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A Meat-based or a Plant-based Diet?

Whether it is a meat-based or a vegetarian diet, not having a balance diet will lead to malnutrition. At the “triple celebration” in Tzu Chi, TCM doctors were present to share with visitors the invaluable health benefits of a balanced vegetarian diet.

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TCM doctors from Tzu Chi International Medical Association (Singapore) share the health benefits of a nutritionally-balanced vegetarian diet with visitors. Photo by Alvin Tan

“If you are on a long-term vegetarian diet, will your body constitution be too cold?”

TCM doctor Lim Lee Huang, who was onstage, asked the audience, and her one question gave voice to the quiet fears of many people who were contemplating to go vegetarian. She proceeded to summarise the four intrinsic attributes of foods according to Traditional Chinese Medicine – “Cold, Cool, Warm, and Hot”, and added, “As long as you include suitably ‘warm’ ingredients in vegetarian dishes, your body constitution will not become too ‘cold’ from eating vegetarian food.”

On 14th May 2017, Tzu Chi Merit Organisation (Singapore) planned a series of activities during the 3-in-1 occasion of “Buddha Day, Mother’s Day, and Tzu Chi Day”, to allow participation by attendees and visitors of the event. In one of the activities, the carpark behind Tzu Chi’s Jing Si Hall was “transformed” into a Vegetarian Zone.

Dr. Lim reminded the audience in her talk about healthy vegetarian foods that whether it is a meat-based or a vegetarian diet, an unbalanced diet will invariably lead to malnutrition. Long-term consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables will help to reduce the risks of the three main chronic diseases, by lowering cholesterol levels and softening blood vessels; while fibre-rich grains can become meat substitutes.

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TCM Dr. Lim Lee Huang combined her knowledge of TCM and nutrition, and shared simple health tips in maintaining a vegetarian diet, as well as easy ways to incorporate vegetarian foods into daily life. Photo by Alvin Tan

Understanding the fast-paced lives of modern folks, TCM Dr. Lim suggested the working folks present to prepare nutritionally-balanced breakfasts at home. They only need to spend a little more thought and time on their first meal of the day, and they can enjoy good health. Especially in a tropical country like Singapore, we have a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and they are easily available for purchase. Hence, it’s really not difficult to attain a balanced diet. Besides the talk, the TCM team had specially set up an exhibition area behind the venue, with displays of various types of vegetarian ingredients and ways of combining them together. The attractive displays piqued the curiosity of visitors who asked questions and took selfies for memories.

A visitor, Ms Zou Feng Juan, who eats a vegetarian meal at least once a day said, “After listening to the talk, I realised that my own way of eating vegetarian was not balanced. Actually we need to eat many different types of vegetarian food. Vegetables should be eaten from the roots to the stems and the leaves; even the flowers and the fruits can be eaten, and we also need to eat foods of the 5 colours and 5 flavours, otherwise, it may lead to malnutrition.”

Living Examples of Vegetarianism

In the crowded arena of the Vegetarianism Zone, volunteers offered plates upon plates of vegetarian snacks to the public, including snacks made from Jing Si products, such as the popular brown rice red bean cakes, and oatmeal job’s tears cookies. The 2,500 plates of desserts were personally hand-made by volunteer, Ms Hsueh Su Ju, and her hardworking team of volunteers, with the hope of promoting Jing Si products to the greater public. Ms Hsueh even unselfishly shared her recipes for the desserts with everyone. “The steps to making the desserts are simple. They don’t require baking; we just need to freeze them, so as to preserve the nutritional values of the natural ingredients.”

The public enjoyed the snacks while watching a series of programmes promoting healthy vegetarianism. Members from the Tzu Chi Collegiate Youth Association presented sign language songs filled with youthful vitality, while promoting a change of diet to eat more fruits and vegetables, and to go vegetarian to help protect life.

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Plates upon plates of healthy and delicious vegetarian desserts – including “char siew” pastries, black brown rice with red bean cakes and oatmeal job’s tears cookies were personally hand-made with love by Tzu Chi volunteers, for the public to enjoy. Photo by Tay Wei Xian

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With the backdrop of “I Did It” on the stage, a group of joyful volunteers stood onstage to bear witness to the benefits of vegetarianism, to advocate more fresh fruits and vegetables in diets, and how fasting from meat can help to protect life. Photo by Alvin Tan

With “I Did It” as a backdrop, a group of joyful volunteers stood onstage to bear witness to the benefits of a vegetarian diet. The group included a family of four, and a yoga teacher who has been a vegetarian for over 10 years. Yoga teacher Liw Tiam shared with a loud cheerful voice: “I’ve been a vegetarian for 12 years, I did it!”

