Thursday, March 11, 2010

Terri @ hunger hunger

I've been a big fan of Terri for a long time. "hunger hunger", her blog has been an inspiration in both cooking and 'make a lot of sense' kind of advice and comments. I like her honest and straight to the point opinions (although I think she's calmed down a lot compared to her earlier posts).

When I visited her blog yesterday, I read her latest post on "Bao Hao Sao (Full, Well, Little)".
I found myself nodding all the way through whether from agreement or from admission. Immediately I sent her an e-mail for permission to duplicate her post on my blog to share with you. I can hear myself making similar statements and sharing the same sentiments.

Entirely duplicated from Terri's blog with permission.

"My daughter posted on recent calls by several food experts to change the way we eat. I watched the first video clip of Mark Bittman urging a healthier diet and didn't watch Jamie Oliver's message because it took too long to download. Someone commented on it though so I watched it and am very inspired by his call to change our eating style. Jamie is enjoyable to watch because he's always natural and passionate about what he believes in. His tipping a whole wheelbarrow of sugar onto the center of the stage to show the amount of sugar in the milk a child would have eaten in 5 years of primary school was dramatic and shocking. And that's only the sugar from milk, not the milky bars or chocolates or ice creams or juices or cakes or doughnuts or Coke.

The message is the same whether it's Jamie O or Mark Bittman : obesity is killing people, we need to change the way we eat and one of the most effective ways is to teach the young before it's too late. We need to go back to simple, local produce, non-processed food, less meat more veggies and home cooking. Besides the health considerations, we need to help lighten the burden to the earth of feeding 6 billion + people. I know that I can do my part by influencing my family on how to eat healthy by starting immediately. I'd like to share with you the changes I've made:

1) Cook more, eat out less. Now that we're down to 4 (Hub, my youngest child, my mom and I), it's cheaper to eat out. It's so easy to eat out here. For simple meals, we don't have to eat at fancy restaurants. Our equivalent of Denny's would be the Beaufort and Man Tai restaurants where a cheap meal for a family of four would cost less than RM50/US$14, half of that if you keep to a plate of noodles each. Eating out at such restaurants is cheaper than cooking at home. And you don't have to set the table, wash the dishes and holler for the kid to come to the table.

Eating out has far more cons than pros for me. I was just talking to a restaurant cook last night (I went for a late night snack of ginger and spring onions clams. I watched him cook and will share the recipe). Cook said he'd rather eat at home. The reasons were "a cook's revulsion" at the unhygenic conditions in the kitchens he'd worked in. That was a shocking statement from a cook but he was honest. And it was ironic because I had watched his worker prepare my clams and I was revulsed. He said there are three things he'll never order from a restaurant: 1) Quick soups. He started out as a waiter in the 70s and he'd seen a cook's assistant fish out a rat that fell into the stock pot, which is usually brewed all day and night. Better to fish the rat out than tell the cook who'll kill him for not watching the soup. Stewed soups are safer bets because they are stewed fresh daily 2) Veggies. The most they do is give the veggies a hose down. Think pesticides, manure, spit, bugs. 3) Claypots and iron hot plates. If you are unlucky and you get the pot at the bottom, which hasn't been used for weeks, don't think the roachy stink is your imagination. Rust on iron plates are never washed, they just burn it off. Just three? I can give him 300 reasons.

The oil used in restaurants is cheap oil and 'recycled' oil from deep fryers of KFC and other fast food joints. Unless they are hotel and higher-end restaurants, most restaurants will use cheap ingredients loaded with preservatives, artificial flavorings and colors. So don't think that msg is the worst thing you get in restaurant food. You are slowly and surely poisoned by all those inferior substitutes and additives.

Bottomline: restaurants are there to make money, not to feed you with healthy food. Also, SE Asia is generaly filthy, except for Singapore. Look at our restaurant workers. All are from neighboring countries like Myanmar, Indonesia and Thailand and they are lowly educated which means they very likely don't know that they must wash their hands after they pooped. That's how E.coli is transmitted.

On a food program recently, it was estimated that 8 to 9 out of 10 (something like that) families in Hong Kong do not cook at home, their kitchens being too small, shopping and cooking take up to much precious time, restaurants being 'downstairs' and everywhere and their food, well, it is Hong Kong we are talking about. My last word on eating out is "Your body is what you feed it".

2) Cut out carbs at dinner. In the last 3 months, I've changed my dinners by nearly cutting out all starch. We eat carbs in the day, when we are active. My mom, who's diabetic, woke up one morning with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The night before I had made wholemeal chapattis (Indian flatbread) and allowed her one only and withheld her usual serving of 3 to 4 tablespoons brown n white mixed rice. Cutting back on a small amount of refined carbs made such a big difference to her sugar level that I now cut down her starch intake to 2 tablespoons of rice at dinner time and make up for it with more veggies and meat. I've lost 1.5 kgs in three months by cutting out carbs at dinner time and eating less through the day. Slow, but the mountain is moving.

