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John Abbot is co-owner of ChinaLoveMatch.net. Married to a lovely Chinese Lady and living in China, John knows and respects China, Chinese Women, Chinese People and Chinese Culture. His blog will include good stuff about Online Dating, Chinese Women, International Relationships and Things Chinese. Join John Abbot on Google+
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A Canadian in China: My Experiences with Chinese Food!    

By John Abbot
5555 Views | 14 Comments | 5/21/2013 6:49:06 PM

How I felt for my first 3 years in China.

In the face of all the heat Achelle is taking for simply trying to alert both the Chinese members and especially the Western men about some of the inherent dangers that are hiding in what is generally, and mistakenly, believed to be “health food”, I feel obliged to relate to everyone here my experiences with Chinese food during my 10 years of living here.



To those of you who think for reasons I cannot comprehend that I have no right to discuss my thoughts on Chinese food because I am not Chinese I say GET A GRIP! China has joined the world if you haven’t noticed and part of joining the world is accepting that other people have every right to discuss your part of it, just as you have a right to discuss theirs.



I have never met a single Chinese person who, upon hearing I am from Canada, has not commented on how cold it is. Should I say to them, “SHUT UP! You’re not Canadian. What right do you have to discuss the Canadian climate?”



This attitude is ludicrous and I want no part of it. Whether what I write about here is true or not is relevant; whether I am a Canadian man, or a Filipino woman or a Chinese woman is completely irrelevant



First, I loved the TASTE of Chinese food in China right from the day I arrived. I love to explore new foods, and I must say that of the countries I’ve been in or the numerous restaurants owned by natives of the country they represent, my favourite food for taste is Thai. In a tie for second is Korean and Japanese. Following closely behind is Chinese, Mexican, Italian, Greek and American/Canadian.



However, as much as I love the taste of Chinese food, I noticed right away that it didn’t seem to be agreeing with my stomach, or more accurately my lower abdomen. I spent almost my first 4 years in China in a constant state of suffering from Diarrhea, stomach cramps and frequent bouts of nausea. During the first couple of years I travelled back to Canada frequently, and upon my arrival all these symptoms would disappear, so I was acutely aware that the problem had something to do with China, and likely to do either with the water or my diet.



My then Chinese lady friend was the first to warn me that many Chinese restaurants used way too much oil on their food and that all Chinese restaurants used copious amounts of MSG, and when we ate her home cooked meals she pointedly avoided using much oil and used no MSG, and her food was extremely tasty. However, she didn’t exercise any restraint when eating out so I really didn’t take her health warning very seriously.



In the time I knew her, whenever we ate in other households, whether friends or family of hers in Shenzhen or family members in Anhui, the food served was swimming in oil and liberally dosed with MSG. She and I had a business together that forced us to eat out far more frequently than at home.



In any event, because I loved the taste of the food, whether in restaurants or occasionally in people’s homes, I put up with the ongoing diarrhea and stomach pains, and drank copious amounts of beer to quench my unending thirst.



I have a very unusual blood disorder in which my platelets are too sticky, so my blood will clot internally unless I take blood thinners. This condition has come very close to killing me twice, and it requires consistent monitoring. When I was traveling back and forth to Canada I was able to take care of it there but after 4 years or so I was sick to death of travelling and started to stay year round in China. This meant I had to find a good medical doctor in China to help me monitor my condition.



And then two things happened that both relate to the issue of Chinese food in China.



The first was that I met and married my now Chinese wife. She is a Hangzhou born citizen of Australia, having moved there many years ago to further her University Studies. We fell in love and she moved to China to be with me here because we had a brilliant plan to create an International Chinese Dating site where scammers were chased away and people got to actually have discussions in Forums and Blogs where they could really learn about each other’s cultures and help each other succeed in their new cross cultural relationships. But that is another story.



During her years in Australia she had become a real fanatic about nutrition, and had been studying and continues to study it daily and devoutly. On her return to China, first in Shenzhen where we started out, then in Guangzhou where we moved next, and finally back in her home city of Hangzhou where we ended up, she has been stunned by the incredible amount of oil in the food (usually not good oil) and the copious amounts of MSG being used in virtually every dish. It wasn’t that the food wasn’t like that before she moved to Australia, but she had not been cognizant of it until she returned because of her much different attitude towards what people should eat.



Again, this has been true of restaurants in these cities and of the homes of almost all friends and family. My wife comes from a well-educated, upper middle class family in Hangzhou, and we have visited their homes often. The food was inevitably suffering from an overdose of oil, and no one seems to be able to cook without the magic ingredient, MSG. Was the food tasty – yes. Was it healthy – definitely not!



We have also travelled fairly extensively in China and we have yet to visit any city where these two elements – oil and MSG – were not used to excess, but it is true that in some cities it is less noticeable, especially the oil, than in others. Obviously in other cities than those we lived in or my wife had family in, we were not able to discover whether the same could be said for cooking in people’s homes.



My wife has placed us on a pretty strict regimen of very healthy eating, but because she’s an amazing cook and the food she makes, whether Chinese food or Western, always tastes fantastic, I’ve had no problem adjusting. We also go on long very brisk walks of a minimum of 4 kilometers and ranging up to 10 kilometers almost every day. Now, roughly 6 to 7 years later, I am definitely healthier at the age of 60 than I have been since I was in my thirties.



The second thing that happened was I was fortunate enough in Shenzhen to meet and become a patient of one of the finest medical doctors I have ever met. Dr. Zhang is a highly trained hematologist (blood specialist) who dove into my particular medical issue with loads of energy. After getting from me a description of how I lived in China, the first thing he did was check my cholesterol levels.



Cholesterol can be a big issue if your blood clots easily, because it causes plaque to form on your artery and vein walls, restricting your blood flow. If you tend towards blood clotting, restricted blood flow greatly increases the danger. Coincidentally MSG also is reputed to block arteries so for me this was sort of a double whammy.



I had never had anything but completely normal cholesterol levels in my life, so I was shocked when the tests showed my cholesterol was dangerously (for me) high. I told Dr. Zhang this and his response also shocked me.



Basically his response was words to the effect of:



“John, you have been living in China for several years. You’ve been mostly eating in Chinese restaurants and occasionally in people’s homes. You likely have no idea what you’ve been submitting your body to. Eating a steady diet of food prepared in Chinese restaurants is no better, and likely worse, than eating exclusively at MacDonald’s in America.”



He then described a whole gamut of issues around the typical Chinese diet and Chinese restaurants in general. But the main ones were the incredible reliance on MSG for flavor in almost all foods, the excessive use of oil on almost all dishes and the gutter oil problem, which was just surfacing at that time, but which is resulting in death sentences for persons guilty of marketing the stuff now.



But what he said next really stuck in my mind, and I am coming at least close to directly quoting him. He said:



“I never eat in a Chinese restaurant. Not ever. It is like committing a slow suicide. And I have only a few friends whose homes I will eat in. Most Chinese cook the same way as the restaurants. Their meals are soaked in bad oil and loaded with MSG. if you’re going to stay here, given your condition, you need to either change your diet or face a very high risk of death.”



Dr. Zhang put me on statins (a cholesterol reducing medicine with sometimes serious side effects) for a period of one month to get my cholesterol back down to a reasonable level and discussed diet with my wife, who proceeded to get both of us on an extremely healthy and bad cholesterol free eating regimen.



Thanks to the two of them my life expectancy has lengthened a great deal, and the way I feel has improved incredibly.



If you don’t think most, if not all, Chinese restaurants are feeding you a lot of oil, simply take one of the usual meat or stir fried dishes you buy in your favourite restaurant home and stick it in the fridge over night. Chances are there will be a thick layer of solidified oil on the bottom of the dish.



Now just picture that ugly layer of oil coating your stomach and intestines, day after day after day, and ask yourself if you really want that happening inside you.



If you don’t think MSG is a problem just do a little internet research. After carefully reading about the effects of MSG on your health, and especially your brain, and knowing as you do that MSG is used everywhere in China to great excess, ask yourself if you really want to keep eating foods that will coat your brain with it.



Dr. Zhang is an intelligent and extremely competent medical practitioner, and I don’t think he was making this stuff up. We searched in SZ and Guangzhou for Chinese restaurants and found none in which the food was not heavily oiled and none in which it was not well loaded with MSG. In Hangzhou we found only two restaurants where there didn’t seem to be much MSG, and in which the oil was close to bearable. Based on that, and on our experiences eating at the homes of friends and family, I can only conclude that Dr. Zhang’s statements to me were accurate and that this is a problem that is prevalent through most, if not all, of China, and prevails in China’s homes as well as her restaurants.



If that is the case then China, and you if you are eating a lot in Chinese restaurants or Chinese homes, has a troubled future in the health area. As if the smoking and the smog wasn’t threat enough.



This is not to say that China is worse than other countries such as America, or Canada, or Australia and others. But it is to say that China is just as bad, and that our beautiful Chinese ladies and our western men who live in China should not smugly go on believing that the poison they are eating is actually healthy.



The good news is that all the food required for a diet in China that is extremely healthy and tastes fantastic is readily at hand. Much of it is being served now in restaurants throughout China. All that needs to be done is to stop smothering it in bad oil and loading it up with MSG.



The other good news is that even though some of our Chinese members seem not to be aware of these health concerns that could greatly shorten their lives or at least greatly the number of good years they have left, no doubt the Government is aware and has plans to do something about it because it seems to be acutely aware of most health issues that require fixing.



As for Achelle’s blog, first understand that Achelle has a substantial background and interest in the area of nutrition, is knowledgeable on these matters, and concerned for people to be aware of dietary issues that can hurt them. I have no doubt that she wrote it because she had a real and heart felt concern for her readers of the blogs, both Chinese women and Western men, and thought they should be alerted to the health threats these matters present.



She hardly deserves to be subjected to such abuse as some of you have heaped upon her for the crime of taking your best interests to heart.


Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
Comments
(Showing 1 to 10 of 14) 1 2 More...
#2013-05-21 20:48:14 by AchelleVinzons @AchelleVinzons

Hi John, your first-hand experiences and very serious health scare certainly demonstrate the relevance, gravity, and validity of this particular issue. And thank you for coming to my defense.

What you said about oil coating the stomach and intestines reminded me of one of my most unforgettable and fascinating experiences as a Biology student. It happened when I was taking Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy and the class was dissecting a cat so we could study its different organs/internal structure. When we got to the heart, it was covered in a thick layer of adipose tissue, or fat. The cat was not obese; the layer of fat tissue provided the body with a reserve of energy. But being able to see it with my own eyes, and also to feel the thickness and hardness of the fat around the heart, I did not have to imagine how the heart of a person with an unhealthy diet would look like if it was covered in unhealthy layers of fatty tissue.

I thought if everybody could see something like that, they would be able to picture their heart literally enveloped in thick, yellow-brown fatty tissues; then maybe they would be more careful about the food they eat. Since then, I've been very careful with my fat intake, among other things.

Oh, and I completely agree with you when you said this... as westerners put it, you hit the nail right on the head with this one:

"To those of you who think for reasons I cannot comprehend that I have no right to discuss my thoughts on Chinese food because I am not Chinese I say GET A GRIP! China has joined the world if you haven’t noticed and part of joining the world is accepting that other people have every right to discuss your part of it, just as you have a right to discuss theirs."

It would be very interesting to see how everybody will react to your thoughts on this subject.

#2013-05-22 00:30:33 by kahnsfury @kahnsfury

After reading Achelle’s, Peter’s, and now your article John. I think I need to invest heavily in cooking at home. I feel my arteries clogging as I type.

#2013-05-22 13:26:00 by papaya1972 @papaya1972

Something is true but only just some parts about food in Achelle's article. But she is talking about food mostly in restaurant not home cooked.
Chinese wives do cook and love to cook for their loved ones at home. We eat at home 99% of our meals.
So why she is asking Chinese women to change their way of cooking, has she ever lived in a Chinese family for at least one month to explore how and what we eat? In my view she should instead ask Chinese restaurant to change the way of cooking, isn’t it!

And she should suggest western man not to go restaurants that often when in China, but to find a Chinese wife to enjoy her healthy cooking home.---- if she ever has the chance to understand what we are eating and cooking home.

And John, your experience with your wife, which is a good one. You mentioned that her way of cooking and attitude has been changed coz she went overseas for many years. It might be true for her. But I don’t think overseas life experience is a must for a Chinese woman to learn how to eat healthily.
E.g. in my family, my mother doesn’t put much oil when cooking, my parents don't have much meat in their diet, we comsume a lot vegi every day, which seem very nature for us.
And myself, when cooking, I have not used MSG for more than 13 years, and my daughter enjoys my cooking much more than those in restaurants.
I am 100% sure that the food in Philippine restaurants are not so healthy either. Restaurants are restaurants, everyone knows that restaurants never wash the vegi or meat as we do at home, and I do feel so sorry for those can only have meals at restaurants but not able to enjoy home cooking -- this is same to everyone no matter which country you live in.
I believe I still know more about Chinese's life than Achelle does, and I am able to represent Chinese women, not all but at least a few. Don’t you agree?

I am not happy about Achelle's way of writing either, in some of her blogs.
The main reason is she tries to include Chinese women and everyone into her own view with her own limited life experience, which is a narrow vision.
As you and most western men here have visited Philippine, you should be able to figure out how different China is from Philippine. the culture, the society, the economy, how women are being treated in a society generally.....
It can never be right, thinking about a Chinese woman based on your Philippine way of logic.
That is why I feel offended and asking Achelle to introduce more about her own country, own people, own food. We don’t mind learn how to cook healthy Filipino food from Achelle if she is able to do so, but don’t try to teach us how to cook healthy Chinese food.
When Achelle writes, please do consider the readers’ feelings. It’s a basic respect.
What will you feel if your female friend telling you together with your husband/boy friend that your cooking is rubbish?
What will you feel if your buddy telling you together with your wife/girl friend that your job done in the office was useless?
What will you feel Achelle, if I tell you that Filipino women are not faithful? It is true as it happened to some of my friends, but I won’t say it, coz I know those Filipino women can’t represent all Filipino women. If I say so to you, I think I do not respect you.
Same to you when you write here.

#2013-05-22 17:39:26 by AchelleVinzons @AchelleVinzons

@papaya1972, please read my responses to the comments in my blog; they also address your questions and the issues you have with me and my writing, as well as John's own comments there which explains in great detail the motivation behind my blog.

And if you have something to say about the Philippines and Filipinas based on what you have heard or on personal experiences, and if I also know these things to be true (not for everyone, but for some), I actually won't feel disrespected. If you're only pointing out some realities, ugly or not, I won't take it against you, precisely because my life experiences are not limited and my vision is not narrow. In fact, I will respect not only your choice to voice your thoughts, but your personal opinions on these subjects, as well. If a friend of mine points out to me that I have unhealthy eating/cooking habits, I will appreciate her concern.

Like I have said repeatedly, I do not wish nor has it ever been my intention, to turn anything I write here into a cultural clash. The CLM blogs, from everything I have read, seemed to me like a great environment where members from different cultures can find common ground and learn from each other, not attack one another. I have shared some of my personal experiences on love because I was actually inspired by one of the Chinese bloggers here (Victoria), and I also wanted to share the lessons I have learned from these experiences. It is your choice to see the value in those lessons and how they may apply to you, or you can choose not to. I certainly have NEVER claimed to represent Chinese women.

Like John pointed out in one of his comments on my blog, I have become enamored by China since I started writing about it, and I have always had great respect and admiration for your country and your people. The personal attacks have not changed that.


#2013-05-24 03:27:47 by Grace172 @Grace172

@papaya1972
Dear, papaya, please relaxed. Well, when people talk about a local food, like Sichuan food, Cantonese food, Ru food... we normally talk about the local typical crisine in local restaurants, right? Because when we travel a city or a country abroad, we usually eat in the local restaurants and get impression about local food there.. So I know what Chinese food Achelle mentioned must point at the Chinese dishes in many Chinese restaurants. So I have to admited that what she say about oily and too much MSG is truth in many reataurants. Because when I travel other cities, I also felt too oily and salty there.. So Achelle may just as a foreigner to tell us her own impression about Chinese food. So not need to suspect her motivation. I just do not like her title too much...I feel it's not too friendly and not too respect. I would never said this to other country's food.

#2013-05-26 00:04:31 by twhite725 @twhite725

An old joke: The university professor was angry when the neighbor's children made a mess running across not-yet hardened concrete in his driveway. Don't you like children, asked his neighbor? Yes, I like them in the abstract but not in the concrete! So, the abstract Chinese Cooking is great! And the cooking in China is not so uniformly great; sometimes is toxic because of contaminated food ingredients, too much salt and msg, recycled cooking oil... In the West deep fryer oil at ubiquitous fast food restaurants is also bad for your health, to name one of many similarities. Why upset? Chinese Cooking or Cuisine is the result of thousands of years of knowledge and learning about health, nutrition and diet. To point out the shortcomings of the modern commercialized diet in any country is nothing that food experts in the country would not also admit. But for Chinese sometimes can be irritating because, as the Belgian/Australian writer under the pseudonym Simon Leys wrote: “China is the religion of the Chinese." In the same way that Westerners react to any presumed criticism of their religion, so do Chinese to their "China."

#2013-05-26 14:44:57 by papaya1972 @papaya1972

@ Grace172
Hi Grace, if you have read through all what has been written here about chinese food, you should know that they are not only talking about restaurants. Its also about our daily home cooking.

I am glad you won't say food in other country as "suk" and this shows the difference already.

everyone knows that there are problems with food anywhere --- and everywhere in this world people need to take care about their health by hving healthy food and healthy way of cooking -- not just in China.

So to cook healthy-- this idea applys to all--- all people from all countries.
There is no need to put China as a target to be criticised or the only one country to be improved.

While the food scandle, it is really big issue in China which we do not see that often in other countries.

I am still waiting one of my comment to be psoted here, submitted a few days ago, but yet seen it.

#2013-05-26 21:15:08 by kingm @kingm

Hi John An interesting read. My experiences of Chinese restuarants and eating with Chinese families seems not to have been as unhealthy as yours. It may be that my very protective health conscious Chinese partner has steered me clear of potential problems or we were just very lucky.
I can sympathize with your diarrhea problem - for me water seemed to be the problem. Never drink tap water or eat salads washed in tap water or eat uncooked food.
When I stayed at the home of friend who had his own expensive water purifying system my diarrhea stopped. Also due to my diarrhea, serving chopsticks were used for each dish rather than have each person put their own chopsticks which had been in their mouth into the shared dishes. I think this helped me too.

#2013-05-27 16:51:57 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

@papaya1972 - yes it is true that all countries have unhealthy food issues. America, Canada and Australia may lead the pack. But this article wasn't about other countries and their food issues - it was about China and Chinese food. What are you saying, that every time anyone writes an article about a health issue in one country they are obliged to talk about the same issue in all countries. I can't even imagine how many articles have been written about unhealthy eating habits in America. Should all of those writers been obliged in every article to point out the bad eating habits in China, Japan, Russia and all the other countries in the world in order to save America's face? Or is it only China that deserves that protection?

I am sorry but I have not approved some comments and one or two of yours are included among them. I'm sorry but several comments on both sides of the issue were felt to be too much of a personal attack on someone else to be published. This decision was not made by me alone, because most of the comments were in Chinese. Those were ruled upon by our Chinese manager, but she actually ran them by some of our Chinese staff, and they expressed general shock that some of the things in these comments were being said. If the comments were made strictly in English then I made the decision.

#2013-05-30 07:07:08 by yangguizi @yangguizi

Very interesting blog even if it had nothing to do with food. Chinese people take their food seriously. The food part is also interesting of course.

When I was training, my instructor told me to cut down drastically on carbohydrates (i.e. noodles, rice, potatoes, bread), sugar, no processed foods, and eat only healthy nuts (no peanuts). This is called paleo diet or caveman diet and consists of lots of meat, fruit, and vegetables. Sadly after a few months, I got a hernia and had to stop training. My diet when out the window at the same time but before the hernia I felt like superman after making those changes to my diet for only a few months. I slept better, had tons of energy, increased stamina, increased confidence, and a better outlook on things even though my personal life was recently in great turmoil.

Olive oil was also highly recommended and most other oils are considered bad. I am not an expert but he used the term "good fat" versus "bad fat".

Just my two cents ... I know this diet is nearly impossible for most people to follow even in North America let alone China.

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