The End? The Beginning!

Our great journeys of experiencing food culture begin on day one. We have unique experiences about food at different locations, such as home, schools, friends’ house, restaurants, and so on. The memories and experiences with food are important parts of our lives, and our journeys are lifelong. This week, I want to dedicate my last post to review what I learned in the past ten weeks through discussing the family food culture.

Part I: Be a Knowledgeable Omnivore

Children are naturally curious about many things, and food is definitely one of them. When I noticed that there were difference varieties of rice, my dad introduced genetic selection and domestication to me in easy ways as an engineer. He told me that the softness, stickiness, and moist of rice can be modified through careful planting, but ultimately all the rice could be traced back to a single plant. What my parents did was noticing my interest and presenting the roots of domestication to me in a really early stage. Even though I didn’t start to realize the significance of the early domestication events and to appreciate the linkage between those events and the food in my plate, my family culture encouraged me to be a knowledgeable omnivore.

It is important to be a knowledgeable omnivore. As an omnivore, each of us needs to build a giant library in our mind to help us differentiate between food and poisons. While our ancestors were busy with building the library for themselves, they needed to acquire enough calories for their survival on a daily bases. The domestication of the staple foods, such as rice, wheat, and corn, relieved us from the latter task. Therefore, being a knowledgeable omnivore means not only knowing what to eat but also appreciating how foods become available.

Moreover, it is also important to know where foods come from. Just like the way kids ask their parents where they come from, they are interested in knowing the origin of their food. When I was little, my mom told me that my food came from soil. She told me that the seeds of the rice in my bowl were planted into soil by farmers and cultivated months later. She helped me build a connection between farmers and my life. When I asked more questions about food, she would take me to the farmers market that was close to our house, and she let me asked the farmers myself. The communication between me, as an eater, and the farmers, as the growers, turned me into a more knowledgeable omnivore because a tighter connection between food and my life was formed. Therefore, an exploratory family food culture helps us discover how, exactly, is our fundamental requirements of food satisfied.

Sometimes, however, it can be hard to be a knowledgeable omnivore. Several years ago, my parents and I were on the high way in China, and we saw a turned-over truck with hundreds of piglets, some of them were badly injured. The bad smell, inhumane environment, and the frightful injuries were my first impression of industrialized agriculture. I saw how the piglets with broken legs crawling on high ways, hoping to survive, and more piglets were squeezed in the truck. After witnessing that scene, I couldn’t eat meat for several weeks. My mom talked to me, and she said that what I saw should be seen as a lesson to realize that much were inflicted on animals in order to satisfy our demand. She suggested that we should go together to find out more about how meat was brought to dinner tables. She encouraged me to obtain more knowledge in the related field, and then made a responsible choice – for me, and for the animals.

Part II: Be a Responsible Omnivore

Trying to obtain more information about the meat we ate, my mom visited the farm, which was owned by a family that managed a small grocery store in our community, and I talked to my friend’s mom, who served as a senior manager for MacDonald. We figured that, although both businesses obtain their meat from legal, appropriate sources, we, as consumers, were much comfortable with purchasing meat from the grocery store. I felt much better with eating meat, knowing that that particular animal lived a happy life on a natural farm. I shared my ideas with my mom; she told me that many other people might not think in the same way, but that did not mean that what they thought were wrong. The prosperity of industrialized agriculture reflects the rapidly increasing demand of food, and one may also argue that ignorance and lack of transparency contribute to the prosperity to a certain degree. However, being encouraged by conscientious family food culture, people may actively make more responsible choices because they become aware of the linkage between their personal food choices and the happiness of other creatures (or the impacts on environment).

Such linkage is indeed important. As many know already, obesity is a serious health concern in America – the fast food Nation. The advertisements for fast food branches often show kids the convenience of fast food, and they often use images to hint that having fast food or junk food is linked with happiness (for example, fun time with friends). A healthy family culture should fight against such linkage by establishing another one. For example, if dinner table is surrounded by joyous atmosphere and fun bounding experience, the dots will be connected between homemade food and happiness. [Read More] In general, eating healthy food is a choice that should be made by a responsible omnivore for him/herself and his/her family.

