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ASEAN ANALYSIS  9  August 2010

Reflections on eating

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   9 August 2010

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Following the recent Save Our Planet-Malaysia event in Kuala Lumpur here are some reflections, especially on food.

Throughout the developing countries a diet shift has and is going on resulting in overweight, clinical diabetes and heart disease. Everyone seems to want to “eat like the Americans.” Having returned recently from a three-year assignment in the United States, I can suggest that’s not a good idea, but how does one curb the world’s appetite?

A panelist brought out the frequently heard maxim that if everyone ate like the Americans, it would take four more planets the size of the Earth to supply food for mankind.

While in the United States, my weight went up noticeably through the use of a car to go just about everywhere and the American diet.

Returning to Thailand, my weight was down 15 to 20 pounds in about six weeks as I walked and used Bangkok’s excellent and expanding public transportation system. Of course, my diet changed to the Thai diet, which is based on chicken and fish and a lot of vegetables and throw in some fresh fruit, as well.

Unfortunately, American fast food, Thai fast food and almost every kind of fast food are quite popular in Bangkok as well as snacks to enjoy while watching TV. The “grass is greener” appears to be a motto for Asians as they abandon traditional attitudes and habits and look westward.

Of course, most Asians have not had the opportunity to directly compare what they have at home with what the western diet offers. Although tourism is increasing with rising incomes, most Asians obtain their impressions from the glossy images projected on TV or in the movies.

Thai medical personnel know what is happening but seem quite powerless to tackle the problem on a scale beyond the individual medical consultation. I can’t be absolutely positive, but my hunch is that proper eating habits are not taught to most Thai public school students.

The base of the Thai diet has always been Thai rice- the extremely white kind- not the nutritious brown variety. Although a wide variety of different kinds of rice are available at Bangkok supermarkets, brown, red and black, one seldom encounters these at restaurants and I seldom see anyone eating it, because it is not on offer.

Someone should start teaching youngsters in Asian countries the value of eating their own foods and avoiding the super-fat fast foods that proliferate throughout Thailand’s largest city and throughout the country.

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