Off-stage, Liw Tiam revealed that it was Master Cheng Yen’s indomitable spirit that had deeply touched her, and she immediately made a vow to turn vegetarian. Then she started attending vegetarian cooking classes, and bought vegetarian cookbooks that enabled her to prepare healthy vegetarian meals with minimal fuss. For the sake of today’s vegetarian exhibit, Liw Tiam had specially gone online to look up information on vegetarianism and environmentalism to share with others. When many of those present came to know about the environmental damage caused by a meat-based diet, many responded to the online “111 Ethical Eating Day” pledge.

A row of neatly lined up volunteers greeted the sight of visitors as they entered the grounds of the Vegetarianism Zone. Volunteers bowed politely to welcome the visitors and gave each of them a “Vegetarianism Promotion” card and a pledge card for “111 Ethical Eating Day”, to encourage them to join the global movement in reducing carbon footprints by changing their eating habits. On that day alone, 861 persons responded to the “111 Ethical Eating Day” pledge.

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Volunteers assisting the public to fill up their “111 Ethical Eating Day” pledge cards. Photo by Chua Teong Seng

“I started eating vegetarian for the sake of the environment; raising livestock wastes a lot of water and energy. At home, I use the water for washing fruits and vegetables to water my plants, and after the talk, I have a better understanding of how to keep a balanced vegetarian diet,” Ms Zhang Jia Min shared.

In front of the vegetarianism and environmentalism display board, four volunteers spoke tirelessly to the visitors about the benefits and importance of going vegetarian. The team was led by volunteer leader, Andrew Lim. They used the aid of a set of data to explain the detrimental effects of a meat-based diet on our environment, and helped people to know the difference in energy consumed for a meat-based diet compared to a vegetarian diet. For example, half a kilogram of beef requires more than 9,000 litres of water, whereas half a kilogram of wheat only requires 94 litres.

Faced with the challenges of a crowd with different views and opinions, Andrew Lim thought of an ingenious way to encourage people to go vegetarian. “If the audience doesn’t perceive the importance of environmental protection through their diet, then we will share how it is related to our health. For example, livestock raised for meat are injected with drugs, hence long-term consumption of such meat will lead to health problems.”

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Volunteer leader Andrew Lim uses plain and simple language to explain to a young boy about the differences in energy consumption between a meat and a vegetarian diet. Photo by Tay Wei Xian

Incorporating Vegetarianism into Daily Life

“Actually, it is not difficult to go vegetarian. You just have to replace meats with vegetables, all the other ingredients remain the same. My blood circulation has improved after switching to a vegetarian diet, the pains in my legs have gradually subsided, and I feel more energetic nowadays,” said Mr Subramaniam, who first received financial aid for his medical expenses from Tzu Chi four years ago while he was incarcerated. Since his release from the prison, he has taken part twice in the Buddha Bathing Ritual organized by Tzu Chi.

Ms Zheng Yu Lan has been a vegetarian for five years. Even though she is the only person at home who is fully vegetarian, she has persevered in her practice. Unknowingly, she gradually influenced her oldest daughter to go vegetarian, too. Ms Zheng Yu Lan’s encounter with Tzu Chi started five years ago when Tzu Chi launched the 30-day “Awakening” card to promote a wider practice of vegetarianism. Although she had the wish to turn vegetarian many years before, there wasn’t a push factor. But after she received the “Awakening” card, she decided to go vegetarian. She felt that her temperament improved after she became vegetarian, and she has also become more patient.

Recycling volunteer Mr Fan Yu Zhong came with his family to participate in the Buddha Bathing Ritual. He felt that his health has improved after his change of diet, and shared, “My father’s health has improved after adopting a vegetarian diet. I also feel that my digestive system has improved; it’s easier to pass motion. Nowadays, the first thing I do in the morning is to pass motion.” Fan also felt that vegetarianism is an expression of compassion, “It is really cruel to kill living creatures for food!”

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A volunteer shows a visitor how to download a mobile App titled “HappyCow”, to inquire about the availability of vegetarian restaurants in each country and other resources about vegetarianism. Photo by Tay Wei Xian

With the advancement and popularity of smartphone technology, almost anyone owns a smartphone nowadays. Volunteers thus introduced to the visitors a mobile App called “HappyCow”, so that they can easily search for vegetarian eateries located island-wide as well as overseas.

“I hope that it will become easier for people to find a vegetarian eatery. Currently, Singapore has over 500 vegetarian eateries offering various types of vegetarian cuisines, such as vegan, ovo-lacto vegetarian, Western, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, etc. They also come in different price categories,” shared Yanti, another volunteer. She hoped that more people would be inspired to go vegetarian, be happy with their new diet, and eat at ease.

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