Undeniably, omnivores in modern days have harder time making decisions. Globalization amazingly expands food choices, and GM foods provide many possibilities (positive and negative). Thus, family food culture should be unbiased, which leads us to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of our choices. For example, when I told my dad that I wanted watermelon in winter, he told me that it would be economically and environmentally irresponsible to do that because watermelon got really expensive in winter and much energy was consumed for planting and transporting off-season fruits. On the other side, however, it is also true that globalization supports economy and, to a certain extent, accelerates the process of fair trade. Similar process can be applied to evaluating the choice of purchasing GM foods, even though an unbiased evaluation of GM foods is hard to be performed. Our family uses the precautionary principle when we evaluate the risk associated with consuming GM foods, and we decide not to purchase them before more information is obtained scientifically. Many other families may have their own risk analysis, trusting that GM foods pose acceptable risk at current informative level. The thought process conducted together by family members in a family is necessary for us to become a responsible omnivore because we have responsibilities to ourselves, our families, societies, and mother earth at the same time.

Being a responsible omnivore also means recognizing the impacts of our food choice on the environment. Fail to recognize the linkage can lead to catastrophic consequences, and the dust bowl is an example. It is a tragedy occurred when our food demand and the development of industrialized agriculture together break the limitation set by nature. Therefore, being a responsible omnivore also means being respectful; as (permanent) residents on the Earth, we should respect natural blessings and limitations. A respectful family (food) culture helps shape our gratuity because it encourages us to recognize our weakness and nature’s greatness.  

Part III: Be a Respectful Omnivore

Last summer, my family went on a trip to “experience the true wilderness”. Some local hunters took us to hunt in the forest, and we were asked to collect mushrooms on the second day. Unfortunately, I did not get anything. We discussed about hunting and mushroom collecting on the dinner table later on the second day while we ate the captures the other local hunters and collectors obtained several days before. They told me that much less animals and mushrooms could be found nowadays in the true wilderness. Although they refused to conclude that over-extraction of the wilderness is responsible for the deduction, they did agree that a real hunter should respect the nature and wilderness more than anyone else does. Many mechanisms that are carefully played and balanced remain unknown to us, and we are in no way as smart as nature in terms of manipulating all the factors. Recognizing our weakness, we should be respectful omnivores because Mother Nature kindly bestows blessings upon us.

One thing that we should do is appreciating food. My mom never allows me to waste food; she believes that many people put much effort in making me be able to have the food, and wasting food is thus disrespectful. Similar ideology was referred when we talked about Columbian exchange in class. We got to see how knowledgeable, responsible, and more importantly, respectful the Africans were in terms of food and agriculture. Although it can be hard for kids to understand the respect and appreciation, a respectful family food culture can help them with the recognition. My parents take me to a lychee trip every year in June. We develop a good relationship with the lychee farmers, and they tour us around the farm every year. Their pride is recognizable because they are the “parents” of the prosperity of the lychee farm; their respect is also observable because they deeply appreciate the blessings of the nature, which are fertile land and suitable climatic conditions. Those farmers often inspire me to be more respectful and responsible because my family food culture envourages me to be a sensible eater.

Conclusion

I can’t believe that ten weeks pass away so fast. While I have learned much about food and agriculture, I have become more and more grateful for the family food culture that my parents manage to create. I am sure that many of us share similar experiences, which turn us into concerned omnivores (who choose to take this seminar). With all the knowledge, information, perspectives, and thoughts, we have a head start in becoming a more knowledgeable, responsible, and respectful omnivores.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” – Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill

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Is Consuming Locally Produced Food the New Food Culture?

We are always concerned about food – it is a natural thing to do. However, the focus of our concerns are changing gradually. We are more and more concerned about the food quality issues rather than the food quantity issues. Many of us are worried about industrialized agriculture, and we miss the good old days when family farms were ubiquitous. Farmers market, the modern imitation of the traditional food exchange scheme, contributes to a broader culture – the community.
Purchasing food from farmers market has many environmental, nutritional, and social benefits.
Environmental Benefits
1. Food that you purchase from the farmer’s market are generally locally produced. Local food travels fewer miles for you to purchase (most of the times), and much energy is thus saved. [Data]
Food Mile
2. Many smaller local farms are devoted supporter of genetic diversity. Since they work in a relatively small scale, they are able to grow many different varieties and practice crop rotation promptly.
3. Farmers take care of their land, while industries utilize their land. This fundamental difference determines that less environmental degradation is likely to occur at smaller local farms. [Read More]
Nutritional Benefits
Locally produced food often tastes better because they are fresher and more nutritious. Fruits and vegetables are generally picked in season and in time, and shorter transportation preserves the freshness. Moreover, farm-processed food, such as cheese, contains minimum chemical additives and is made with fresh ingredients.
Social Benefits
1. Local farmers care much about their reputation, and thus they take their responsibility to the consumer seriously.
2. Farmers market connects eaters and growers. It also helps you to form connections among the seasons, the land, the community, and the food.
Although purchasing food from local farmers market appears to be a more environmental-friendly choice, there are some concerns associated with this option.
The distance that food travels from farm to plate is certainly important, but so is how food is transported to market. If a farmer sells his products in several farmers markets, he transports relatively small amount of products by small truck, which is significantly less efficient than transporting much by train. If he does this various times for each individual market, the “greenness” of his products is discounted. [Read More]
Moreover, as more people become enthusiastic about the quality of local food, more families are likely to drive miles to farmers market even if there are grocery stores that are closer to them. Thus the energy consumption on transportation increases. On the other hand, less energy may be used for transporting food to grocery stores or producing non-local food. Therefore, many factors of energy consumption will be changed if local food becomes more and more popular, and the real budget of energy remains uncertain because it is hard to take all the factors into account.
The number of the farmers market increases significantly over the past decades. There was only 300 farmers markets in 1994. Now there are more than 8000 of them. [Data]
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So, is it true that consuming locally produced food is becoming the new food culture? Not necessarily. Culture represents the common mindset of a certain group of people. For consuming local food to become the new food culture, significant amount of people should commit to eating locally and seasonally. Fast food culture needs to be abandoned, and new dining systems have to be built. Such changes require time, and enthusiastic demand for local food is just a start.
Moreover, once farmers market become popular in a larger scale, more strict formal regulation and legislation are required to ensure food security and fair trade. However, considering the characteristics of farmers market, which are small-scaled, community-oriented, and reputation-regulated, whether current regulation system works for farmers market remains uncertain.
For example, responding to the expanding business of farmers market, the Canadian government has new interim rules about what can count as local food. The new rules change the definition of local food from “food that is produced within 50 kilometres of where it’s sold” to “any food grown within that particular province or 50 kilometres from the province”. It is obvious that this new rule redefines “community” so that farmers in different geological regions will not be disadvantaged for lack of resources or ideal climatic conditions. However, this new rule is also widely criticized for possible bias. [Read More]

“Does the government ever make sense? Tomatoes grown in a Windsor greenhouse can be trucked 1,300 kilometres to Thunder Bay and be called local, but tomatoes grown 60 kilometres east of Ottawa are not local?”  – Michael P. Robb [Quote]

As we can see, there are many realistic issues associated with turning consuming local food into a new food culture.
In general, increasing demand in local food is definitely a indication of growing environmental concerns. People are becoming more and more aware of the importance of the quality of food. There are many benefits associated with consuming locally produced food, but the concerns involved are not negligible. I encourage you to evaluate comprehensively the costs and benefits of your own food choice; just remember, “you are what you eat” and “we only get one Earth”.

The Illusion of Efficiency in a Fast Food Nation

I guess I can proudly say that I am not a fast food kid (although I am not a kid anymore). Having a really, really sensitive stomach, I (almost) can’t have any fried food, which make it almost impossible to have a regular meal at a fast-food restaurant. I was chatting with my roommate one day about food, and she told me that the food she craved for the most in foreign countries were hamburgers from a fast food restaurant; it was at that point I realized I was standing on the land of a fast food nation. Fast food culture is rooted here.

There are many reasons why America becomes a fast food nation. I would argue that the pursuit of efficiency definitely plays an important role. Ever since the well-known first Ford Model T assembly-line was put into work and created miraculous profits, efficiency becomes a faith. Fast food agrees and actively promotes the belief. Advertisement for fast food is often designed to show the convenience, and the introduction of drive-through service is an epitome of the efficient kingdom. However, I can’t help asking, do we REALLY need to save all those time?

