Diet, Disease, and Geography


Chinese people don’t smile any more than American people, but they should because they have the world’s fourth best cuisine, which isn’t a bronze medal but it’s close enough. Actually, Vietnamese food gets the bronze, Indian, the silver, and Persian, gold.

Not being a food editor there is no way I can adequately explain why Persian food, which is undeviatingly brown and doesn’t appear very appetizing, is the world’s number one cuisine. And I probably don’t know any more about food than the average cow, but I’m much more adventurous and willing to try a variety of foods beyond grasses.


As for Chinese food, being tasty and nutricious is only half the story. The other half I discovered as a 20-year old student at Tunghai University in Taiwan. Back then western food hadn’t made much of an impact on China, and the western food you did see was a fair facsimile in appearance but completely awful in taste. “Birthday cakes” were available, and the pretty layered icing was a kind of unsweetened Crisco. So for one year I ate nothing but one piece of cake, Chinese food, and milk that tasted like it had fish in it, but after four bottles of the fish-milk I even stopped that and made no more ventures into Chinese “dairy” products.

And then there was “bread.” The only bread available at the time was Chinese bread. If you’ve never eaten it, bread is not the first word that comes to mind when you do. Describing it as sweet is not incorrect, but it’s not what you need to know because you can put butter and sugar on bread at home and it’s edible, toast it and it’s better, and put cinnamon on it and it’s great. Chinese bread’s sweetness is accompanied by some strange odor and has a soft uneven texture that makes it hard to know which grain or grains, if any, are used in its making. It certainly wouldn’t find itself among the breads in most western bakeries.


So that’s the “other half” of the story: Living in Taiwan lactose and gluten free for a year and eating fresh, unprocessed foods, I stopped having excessive heartburn! And every time I went back to America (5 times over the years) I’d have to get out the Rolaids and Tums on a daily basis, and I still found myself hurting and burping throughout the day and especially at night when I had to sleep on my left side instead of my right to keep bile from gurgling up my esophagus and into my throat (try washing bile out of your throat in the middle of the night). 

Doctors said I had a common condition called something like “esophagal-sphincter-valve leakage” (I can’t remember exactly). If you’re a doctor, this wonderful description might help: “Due to the inferior pharyngeal constrictor muscle, the entry to the esophagus opens only when swallowing or vomiting.” (Vomiting? I can force a screen door to open backwards if I push hard enough, but it’s not very good for the door. Doctors, please explain.) So I went around thinking my guts needed a valve job to fix the problem, which to me seemed rather extreme compared to Rolaids. Then later I find out that Tums and Rolaids contain aluminum, one of the suspected agents leading to the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. What was I supposed to do? Move to China?

Here’s a piece of information I found helpful. Once upon a time a doctor from the mainland (America’s, not China’s) moved to Hawaii and soon noticed that the three main “cultural” groups living there–native Hawaiians, Japanese immigrants, and caucasians from America–were all afflicted with specific “cultural bias” diseases, the onset of which he believed was related to the three groups’ very different diets. So now I do live in China eating Chinese food and I’m free of heartburn forever. An extreme choice perhaps, and I admit, not the choice for everybody.

“In conclusion,” I now believe that what you eat prevents some diseases and induces others. If this indeed is the case and if I had another choice, then I’d pack up my cow and move to Iran–because if I’m going to get sick, I want to be eating great food! The problem is, of course, that Iranians eat cows and not pigs, so I might have some difficulty keeping Bossy. China on the other hand eats way more pigs than cows, so I’ll stay right here and eat my fourth favorite diet–for the sake of my cow. 

I know what you’re thinking: If I care so much about my cow why don’t I move to India which has the silver medal and doesn’t eat cows? Well, I would, except do you know how hot it is in India, and have you seen how bony the cows there are? My cow prefers to take her chances right here in China, thank you very much.

So there you have it, folks. Diet, disease, and geography go hand in hand. And since I know that many of the people reading this are eating American food and don’t want to move to China, cheer up! At least you’re not eating English food. Now, I’m going in my backyard to pick a mango.

About soaringdragons

Twenty years and still alive--in China, that is. I write about China and the world of spirit--all very non-expertly--and whatever else strikes my fancy. You'll find posts on even days of the month.
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2 Responses to Diet, Disease, and Geography

  1. chris says:

    Interesting. I’ve noticed the same thing – when in Vietnam, no indigestion. Ever. I sometimes eat bread, and regularly consume condensed milk in my iced coffee, but that equals about two tablespoons per day of dairy, and maybe three banh mi sandwiches per month. Snacks usually consist of real food, not chips or other non-foods. I’m really glad that Western food hasn’t really caught on there yet, and I hope it stays that way.

  2. soaringdragons says:

    Happy to hear that your experiences with Vietnamese food have all been digestible. Imagine if we had real knowledge of what foods, combinations of foods, temperatures of foods and liquids, etc., help us maintain health. It’s gotta be a tricky science.

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