My mother, nutritionists, doctors, my ayi, my driver, and even the nuns at the all-girls Catholic school where I spent 11 years have all said the same thing to me over and over again: Eat more veggies.
I am a meat-and-potatoes kind of gal. When I was growing up, I could down a plate of steak and fries, lie back on the couch with a book, and feel none the worse for my “sin.” As I grow older, my body complains more and functions less efficiently with way too much meat and way too little moving.
So, I find myself having to correct my eating habits big time – and it’s not an easy task. Educating my palate is not a problem; I will eat nearly any vegetable (save for okra, brussel sprouts and bitter gourd). The challenge is learning how to enjoy vegetables when they’re not slathered in oil or swimming in salt.
I will happily tuck into a plate of eggplant at a local restaurant while at the same time turning up my nose at the oil lacquered onto each strip. I can devour tofu prepared in any way, shape, or form – yes, even stinky tofu (though it’s not my favorite). Around this time of year, I fool myself into believing that I’m upping my vegetable intake when I enjoy a slice of mooncake or two. After all, isn’t the stuffing red bean- or lotus seed-based?
An even bigger headache in Beijing is finding a good place to source my leafy greens. Yes, there are the countless small vendors dotting Shunyi. I think I may have already tried them all: The friendly lady by Yosemite, the stall beside Piazza Cafe across from Capital Paradise, the man above Jenny Lou near Beijing Riviera, Momo’s Grocery in Pinnacle, and Mrs. Shanen’s Bagels (where I get salad greens from Green Cow Farm).
The larger grocery stores are well-stocked. BHG in the basement of Europlaza has one of the best “organic” selections in these parts. Jenny Lou and Didi’s Mart also have decent choice. Jenny Wang, whose eponymous founder started out by selling vegetables from the back of a truck, has a wide array of both Chinese and Western vegetables to choose from.
I once even subscribed for ten months to a farmer’s co-op. I liked the idea of helping local farmers and knowing exactly where and how my vegetables were being grown. I once visited the farm and marveled at “my” produce growing out of the ground. The investment was supposed to include the use of the farm’s barbecue facilities several times a year, but that never materialized. Still, on paper it looked good and I bought into the package.
There were two drawbacks: It was very expensive and therefore not sustainable beyond one year; and there was an insane amount of vegetables (seven kilos to be exact) that were delivered to my doorstep every week, regardless of the fact that my kids were balking at the selection, my husband was away on business and so was one less mouth to feed the vegetables to, and that I didn’t always know what I was getting or how to cook it. We had ridiculous kitchen experiments which my children gamely tasted before pushing it around on their plates. I gave away the vegetables to my ayi, driver, friends, friends’ ayis and drivers, until finally they too were begging for me not to give them anymore, there was always way too much.
I think my present solution is more rational and middle-of-the-road. I still get the organic vegetable delivery from another farm, but now I have a modest volume of three kilos a week. Sometimes there’s still much more than we can consume, and so I’m thankful the dog will partake of any stir-fry veggie dish he gets as a treat.
But the fact is, no matter how I get the veggies into my home, it doesn’t count, does it, if I don’t actually cook it healthily and eat it? So that is the next step: to learn to enjoy the healthy preparation and the gustation. Easier said than done.
I haven’t completely cut out the red meat, nor will I ever. But I’m able to eat proportionally more greens to protein now. I’m still waiting to hear my body thank me for it.
In the meantime, look, Ma, and everyone else: I’m doing what’s good for me. I’m (slowly) learning to eat more veggies.
Photo by Dana Cosio-Mercado
Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.