I definitely comprehend that it is important to save time. What I really try to ask is that do you really need to save time (for more important issues) or are you just happy with the idea that you have saved time? This is not an easy question to answer. However, study does show that fast food could potentially make people hurry regardless of whether they are pushed for time. When you choose to eat fast food for your lunch, you subconsciously praise yourself for saving time. This praise becomes an extra reward that comes with the fast food meal, which can later on serves as an incentive for you to buy fast food again. In other words, the recognition of the efficiency of fast food increases your preferences for time-saving products, which forms a positive feedback of buying more fast food and getting more recognition. [Read More]

Now let’s say that you are super busy and you want to save any possible time you can. Then the second question to ask is that are you really saving time or are you just being impatient? In fact, results obtained from study suggest that “the unconscious goal of saving time embedded in fast food may have the unexpected consequence of inducing haste and impatience”. [Quote] When you walk into a fast food restaurant, the background music, bright colour decorations, fast moving line, and the talking speed of the servers are factors that push you to be fast. The result is that, even though you are not in a rush, you just do not have the patience to sit down and eat your meal slowly and patiently. You feel like rushing, and you want to finish your burger as soon as possible. Furthermore, once you link efficiency with fast food, anything that is fast-food-related, say a fast food advertisement, reminds you about the linkage, and study suggests that those chronic exposures have significant long-term impacts on your patience. When you gobble a burger with an incredible speed, maybe it is a good idea to take a step back and ask yourself if you really need to consume 900 calories in 5 minutes. [Read More]

“Fast food represents a culture of time efficiency and instant gratification. The problem is that the goal of saving time gets activated upon exposure to fast food regardless of whether time is a relevant factor in the context.”  – [Quote]

In fact, if we get just a little deeper into the issue, the question should be rephrased as if it is worth to save time by consuming 900 calories in 5 minutes. Since fast food is so highly processed and much of its flavour and texture are destroyed, it depends heavily on seasoning. Fast food is heavy on fat, salt, sugar, and reduced nutrient, which can lead to obesity and a range of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and liver dysfunction. [Read More] Therefore, the time you “saved” comes from compromising your health and longevity! If you think that your health grants you more life time, then you definitely should think that saving time by purchasing a fast food meal is a losing proposition. Moreover, the real cost of fast food is not reflected (at all) by its price. The cost for the negative impacts on health is not taken into account. About 300,000 people die each year from being obese or overweight, and fast food consumption definitely contributes to it. [Read More]

The issue of obesity leads to another really important topic – the ethnicity of fast food. Is it ethical for fast food advertisement to target on children? Fast food ads often try to link their restaurants and food with popularity, convenience, and cost-effectiveness. However, they have no incentive to provide children with the whole image. They sure know that a combo meal can sometimes provide enough calories that you need for a whole day and more salt than you should take. However, those pieces of information are hidden behind the brightness of images. Since marketing and advertising of fast food succeed more than the restaurants themselves do, American children now get approximately a quarter of their total vegetable servings in the form of potato chips and French fries and 10% of daily calories from soda [Information]. The consequence is that fifteen percent of American children are overweight, and the rate of obesity has doubled since the late 1970s. Instead of taking some responsibilities, the fast food companies are still creating richer combos, providing larger portions, expanding businesses, and putting more effort into marketing. While the providers of those foods are not obligated to provide the information and warning about the cost resulted from consuming fast food, overweight children and their parents have to pay for negative impacts. Whether the system is ethical or not definitely remains controversial. [Read More]

The prevalence of fast food in a way represents people’s pursuits of efficiency. However, when fast food becomes a food culture of a nation together with the pursuit, things can go wrong easily. The information that you subconsciously give yourself in evaluating whether it is worth to purchase a fast food meal can often be misleading, and the responses form a positive feedback which encourages you to keep buying. However, the time and money saved from eating fast food cannot possibly compensate for the degradation of your health, both physically and economically. It is crucial to remember the old saying: you are what you eat. While we should push fast food companies to be more responsible for children and society, we also need to remind ourselves that we always have the powerful option of saying “no” to unethical, unhealthy fast food. 

 

Ancient Chinese Food Therapy

Thank you Harry for the great post!

During ancient times, Chinese people developed their own theory for what constituted this world. They believed that everything in the world is composed of five basic elements, which are metal, wood, water, fire and soil. According to the idea of Yin Yang School, one of the oldest Chinese philosophies, the five elements make up things in the world through a series of cogenerations and conquests. The picture below illustrates the relationship between the five elements.

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Ancient Chinese philosophers believed that the processes between five elements were catalysed by Yin and Yang, whose concept is illustrated below.

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While Yang stands for things that are active, energetic and hot, Yin stands for darkness, and negativity. Although the Yin Yang School never dominated Chinese philosophies and its ideas can hardly be accepted in an evidence-based perspective, the two concepts, especially the concept of Yin and Yang, have been incorporated into almost every other Chinese philosophy, notably Confucianism and Daoism. Another important Chinese culture, the traditional Chinese medicine, relied heavily on the five elements and Yin and Yang to work.

