Vegetarianism Around The Globe: China

Journey with this mother-daughter team each week as they explore various vegetarian diets from all over the planet.

To look into the traditional diet of China, we cannot help but look into China’s culture and society. After all, China is an ancient civilization whose past and heritage are very rich. Our friend Liu Yi, a former businessman who is now a theology student, gladly talks about the China he was born and raised in – especially its people and its food.

“Most of the people in China are farmers,” says Liu, “only twenty-five percent are workers, teachers, businessmen, etc.” Liu comes from Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan province. Chengdu is a vast plain, around sixty square kilometers, located southwest of China.

Chengdu is a city surrounded by magnificent forest mountains featuring beautiful peaks, a sea of clouds and cascading waterfalls. These mountains are dotted with lakes and ponds. The Yangtze River, the largest river in China, runs around Chengdu. The nearest province is Tibet.

“The typical Chinese breakfast is simply made up of soy milk and mandu (steamed bread made from wheat flour). Sometimes sugar is added to the soy milk, sometimes not.”

“The main food products of China are rice and wheat.” adds Liu, “The Chinese also produce and eat a lot of vegetables: among them are pechay, cabbage, carrots, soybeans and other kinds of beans, mushrooms, bamboo shoots (senzhi), lotus, lettuce, radish, cauliflower (kua choi), and kangkong (wong choi). Here amidst the wild flowers and the green fields of summer, the Chinese also plant peanuts, corn (yumi), potatoes, sweet potatoes and taro.” In this way, life unfolds with simple measured grace in rural China.

Liu’s mother and sister are vegetarians but Liu himself is not. However, as a child, he remembers having been fed a basic, nutritious non-meat diet. Asked to describe a typical Chinese breakfast in remote farm houses, he says, “The typical Chinese breakfast is simply made up of soy milk and mandu (steamed bread made from wheat flour). Sometimes sugar is added to the soy milk, sometimes not.”

Liu describes how amidst the early morning mist, the housewives in the countryside used to grind the soaked soybeans in a stone grinder called mazi. Nowadays, of course, soymilk can be readily bought in packs. At lunch, rice and vegetables with tofu are served. Tofu is a regular feature in the main meals. Tofu is served in many different forms and cooking styles. In the evenings, the Chinese usually have wheat noodles (mien tien) either as soup or mixed with vegetables and again, tofu.

Before or after meals, fresh fruits such as apples, oranges, pears, peaches, grapes, strawberries, watermelon and melon are eaten. Desserts are hardly ever served in Chinese meals. And honey remains a favorite sweetener. Then of course, tea is taken at anytime of the day, as tea drinking is an age-old tradition in China. Exactly why the Chinese have had a fervent love affair with soybeans since the beginning of history is as mystifying as China’s ancient temples and royal tombs.

“In China, both the rural and the urban people eat the same kind of food”, says Liu. “What the farmers grow, the people in the city eat.” The Chinese also get good physical exercise in the form of bicycles. Bicycles are the main, indispensable means of transportation around China. In fact, they are more than a means of transportation — they are a cultural icon, a way of life. There are so many bikes in China, it seems there are more bikes than people! In many ways riding bikes and eating a sound, healthy diet proves beneficial. As Liu observes, “People are generally not fat – there are very few fat people in China, not like in the West. And there’s not so much problem with high blood pressure and other diseases.”

As we bid goodbye to Liu, we could imagine standing there with him, the sound of the whispering wind echoing from the high mountains of Chengdu. The sound seems to bring an anthem for this ancient land, for a people who have survived from the simple vegetable food they have nurtured from the ground.

– there are very few fat people in China, not like in the West.

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