy \u2014 one of the biggest sources of food waste is throwing away the food in your fridge. Learn proper food storage techniques \u2014 for example, use ziplock bags to separate food, because different vegetables spoil at a different rate. Put meat on the lowest shelf to avoid leakage. Compost your food waste \u2014\u00a0 separate your waste into recyclables and a compost bin. Your organic waste will turn into fertilizer, instead of going to landfill. \u201cWhat I hope for causes like SESO is that it helps change the perspectives of Malaysians,\u201d says Shiwen. For more stories about social enterprises, read:\u00a0 3 Life Lessons I Learnt When I Started Working With Refugees \u2014 By Suzanne the Storyteller and We Were Three Uni Students Who Became Accidental Food Entrepreneurs. This is Our Story.