Although different Chinese philosophies have had somehow different interpretations and applications of these two concepts, they do have share one common belief that the balance between Yin and Yang should be the optimal goal of everything in this world. For the purpose of this post, the influence of Yin-and-Yang idea has had on traditional Chinese food therapy will be introduced here.

If you asked my grandmother how the orange and the tangerine are different, she would not explain to you in a botanical perspective, but instead she would most likely tell you that tangerine is of Yin and orange is of Yang. As a lot of common food is directly used as medicine in traditional Chinese medicine, food therapy has thus played an important role in Chines culture.

The central idea of Chinese food therapy is the balance between Yin and Yang. For example, when I was young and had a fever, apart from taking medicine from the doctor, I would be asked by my grandmother to eat some watermelon, tangerine and avoid spicy food: she believed that there was too much Yang in my body and thus I needed to ingest food that could replenish my Yin and avoid food that could increase the Yang in my body. If Yin and Yang is considered as heat and cold, then the concept of the balance between Yin and Yang might indeed make sense intuitively. After all, a lot of people do put towels drenched in cold water on their forehead to make them feel better although they may never have heard of Yin and Yang. From the perspective of Chinese food therapy, this behaviour is exactly intended to rebalance Yin and Yang.

Usually, food that makes one feel energetic or hot is considered Yang food, such as pepper, beef and deep fried food; Yin food can usually make one feel cool and calm, such as watermelon, green tea (hot tea!) and honeydew.

It is impossible to comprehensively introduce the historic Chinese food therapy in a single blog post. Thus if you are interested in Chinese food therapy, I strongly encourage you to take a further look at it on the Internet or in related books you can find. I, however, do have a word of caution here: although it is fascinating, it is in no way a reliable way to cure your illness. So if you feel ill, never rely solely on food therapy but instead go and see a doctor!

 

Why do vegetarians become vegetarians?

 

I am not a vegetarian; however, I pursue a vegetarian-inclined diet because that is the way I am raised. I almost never eat beef – maybe once or twice a year, and my consumption of chicken (or turkey) is limited to less than a serving per day. 

I attempted to be a vegetarian (several times in different countries); however, the attempts always fail. I worried about not having a balance diet, and I felt that certain countries or cities tended not to be very much vegetarian-friendly. 
Since I fail to become a vegetarian, I wonder what incentives do vegetarians have in order to pursue this diet?
The results of a survey revealed that the top reasons/incentives for being a vegetarian include:
1. Animal Welfare
2. Environmental Concerns
3. Incentives to Improve overall health [Read More]
Animal Welfare
Predator-prey relationship exists naturally, and denying such relationship is thus denying the fundamental mechanisms of nature – natural selection and evolution. Therefore, vegetarians who concern about the “killing” of animals in fact concern about the killing of a certain group of animal. The fundamental moral problems is thus arisen.
Is it wrong in principle to raise and kill animals so that human beings can eat them?
Many vegetarians would argue that an animal raised for food is being used by others rather than being respected for itself. In other words, its existence has no meaning but to be killed and eaten by human beings. Since meat is not required for our survival, many vegetarians think that it is unethical to eat meat; they believe that eating meat sacrifices the animals’ fundamental interest – survival – for our trivial desire – taste. [Read More]
Environmental Concerns 
Much natural resources, such as water, is used to raise animals for consumption
“Although statistics vary, it is safe to say that it takes at least three times the amount of water to feed a meat eater compared with that used to feed a vegan.” [Quote]
In industrialized agriculture, arable land has to be irrigated to increase crop yields. Moreover, much of the land is devoted to growing feed crops for livestock. The manure of livestock is excellent natural fertilizer; however, when animals are raised in confined areas for meat, their nitrogen-rich waste become sources of pollutants that contaminate water resources. Moreover, while vegetation absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, livestock contributes to the emission of methane, which is 20 times more potent to warm up the earth than carbon dioxide. Methane is produced by bacteria in the stomachs of cattle and sheep. Many believe that meat eating is responsible for at least a third of all biological methane emissions. [Read More]
Incentives to Improve overall health
Many vegetarians (and vegetarian-inclined people) believe that their diets are closely connected to lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Much research has been dedicated to find the connection from vegetarian diet and (chronic) disease development. There are scientists claiming that vegetarians are 40% less likely to develop cancer than omnivores, possibly because vegetarians consume more antioxidants that present in fruit and vegetables.
However, it is unfair to think that omnivore’s diet is less healthy than a vegetarian diet. As long as the meat intake is limited in a healthy range and adequate amount of fruit and vegetables are consumed, an omnivore’s diet can have all the benefits that a vegetarian diet provides. [Read More]
After learning about the incentives of becoming a vegetarian, I think about my family’s diet. My dad is a meat-lover; however, his meat intake reduces significantly in recent years. He happened to see a car accident of the truck of a farm with full load of pigs, and what he saw made him feel bad with eating animals. His concern of animal welfare reduces his consumption of meat. Moreover, he wants to improve his health and prevent the development of cardiovascular diseases, and that is another reason why he limits meat intake.
On the other hand, my mom is a vegetable-lover. Her family raised pigs when she was little. She told me that grandma only killed a pig for food during lunar new year and she always prayed for the pig while it was still alive. Moreover, my mom believes that vegetables and fruits are healthy while meat is not. Though I have tried to ask her to collect more information, her belief would not change.
You can see that concerns for animal welfare and incentives for health improvement are forces that drive my parents to consume mainly vegetables. For me, environmental concern is a dominant incentive. Although I do not see myself become a vegetarian anytime soon, I am motivated to consume less meat and in return, save energies. Moreover, I am motivated to put effort in purchasing post-organic meat (like those produced in Polyface) as long as I get the chance to. I believe that what our diets can make a difference, and I encourage you to take the initiative.
That all being said, I will end this rather long post with a quote.

