A healthy and artfully arranged salad.
Eating right. It’s tough even at the best of times in the easiest of circumstances. Having a rough time? At least you know what the food labels say, where the organic section is, and what the heck that vegetable staring at you is called.
Not so much in Taiwan. Not being able to read or conversationally speak the language is a real hindrance to eating right. What an odd and depressing connection between two unrelated things. Sure, I could get fruits and vegetables and eat like a rabbit for the next two months, but they’re missing a lot of flora I recognize, and I wouldn’t know what they were telling me even if I could ask what the other stuff is. More kinds of lettuce than I can count, strange mushrooms that I’d hate anyway, other…things that are totally alien. It’s tough.
For the first eights months of my life here, I ate really poorly. We have (HAD) no kitchen in our dorm; only a hot-plate, small toaster oven, and rice-cooker. Not a fully equipped spread by any means. Making cookies three at a time is enough to drive even the Cookie Monster to salads. Having less means of cooking was bad enough, but we also had little time. Sure, I could have squeezed cooking times in between classes, in the mornings, at lunch, or in the evenings, but it wasn’t really viable. For one thing, we were always so exhausted by the end of the day, or we had night classes, or we needed to go to town to get the groceries, that cooking in the evening was difficult. Lunch was even worse, since we had to serve the kids, find time to eat, and try to squeeze a nap in. Yeah, we could have foregone the nap, but I think I may have started throwing things if I had.
Add to that the incomprehensibility of food labels and the lack of many canned goods or familiar items and you have a recipe for health disaster. We ate a lot of foods that could be prepared quickly, like ramen, carb-heavy dishes, or ate out from 7-11 or the dumpling place. I found out later that I may have a slight egg allergy, which cut off a big source of protein.
I’m making it sound like this was a huge issue that took up a lot of thought and occupied many waking hours; but it didn’t. I was far too busy teaching and worrying about life in general to be too concerned about health. It bothered me, of course, and I frequently lamented our frequent trips to 7, but it wasn’t until we were fully adjusted, about month eight, that things began to look up. My best friend and I decided to stop eating carbs and so many sugary things and eat more meat. We had read 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss and thought his diet sounded doable. I thought this would mean eating chicken for every meal, but we actually discovered that our local RT-Mart carried many cuts of beef, of a much better quality than most American meat. Realizing that it would still be too difficult to cook every mealtime, we decided to cook in bulk a few meals that would last us several days. Our list included; roast with onions and carrots we could make in the rice-cooker, chicken salad, and Mexican chicken stir-fry. We had some tortillas (not like normal ones; the kind they use to make Danbing, a breakfast food a bit like an egg wrap) that we were using with the stir-fry, and we started using them with everything. The crunchy texture of a fried tortilla made the meals more interesting. Yeah, it wasn’t carb-free anymore, but it helped us get enough to eat, a real problem when you take carbs out.
It was a simple adjustment, but it made a difference. I started losing weight again and feeling more energetic and less constantly hungry. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the best we could do with our busy schedule and remoteness. (Traveling forty-five minutes to the grocery store does tend to make it into a bit of an ordeal.)
All that being said, trying to stay healthy in Taiwan is difficult. When you can’t read the labels or ingredient lists, it’s hard to stay on a strict diet, and not having access to many of the foods you’re used to forces you to get creative for food choices. Also, the sheer abundance and cheapness of junk food is really tempting.
Anyone else have stories to share regarding this? From what I can tell, the organic and diet craze hasn’t really hit Taiwan. Am I right, or just not seeing it?