Adventures of a Lifestyle Start Up—Learning Healthy Eating from the Chinese

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dinner on the beach of the South China Sea
We recently took our first trip to China for our start up, Livliga. We went to visit the factories fabricating our product. It was an incredible trip. We loved discovering China. Since we are foodies at heart and our company is all about healthy eating, we were particularly interested in the ritual of meals and how foods were prepared and eaten at mealtime.

After we had been in China for many days and experienced a number of meals, we saw a common thread regarding the ritual surrounding meals. We came to see it as a satisfying and healthy activity. We thought it would be interesting to highlight the elements of the meal that are particularly healthy to learn from them and share with others. Here is what we experienced and observed:

Meals take time. There is an etiquette around picking out the fresh food you want to eat, waiting for it to be prepared, and having it served as each dish is ready, not all at once. This allows you to savor the process and enjoy each bite. There is no piling on your plate and shoveling the food in all at once.
Fish tanks at a restaurant
Food is prepared fresh. Most commonly, you start by going to an anteroom of the restaurant kitchen to pick out the food you want to eat. Most of it is alive in tanks, if it is seafood, including frogs, snails, and eels. This way you truly know what you are eating.

You start the meal with fresh fruit juice. While you are waiting for your food to be prepared restaurants offer you fresh fruit juices like watermelon or cucumber. They are served unstrained and nothing is added. It takes the edge off your hunger, is high in fiber and gushing with vitamins since it is made fresh right after you order it.

You serve yourself by picking up pieces of food from a platter, one piece at a time. Rarely are you provided spoons to serve yourself food. Instead you use your chopsticks, pinching one piece of food at a time to place on your plate. When you think about it, it requires awareness and a bit of concentration to serve yourself. You can’t be distracted or focused on the next bite. You need to be present with the bite you are working on serving yourself. This is a great way to know what you are eating and allows your body to better metabolize your meal.

You eat with chopsticks. Chopsticks are meant for one bite at a time. There is no way to scoop a lot onto your plate. And for westerners, we are not as adept so it takes us even more time to lift a bite to our mouths. Amazing how much less you end up eating and how full you end up feeling.

All foods are pre-cut into bite-sized pieces. Foods seem so much more delicate when served in China. No matter what kind of food from vegetables to starchy morsels to meats, they have all been cut or shaped into bites that can be picked up by chopsticks to be eaten in one right-sized mouthful.

The meat is cut up with bones in. Perhaps one of the most fascinating things we experienced was how meats are prepared in China. No matter whether it is fish, frog, duck, chicken, pork or beef, meats are cut into bite-sized servings, bones and all. This means you don’t chew your meat. Instead you put it in your mouth, roll it around to extract the meat and then spit out the bones. As you can imagine, you end up putting more effort into eating your meat and consume a lot less during the course of a meal.

Carbs, like rice or noodles, are served after your main dishes. All of us who have spent time learning how to eat right and control our calories know to eat our salad first at a meal to help fill us up. What we learned in China was to eat our carbohydrates last. After all the dishes you chose have been served and eaten you are then asked for your preference of rice or noodles to be served. At that point in the meal you are pretty full so when the bowl of noodles or rice is delivered to the table you end up eating very little. It is a great way to manage your carb intake.

Unlike the U.S., proper etiquette requires that you leave food on your plate. I really had to consciously think about this standard of eating etiquette. We are so programmed in the United States to eat everything on our plate it is hard to remember not to in China. Interestingly, by eating everything on your plate you are signaling to the host that they have not provided you with enough food. It is an embarrassment to them. It you leave something on your plate it indicates they have been generous and good hosts. It is actually a great way of looking at a meal. Leaving something behind is a compliment!
Dragon fruit and watermelon offered for dessert
If offered, dessert is most often cut up pieces of fresh fruit such as watermelon, cantaloupe or dragon fruit. Dessert is light, fresh and again offered in bite-sized pieces. It cleanses the palate and gives you just a touch of sweetness, without a ton of calories, to top off your meal.

Every meal is finished off with hot tea, usually fresh green tea. Besides the benefits to your digestion and health, because of the antioxidants in green tea, there is nothing more satisfying than finishing a meal and good conversation than with a cup of tea. Usually the host serves you. It is such a gracious custom.

There is so much we can learn about healthy eating from other cultures. The traditions in China that we experienced taught us many things. We have already made some simple changes to our eating habits at home. We are enjoying our start up adventures!

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