The Curse Of Tradition

Tradition is something that anchors us in an ever-changing world, giving us a sense of continuity and constancy in the continually-shifting tapestries of time and fate.

However, tradition can become a curse when our contextual environment evolves beyond that which gave birth to our culture originally.

The typical Chinese diet can be considered quite a balanced and healthy affair, with rice as the staple source of energy-giving carbohydrate, and side dishes that include meat and vegetables which can be cooked in a variety of ways.

This age-old combination of carbohydrates from the rice and proteins from the meat, along with the essential vitamins and minerals from the vegetables, and often the nourishing liquid from soup, covers all bases. The Chinese diet is quite comprehensive in its approach, and seeks to balance out different forms of food and nutrients, influenced by the ancient philosophy of yin and yang, as well as receving a good dose of traditional Chinese medical wisdom, which plays no small part in dictating the dietary components and preparations for the traditional Chinese community.

However, you’ve probably observed that alot of Chinese people that you see around are slightly pudgy at the least, and downright overweight at the worst. I’ve noticed this phenomenon for quite some time here, in Singapore, and it occurs particularly with adults. 

Now why is this so? Here’s my take on it:

The typical Chinese family who’s having rice as the main staple during mealtimes are consuming way too much of the stuff. This is something that’s probably being reinforced by traditional Chinese culture. I’m sure if you’re Chinese and you’re a kid, and you have one of those typical family meals you’ll be hearing your parents or your grandparents urging you to eat, to eat more, and to eat your fill.

If you’re a parent or a grandparent, as the custodian and enforcer of culture and tradition, you’ll probably be the one telling the young ‘uns to fill themselves up, often by consuming more rice. The importance of eating rice for energy is something that’s deeply-entrenched in traditional Chinese culture. I guess this is a holdover from our peasant roots, where a large proportion of the Chinese population either grew crops in the fields or worked on farms. These people worked an average of 8 to 10 hours of gruelling manual labour per day, and hence required alot of carbohydrates in their diet to sustain their energy output.

Even when industrialisation created a manufacturing boom in the towns and cities a large bulk of Chinese were workers in the factories that were churning out textiles and other produce, or labourers at the docks or on other means of mass transportation, moving the goods to be distributed to other parts of the land for trading and commerce. The work was often heavy and tiring, and hence continued the importance of rice-heavy diet as a source of energy for everyday life.

Today, alot of us are slogging away at our jobs, but for the most of us, the nature of our work is rather less physical than that of our forefathers. The focus of labour has shifted, with machines doing most of the heavy lifting, and humans filling up the roles of data entry and management, or other similar forms of administrative toil.

Therefore, we are generally using alot less energy than our forefathers who were farmers, labourers, factory and dock workers. But the legacy of our ancestors’ labourious lives has been preserved and passed down in the form of our diet, where great emphasis is placed on a hefty consumption of rice. And as a result alot of us are eating alot more than we really need, and hence the love handles and spare tyres around our midsections.

The important thing is to know how to scale your diet according to your levels of physical activity. If you’re a marathon runner doing 10 klick runs every other day, you probably need to eat alot more carbs than the office worker who’s just working out his fingers on his keyboard. So be mindful of how much you’re eating versus how much energy you expend, and it’ll be a quick way for you to manage your weight gain/loss.

So the next time you’re told to shovel more rice down your throat, think twice about what you’re doing. Don’t let your tradition become a curse, and most importantly, don’t go cursing the next generation as well. Tradition is good, but like all other things it must change when the need arises, or it will be rendered obsolete and irrelevant and actually do more harm than good when adhered to out of a sense of blind loyalty.

~ This post is written by Lionel Ng, part-time Personal Trainer & full-time Fitness Enthusiast. ~


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: