As the coronavirus swept ferociously across the world, Master Cheng Yen calls on everyone to respect all living beings and stop eating meat. Through this, we can stop the spread of the virus. In 2021, Tzu Chi International Medical Association of Singapore vowed to promote vegetarianism during Tzu Chi’s 55th anniversary celebration. Two months later, utilizing its medical profession, the team launched the "Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge".
The "Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge" was originally initiated by the Tzu Chi International Medical Association of Malaysia. It was immensely successful with remarkable results and received great acclaim. Therefore, Tzu Chi Medical Association of Singapore together, with community volunteers, dieticians, doctors and vegetarian outlets piloted the challenge in the Eastern region with the aim to extend it to the rest of the island.
Careful and Meticulous Planning and Preparation
The "Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge" officially commenced on August 2, 2021. For 21 consecutive days, the 34 participants were provided with a whole-foods, plant-based diet for lunch and dinner every day, in the hope of allowing more people to learn about healthy eating lifestyles.
After more than two months of preparations, through the tireless deliberation and efforts of volunteers, a feasible and suitable plan was finally developed. Dr Ho Xin Qin, the coordinator of this programme faced many challenges during the planning and preparation stage. She said candidly, "The cost of food and transportation in Singapore is high, so I am particularly worried about the overall cost. The team has been communicating constantly with the vegetarian outlet owners because we do not want this program to be only for the rich but to be affordable to the general public."
Master Cheng Yen once said compassionately, “Human effort alone cannot halt this pandemic. The only antidote is by being a dedicated and steadfast vegetarian.” Dr. Ho Xin Qin shares the same belief. Over the years, she has seen an increasing number of chronic disease patients in Singapore and believed that the best treatment should start with a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet as prevention is better than cure. Whenever she encounters difficulties, she always recalled the song "Ten States in this Life Journey" (十在心路). Every lyric gives her great motivation to move forward.
Choo Mei Mei, another coordinator of the programme, said, “No matter what challenge you encounter, remember and keep to the original intent. As long as everyone work together to put forward our suggestions sincerely, there is nothing that cannot be solved.” Although she lacks such experience, she believes that as long as it is the right thing to do, trust the cause and just do it.
Volunteers scouted around diligently sourcing vegetarian shops, recording songs with vegetarianism themes, designing posters, promoting through social media, setting up teams for food quality control and transportation, etc. In these 21 days, eco-friendly lunch boxes are used to also put into action our love for the earth and environment.
The programme is based on a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Half of the meals consist of fruits and vegetables, while whole grains and plant-based protein account for a quarter each. It may not seem difficult, but even vegetarian eateries commented that it is challenging to prepare an entirely whole-foods, plant-based diet. The reason being that such a diet does not include meat, fish, seafood, dairy products, plain flour noodles, white rice, and processed foods.
In addition, the partnering vegetarian eateries can only use a small amount of oil, salt and sugar. They are also not allowed to use MSG and refined starch in the food preparation process. Behind this rigorous nutritional requirement is the food quality control team consisting of doctors, dieticians and volunteers to ensure that every meal meets the requirements of a whole-foods, plant-based diet. And that the participants are provided with a sufficient and well-balanced diet through this program.
Volunteer Kong Yee Mun is a member of the food quality control team. Whenever she discussed with the chef, the first reaction of the chef was often, "This is not tasty and palatable, do you really want it?" She would always explain patiently to the chef that when encountering uncertain food ingredients, she would verify with the manufacturer and strive to ensure that all ingredients are natural.
Garnering everyone's strength and launching the programme online
"I have chronic disease, can I participate?"
"Can you arrange for lunch to be delivered to my workplace and dinner to my home?"
After the unremitting efforts of the organizing team, the opening ceremony of the "Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge" was finally held on July 17. The organisers explained in detail the whole-foods, plant-based diet and answered all of the participants’ queries. Registration was opened after the opening ceremony. Participants would be briefed on August 1st, and the 21-day challenge would then commence on August 2nd.
The organisers explained that one in every three deaths in Singapore is related to cardiovascular disease, and a plant-based diet can reduce that risk by 40%.
In Malaysia, the "Healthier Me 21-Day Challenge" has resulted in improvements in some health indicators. These include reduction in weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Seeing this boosted the confidence of Tzu Chi International Medical Association of Singapore in the program and the association decided to promote it locally.
In order to measure the physiological changes of the participants more accurately during the 21 days, the medical team (consisting of doctors, nurses, and volunteers) also encouraged the participants to have their blood tested at specific clinics before and after the challenge. This would allow the medical team to use the blood test reports to explain to the participants the importance of dietary changes to improvement in physical well-being.
How can diet improve physical well-being? See the result in 21 days! Food and diet are extremely important. The three meals that we take do not just affect our health, but can play a critical butterfly effect in the global environmental crisis and the pandemic.