by Chunyan Song
It took a long journey and a health crisis to turn my diet and health around. I am married to a vegetarian. Together we try to raise two health-conscious kids. I haven’t eaten a Whopper Jr. Sandwich for years. Nowadays, I have a dozen fruit trees and a vegetable garden in the backyard, along with fourteen free-range chickens. I love my hens. They are hardworking and lay all the eggs for my family and a few friends. But I have not figured out what to do with the two roosters. They are constantly at bloody wars with each other. Amid the mass of claws, beaks, and feathers in the air, I find the rooster fighting rather disturbing to watch. I swear more than once, one day when I gather enough courage, I will cook one of them for orange chicken. However, I cannot make up my mind which one I should pick, the loser or the winner.
When I need food I do not grow, I go shopping at Trader Joe’s or at the farmers market on Saturday mornings. I make sure always read labels. I now know that America’s food is as diverse as its people. Mexican burritos are just as American as Burger King Whopper Jr. Sandwiches—and perhaps equally tied to America identity. At home, my kitchen represents the great melting pot that America has always been. We cook vegetarian burgers, Thai curries, Mexican rice and beans, Korean kimchi, along with Chinese stir fries. Our favorite “ethnic” food, according to my nine-year-old, is kale salad with edamame and a home-made olive oil and liquid amino dressing.
On Halloweens, we give out chips instead of candies. After coming home from trick-or-treating, my kids have to trade their candies for healthy alternatives. It is not easy, nor is it fun. My kids often accuse us being the meanest parents in the world. Neighborhood kids refer to our house as the chip house. It is both physically and mentally exhausting to fight the food cultural norm.
However, I know it is all worth it. The statistics paint a very gloomy picture of the dire toll on our health due to bad eating. United States is ranked the fattest nation in the world. Two thirds of the American adults and one third of the American children are obese or overweight. It is predicted that today’s American children under the age of 18 will be the first generation of Americans with a shorter life expectancy than their parents’ generation. Faced by obesity and mortality due to macro social and political factors outside individuals’ immediate controls, Americans are struggling to find the next right diet to keep healthy. Being overweight and diabetic is not entirely the fault of any individual; becoming a gluten free health nut is a choice forced upon me. Until fundamental changes happen at the macro-economic, social, and political level, I will have to continue to treat eating as work which requires extensive research, deliberation, planning, extreme mental power, and self-discipline.
Fortunately due to the outcry and demand from the increasing number of informed consumers, organic food and healthy alternatives are becoming more and more accessible. To initiate more positive changes in my own family’s meal culture, I will order the Skymall peppershaker soon. This weekend, I have a friend’s family of five coming over for dinner. Like my family, theirs is a multi-diet household too. Two are vegetarians eating organic chicken, and two are pesco-vegetarians. The last one eats everything, but happens to be in the middle of a one-year sugar-free challenge. For the main courses, I plan to serve brown rice, baked honey chicken thighs, vegetarian soy protein tacos, a spring-mix salad with 3-ingriendent-only home-made dressing. For drinks, I will serve fresh filtered water with ice. Water is raw, natural, local, vegan, sugar free, and gluten free. I hope everyone will be pleased.
 Ogden, Carroll, Fryar, & Flegal, (2015). Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2011-2014. National Center for Health Statistics (US) Data Brief. Nov;(219):1-8.
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.