Initially it was hard not to eat carbs at dinner, especially when we eat Chinese dishes, but we soon got used to it. Like any habit, it can be broken. You just need to believe it and not give up.

3) Cut back on snacks, in particular sweet things. And that means I never eat a piece of cake unless it's a birthday cake. I reduce the sugar in any recipe that calls for it. I don't take sugar with coffee or tea. And I never have candies or sweets in my house. What are they for anyway? I do, however, struggle with chocolates.

My mom, who dislikes sweet things, became diabetic in her 60s despite seldom eating anything sweet. She was, however, big as a barrel in her 40s. The diet of the new generation is far more sweeter than the old. When I was little, the only time I could have a Coke was during CNY. Cakes were only available in my teens. But look at our kids and how young they start eating sugar and how much sugar they are eating. And salt and oil and carbs. And additives, hormones, pesticides and antibiotics-laden food.

4) Eat lots of colorful veggies. I have two reluctant veggie-eaters at home. I have to apportion and threaten until my face is black before they eat their veg. Slowly, they are eating more veggies than before. Genetics aside, I always tell young people that if they don't want to be midgets, they must eat their veggies and their protein. Sadly, I see a lot of girls as young as 12 going on a diet. That's exactly when they should eat to grow tall and shapely.

Children in Malaysia especially are getting a lousy deal in school canteens. When Wey was in primary school, he was addicted to fried chicken wings. I visited Chung Hwa Primary School in Likas one lunch and was shocked to find that nearly every item they served in the canteen stalls were processed and deep-fried: deep-fried wontons, deep-fried fish balls, deep-fried wings, deep-fried sausages, deep-fried bananas, deep-fried potatoes. Add to that fizzy drinks of all flavors and colors and iced water, also flavored and colored. I bet they are still serving the same things now. I am so impressed with Jamie Oliver's success at changing the meals in British schools, especially his introduction of a salad bar.

Quoting Terri from her response to my e-mail: "i was thinking of you when i wrote about the bentos"
There are mothers, especially those who make bentos, who understand nutrition and make an effort to raise healthy kids. I applaud them. However, I think bentos only work with daughters. My daughter once said, when she saw a photo of a beautiful colorful bento box of slices of heart-shaped apples and other dainty finger food, that she knows her brothers will starve rather than take bentos to school. And she's right because she was the only one who would eat the tiffin lunches I made. My boys pretended not to know me when I walked into their school with tiffin boxes and I gave up bringing lunches for them. And maybe that's why men are usually less healthy than women. They are too busy working and behaving macho and know little about health and nutrition.

5) Eat less but well, if you are not very active and if you have reached adulthood. Most people eat a heavy breakfast, a sizable lunch and a big dinner. I think that when you are no longer growing (meaning anyone over 20), you should change eating habits by eating a decent breakfast or lunch, or brunch, and a light dinner with no carbs. I fully support eating like 'a king for breakfast, a prince for lunch and a pauper for dinner', or in China, eating 'hao (well) for breakfast, bao (full) for lunch and sao (little) for dinner'. Because dinner is the main meal where the whole family comes together to eat a good home-cooked meal after a day of eating commercial rubbish, it is hard not to cook a big dinner. I suppose it works for us because there's only one growing child in the family. Now we eat smaller and simpler meals everyday but on Saturdays, when we eat at my in-laws, it's always a feast. There are so many festivals and special dinners through the year that we get enough feasts in between the smaller meals.

Just look at the Biggest Losers. It's not nice, but really, do you find fat people in Africa?

6) Educate your family about nutrition, teach your kids to cook. I don't think giant food companies will make any changes with our health in mind. We have to educate ourselves and our family on what, how, why, if, because, regarding our choices of food and eating habits.

In secondary school, one subject I took was home science. Home science was where we learnt nutrition and simple baking and cooking. Now students have 10 subjects and home science has been dropped. If I were the Education Minister, I'd cut out history and include home skills. History can be learnt in the lower secondary years. I'd do that because my motive is to bring up a healthier generation, not brainwash kids about our historic heroes.

Change now, not when you are diabetic, hypertensive, old, obese or half-blind. If you still haven't watched Jamie's clip, please do so and after you do, please make the changes, starting with yourself and your family."

Over and above all that Terri wrote, I personally feel it is important to pack home cooked meals in bentos for my children. Occasionally it would be impossible, and there would be a need to buy a variety of processed food, fast food, commercially popular snacks and even vitamin enriched breads.

However, I remind myself to avoid nuggets, sausages, quail eggs, use of dyes or coloring agents and several other bento popular store bought fillers. Sometimes I too am tempted to enhance the visual look of my bento and want to include these stuff and more. But for now I don't wish to start with them and be stuck with the 'pressure' to pretty up my bentos. I work on a simple concept of home cooked food and try to balance up the nutrition around the bentos during the main meals cooked at home.


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