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” [Quote]

French Paradox is not a Paradox After All

You’ve probably heard much (or little) about good fats and bad fats before. Here in North America, we often refer to unsaturated fats as “good fats”, and saturated fats as “bad fats”. We believe that consuming bad fats leads to increase in cardiovascular disease, while good fats do just the opposite (to a certain extent). Cream, cheese, butter, and chocolate all contain high proportion of saturated fats, and we often refer to those food as “unhealthy food”.
Then the French Paradox fails our belief system.  We are shocked to know that though French people have a diet relatively rich in saturated fats, the incidence of coronary heart disease in France is relatively low – about a third of that in America. [Data]
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Furthermore, less than one in ten people in France is obese, whereas more than three in ten Americans are obese. [Data] Data shows that, in 2002, French people consumed 108 grams of fat from animal sources per capita per day, while the number was 72 in America. Moreover, French people eat four times as much butter and 60% more cheese. [Data]
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We thus can’t help asking the question: how come they can have all the unhealthy food and still be healthier than us (in many senses)?
A popular theory is that it is the wine that French people consume does the healthy job. Some, if not many, believed that the resveratrol in red wine is the answer to the French Paradox. High doses of resveratrol have been linked to longevity and cancer prevention in some other species, but the effects of low levels of resveratrol on human beings lack medical consensus.
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On average, people in France consume 11.4 liters alcohol per capita annually, which is only 2.8 liters more than the consumption in the U.S. Alcohol consumption is higher in many other countries than that in France, but low rate of heart disease death is not ubiquitous. Furthermore, a team of scientists also claimed to have identified a particular group of polyphenols in wine that offered the greatest degree of protection to human blood-vessel cell; however, some other researches suggest that this very chemical compounds reduce the absorption of malondialdehyde in body, which is implicated in cancer, diabetes and other diseases. [Read More]
We have worked so hard for so long to try to find the particular chemical substance that is responsible for the French Paradox, but, as of now, we have not gone too far. If we stop narrowing our sight on to the particularities, some other interesting things start to come up.
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Researchers looked at dishes served in restaurants and food sold in supermarkets in France and America. The serving sizes in France are significantly smaller than that in America. Even the candy bars sold in Paris are smaller than those in Philadelphia. Moreover, when eating fast food, “Parisians spent 22 minutes on average dining at McDonald’s,” while Philadelphians spent less than 14 minutes. [Read More]
“In my opinion, this “paradox” is a perfect example of what we do all the time in medicine in the U.S. We try to simplify something, break it down, or study it to understand the exact components of what makes it work, when it’s so much more complicated than that.” – [Quote]
Given the fact that we are all eating food that are not spoiled (at least for most of the time), what we eat in America are often highly processed pre-packaged fast food. Fresh food is much more appreciated in France than in America; not because they particularly value fresh food (they do, though), but rather because we often fail to appreciate the linkage between freshness and quality. Small servings of different fresh fruits and vegetables, cheeses, and meats (or fish) are often included in a typical daily meal. Having different small servings of carefully prepared food grants more satisfaction than having a single serving of super-size fast food. Moreover, Eating meals take much longer in France than in America. The lunch break in France is often two hours long (which is also the case in many other European and Asian countries). Having long lunch break means that they do not have to rush through meals like we often do, and they can unchain themselves from work stress in the middle of the day. Stress, as we all know, is definitely a health destroyer; it is, in many senses, closely linked to cardiovascular problems. 
Transportation is another big factor of our life. We walk relatively much here at UCLA. However, most people probably wish that they could drive, and inefficient public transportation system is arguably one of the reasons why America becomes a driving nation. Walking is often not a considerable option. However, it is a different picture in France. Gas is expensive; walking and public transportation are thus desired. Instead of large supermarkets locate at middle of nowhere, corner stores and markets are designed to accompany the nationwide walking and transporting pace. 
What I am trying to convey is a picture of a more cognitive life. We live in a fast-moving country: we eat on our own (often in a car with a bag of fast food); we drive alone, to work and back home, to supermarket and gas station. We download many apps and softwares to “save time”.  We forget how to slow down and enjoy life. We are occupied by stress, and that damages our health. We then try to isolate the factors that can keep us healthy, but we forget that being healthy is, from beginning, a positive lifestyle.
•“Health is about the whole picture — not just fat, not just carbs, not just food, but everything, the way we live our lives.” – [Quote]
 

Eat Seasonally, Eat Healthy – Japanese Food Culture

As I promised last week, my post for this week will be about Japanese Food Culture.

A characteristic of Japanese cuisine is that seasonality is emphasized. A good Japanese chef prepares artistic dishes with fresh, tasty seasonal ingredients that he finds at the moment.

Image There are many benefits of eating seasonally. Foods are tastier and more nutritious in season, and their abundance grants economic advantage. Eating seasonal food is also healthier since the natural cycle of produce is perfectly designed to support health requirements; less pesticides and synthesized fertilizers are required for food in season.

Consuming seasonal food also help build harmonic environments at home and in community, which is emphasized and appreciated by Japanese people as well. The variety of seasonal food encourages households to create home-made dishes base on available ingredients, and the communication at dining table is essential for a happy, harmonic family. Purchasing fresh seasonal food at local farmer’s market links people in the community together. The invisible chain between customers’ support and farmers’ reputation ensures food security.

Eating seasonally also makes environmental sense. Less chemicals are required for the growth of seasonal food, and our food requirements are less responsible for contamination of water and degradation of soil. Fresh seasonal food is more likely to be found locally, and thus “food mileage” is reduced, and less petroleum will be consumed. [10 Reasons to Eat What’s in Season]

Seasonally is so deep-rooted in Japanese food culture that it is more of a philosophy than convention.

… eating seasonally is about more than just taste; it’s about deepening awareness of there and now, about building a deep texture into life that goes hand-in-hand with the progression of the cycles of nature. [Quote]

Japanese cuisine is also among the healthiest food culture globally.
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Japanese people consume 45.9 kg of meat per capita annually, which is 38% of that consumed by Americans. [Data]
Japanese people get more of their daily required calories from seafood and vegetables.
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On average, Japanese people consume almost four time as much of seafood as American people do. They often consume fresh raw fish, which provide similar amount of protein comparing meat while avoid contributing to the intake of saturated fat. Many cold-water fatty fish contain large amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which is unsaturated fats that benefit the heart. [Read More] [Data]
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As a result, much less people in Japan suffer from heart disease comparing to that in America. The rate is lowered to 28% of the rate in America. [Data]
Reports also show that the Japanese diet includes
many vegetables, often about 5 times more than that of a typical American meal. It is arguable that eating large amounts of vegetables explain the reduced incidence of cancer among the Japanese. [Read More]
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Since most Japanese people follow satisfactory, balanced, healthy diets life-long, their rate of obesity is only 10% of that in America. Japanese meals are served with smaller portions, and dining etiquette is greatly emphasized. Consuming seasonal food also contributes to satisfaction and prevent people from over-consumption.
Why not go to farmer’s market this weekend and make yourself and friends a healthy, fresh, tasty seasonal dinner? You can also go further and decorate the dishes, and you are granted to taste the flavour of the beautiful nature.